Jalen Suggs finding lessons in struggles, eager for the boost of health

Jalen Suggs is coming to the end of his illness and getting the boost of health the rest of the roster is getting. Suggs has kept a fresh perspective and looked for lessons in these struggles.
Jalen Suggs has been dealing with an illness through the last week. That has given him another key lesson of managing an NBA season.
Jalen Suggs has been dealing with an illness through the last week. That has given him another key lesson of managing an NBA season. / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Jalen Suggs is not going to take any moment he has on the court for granted. After two injury-filled seasons, he sees every time he steps onto the floor as something of a blessing. And this season, especially, is something he has worked toward and built up to with tons of training and realization off the court.

Suggs has had to work hard to get back on the floor. And every step back has been something of a lesson for him. Every setback is a chance to get better.

This latest one came out of nowhere as an illness took hold of the team during the last 10 days. Suggs got it bad Friday in Miami as he tried to play through it for this hurting team. He was visibly pale and not playing at his peak.

He ended up playing in only 13:50 of that game, visibly struggling to get through even those minutes and grabbing tissues from the bench while draping a towel over his head. He somehow came in for the Magic's final defensive possession and knocked the ball away from Bam Adebayo, forcing it out of bounds before Adebayo's go-ahead bucket.

No one will ever question Suggs' fight and toughness to overcome whatever physical ailment he is dealing with. This was something different though.

Suggs saw his minutes and effectiveness decrease in the following two games as he tried to fight through the bug. It was a rough go for him on the stat sheet and on the court.

It was indeed another lesson for the young guard.

"I was trying to run up and down the court I was shivering," Suggs said after shootaround Wednesday. "Just trying to play through those things. I think there are teaching moments in them. Continuing to learn how to play on nights when you don't have it all the way and you aren't feeling your best. Can you muster up the energy and muster up the mental focus to get through an NBA game? I learned a lot."

Suggs said he is now feeling better. He said he woke up Wednesday energized and feeling better. He said part of the season is learning how to battle through fatigue and illness as they pop up in the long journey of an 82-game season.

That is a good sign for the Magic as they get healthy overall. One of the benefits of that is that there is significantly less burden on Suggs.

To be sure, the Magic were feeling Suggs' illness the last three games when Suggs was virtually absent on the court. Suggs played an average of 20.1 minutes per game and scored a total of 15 points while shooting 6 for 21 (28.6 percent) and 2 for 13 (15.4) from three.

This was after he shot a stellar 51.7 percent and 58.3 percent from deep to average 21.8 points per game in the first four games after Franz Wagner's injury. Suggs was a huge early boost when the team went through some of its injury troubles.

The illness certainly sapped some of Suggs' energy. But so too did the focus defenses started to put on him as the Magic sought a secondary creator and scorer. Some of Suggs' struggles made the Magic look worse during this stretch.

It is a relief then to not only have Suggs feeling better but to have more players back. That will enable the Magic to unleash Suggs a bit more, especially on defense where his tireless energy is part of the team's lynchpin in its identity.

Getting players back is certainly going to ease some burden on a player like Suggs.

"It's a great feeling. We're trying to have everyone back and have minutes down a little bit but be able to play with our full group and be full powered to go get wins on the flip side," Suggs said after shootaround Wednesday. "It was great to see everybody hooping again, making plays, doing it as a group. It don't get much better than that."

Everyone could see how much getting those players back helped the team on Monday.

Markelle Fultz and Wendell Carter each played critical roles down the stretch to secure the win for the Magic. Even though that left Suggs on the bench at the end of the game.

Suggs will benefit as much as anyone from the team getting back to its regular lineups.

It should get him more of the quality catch-and-shoot opportunities he thrives on -- Suggs is shooting 40.4 percent on 3.9 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts per game this season according to Second Spectrum, and 45.5 percent on 4.7 such attempts since Jan. 3.

It should also enable him to attack more on closeouts rather than facing set defenses that can load up against him.

It may be a while still before the Magic reinsert Wendell Carter and Markelle Fultz back into the starting lineup. Orlando is still probably going to be leaning on Jalen Suggs to carry a bigger offensive load with the starting group -- at least until Franz Wagner's impending return (he is OUT again Wednesday, but his return is sooner than later once he starts doing contact drills).

Jamahl Mosley said the Magic are still dealing with minute restrictions for some of the returning players and so there may not be major rotation or lineup changes until the team can get in a practice and rebuild chemistry with those groups -- the Orlando Magic have a few days of practice next week with the team not playing until Friday in Memphis after Monday's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Everyone has done their part to survive this part of the season. That includes Suggs, who stepped up early before the illness knocked him back. Everyone has had to fill in.

"I've said many times before, by committee means fully by committee," Mosley said after shootaround on Wednesday. "We have so many guys on this roster that can step up and step in at any point depending on the game and the flow of what is going on."

The Magic have shown they will rely on everyone. And sometimes that does mean Suggs sits -- even when he is fully healthy. But just like getting Carter and Fultz back, a healthy Suggs goes a long way to the Magic's ultimate success because of his defensive pressure and intensity and his newfound shotmaking.

Him feeling better and healthier is almost like getting a new player back into the lineup.

Suggs is still learning the ins and outs of the NBA in his third season. This is the first time he has avoided extended absences before the midpoint of the season. And there have been a lot of lessons from Suggs managing the ups and downs of the season.

Suggs Keys 01.13.24. Jalen Suggs holds the keys to Orlando Magic's future. dark. Next

He hit a low for sure because of this illness that hit the team. But coming out of it, Suggs should be better for it and eager to continue his growth this season.