Jalen Suggs holds the keys to deciding Orlando Magic's future

Jalen Suggs has transformed from a promising but huge question mark in the Orlando Magic's future into a player who could determine which direction the team heads and how it adds to and improves the team.
Jalen Suggs has become an indispensable part of the Orlando Magic's success this year. And how he grows could help determine the Magic's path forward.
Jalen Suggs has become an indispensable part of the Orlando Magic's success this year. And how he grows could help determine the Magic's path forward. / Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

If anyone understands the roller coaster of an NBA season, it should be Jalen Suggs.

He was someone that a lot of people had written off after two injury-filled seasons. His shot never came around and everyone was ready to declare him something of a bust.

Even we Orlando Magic fans who watched him every game and appreciated his defense and the energy he brought the team had to wonder what the future held for him. It felt like a do-or-die season for Suggs.

First and foremost, he needed to be healthy after playing only 48 and 53 games in his first two seasons respectively. That is the most important thing, particularly considering how much of a break-neck style Suggs tends to play.

The skill was always there though. He was already a chaotic defender. But some skills needed to catch up.

As the mid-point of the Magic's season approaches though, Suggs has rewarded the faith the Magic have put in him. He has turned in a career season and completely changed the narrative about him.

Suggs has gone from a question mark on this roster into an indispensable player for this team. And as the team starts to get more serious about winning and building a winning team, Suggs may very well hold the keys to the direction the Magic go.

Everyone has their eyes on the trade deadline and Suggs may be as key as any player to figuring out what the Magic actually need to target. His development might well be the thing the team is waiting on before making the big move to push the team forward.

Suggs still feels like a blank slate. And even he feels there is a long way for him to improve and get where he and the Magic see him going.

"I think I have done pretty well [this season]," Suggs said after Tuesday's loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. "There are definitely areas to improve. I want to handle the ball better. I want to become a better decision-maker in the pick and roll and my patience when I get down in the paint. There are definitely areas of growth."

The numbers show just how far Suggs has improved.

He is averaging a career-high 13.7 points per game to go with 2.2 "stocks per game" (including 1.5 steals per game). He is shooting a career-best 46.4 percent from the floor and 40.3 percent from deep.

He is averaging 21.8 points per game and shooting 58.3 percent from three in his last four games and 17.0 points per game on 44.9 percent shooting from three since returning from a wrist injury in mid-December (the last nine games).

It has been a major offensive transformation that has paired with a driving intensity on defense. Suggs is the heart and soul of this team's defense, often defending the best perimeter player on the other team. The Magic have one of the best defenses in the league and they are better defensively when Suggs is on the floor.

He has put in a lot of work to be even just this good. And it is something his teammates are pushing him to keep at.

"When you see somebody put in as many hours as he has, it doesn't surprise you when he starts making shots in the game," Paolo Banchero said after practice Thursday. "I think the work speaks for itself. I think he knows that. I think that's why he has been shooting the ball that way. We want him to keep doing his thing. He's been great."

The question then is the same one Suggs asked himself as he evaluated his season so far Tuesday night. What comes next?

That could be the central question to figuring out what the Magic seek at the trade deadline and beyond. If Suggs is a foundational player for this team, then what does he need around him to succeed?

That question starts with figuring out who Suggs is first.

Suggs wants to improve his ball-handling and decision-making. That will go a long way to making him the versatile player the Magic always crave.

He is averaging 2.1 turnovers per game -- up from the 1.8 he averaged last year but down from the 3.0 he averaged his rookie year.

He is playing considerably less point guard -- only 14 percent of his minutes according to Basketball-Reference. He averages only 44.6 touches per game, trailing Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, not to mention typical point guards like Cole Anthony and Markelle Fultz.

Suggs does not act like a point guard. But it is clearly a direction he wants to grow.

The Magic are still figuring out what they are as a team, and more importantly what they need. And one thing they will ultimately need is to figure out what kind of player Suggs is and can be. That will determine the kind of guard -- and whether that is even Markelle Fultz -- they need.

Clearly, the Magic are not a traditional team. They value skill versatility and having players who can fill different positional roles unencumbered by height. The Magic want their players to be able to do everything, in the end.

And that is the crossroads Suggs finds himself. What exactly can he do? What are the limits of his game?

That is not meant to be a question of doubt, but a question of exploration. A question that will help the Magic determine how to build their team and what kind of players to pursue.

Suggs is still a player full of possibility. The team already knows how he fits into the puzzle defensively. His shot coming around creates a clear path for him to exist offensively in a way that seemed bleak at the start of the season.

The rest of this season is about exploring what Suggs can be and pushing him to expand his game -- in the same way Banchero and Wagner have pushed to expand their games.

If he can be a point guard, suddenly the Magic can explore adding a different guard. If he cannot, then the team needs a lead guard to guide the team.

In any case, Suggs' development will guide the Magic into their next direction. He has taken some major leaps this year. There are still leaps to make.

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And those leaps will guide where the Magic go and what they need to take their own leap in the coming years.