Jalen Suggs has had a shaky start to his NBA career, with his struggles offensively to his dealing with injury issues because of the hard-nosed style of basketball instilled in his blood as a former football player. Suggs did not quite live up to the expectation when Orlando Magic fans celebrated selecting him with the fifth pick in the 2022 Draft.
He never really had a chance with the hand injury, then the ankle injury, then the concussion issues, then the ankle injury again. Suggs never could get his feet under him early in his NBA career.
After a healthy summer and close to the season that enabled him to build confidence, Suggs is slowly but surely starting to put it all together and figure it out.
More than figuring it out, Suggs has become the heart and soul of his team. He has become the physical embodiment of what it means to be a Magic player and what the team is about.
His sucess goes beyond his numbers -- all career highs at 12.1 points per game and 45.6-percent shooting. It is the attitude and swagger he brings on the defensive end. It is how his energy and his effort radiate to everyone else on the team.
Suggs is simply someone that makes everyone better by lifting up their energy and making plays to spark his teammates. It is in the joy he plays with -- pointing and riling up the home crowd at every opportunity.
"We have fun playing defense," Suggs said after Monday's win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. "I think we sometimes lose sight of that and it's human nature and part of being in this league. We enjoy getting turnt up and getting energized on defensive plays. Everyone does it and everyone is buying into it. We all have that collective mindset. It's tough to score. We have a lot of versatility and a lot of passion and a lot of will."
That quote is the epitome of what Suggs and this Magic team are all about. Even on nights where they struggle to get things going on offense, they are in the game due to their excellent defense -- second in the league currently.
Orlando has truly made Amway Center a proper homecourt advantage, something the team has not been able to say for more than a decade.
Orlando has built a strong defense all around. Coach Jamahl Mosley deserves a lot of credit for that as everyone has bought in. But Jalen Suggs has been the head of the snake, something he put on full display in locking up Donovan Mitchell in Monday's win.
Quite simply, Suggs has been one of the best defenders in the league, arguably the best perimeter defender this season.
He routinely dives on the floor and puts his body on the line. These plays come natural to Suggs.
Suggs said after Monday's game that is simply how he was taught to play basketball and credited his parents and coaches while showing love to his teammates. Everyone makes a lot of Suggs' connection to his football days in high school. But that is truly on display with the heart and effort he plays with and his willingness to put his body on the line.
The numbers back these efforts up as much as they can.
Suggs is third in the NBA in loose balls recovered at 1.3 per game. He also averages a team-best 2.7 deflections per game -- Markelle Fultz is second at 2.4.
Opposing players shoot 2.9 percentage points worse from the field when Suggs is their closest defender. That is very impressive, especially considering Suggs is very often guarding the opposing team's best offensive player.
His offensive efficiency has improved a ton too. He is not only shooting a career-best 45.6 percent from the floor but a suddenly efficient 37.1 percent from deep on more than 4.0 attempts per game.
All that to go along with a career high 1.8 steals per game. With a nearly 59-percent true shooting percentage, easily his career high, he is simply starting to figure it all out.
Whether it is him diving out of bounds to get a steal or hitting a big-time three-pointer to energize the crowd, Suggs has made a massive impact on this team.
His energy is infectious. Cole Anthony said Jalen Suggs' effort makes everyone want to play hard to match those efforts. His teammates see his effort every night and continue that effort even when Suggs is on the bench.
This is where the "Ring the Bell" tactic Mosley used a couple of seasons ago is coming to fruition. It was where in practice, the coaches would ring the bell when a player made a great defensive hustle play.
The Magic are doing that more and more now, which is why they sit in third place in the league in defensive rating and fifth in net rating.
With the Magic expecting the returns of Markelle Fultz and Wendell Carter soon, the addition of two smart, talented defensive players should help the team even more in that regard.
The Magic have made roughing up the game and getting "ugly" wins common. And that is perfectly fine. They have a gritty personality and Suggs is at the heart of it.
All that matters is the wins and losses. Pretty wins do not count for more than the ugly ones. The Orlando Magic and their fans do not mind it as they sit in second place in the Eastern Conference behind the Boston Celtics.
Suggs is at the heart of a lot of that.
After the win against the Detroit Pistons last week, Suggs said there was no better feeling than winning in front of the home crowd. He feeds off the energy from being at home. It drives him to keep making big plays.
That shows a ton of charisma and character from a guy like Suggs. He loves the city and the fans, and it is reciprocated back at Suggs rightfully so. And that is all that matters.
It is the heart of what this Magic team tries to do and who this Magic team is. There may not be a more important than Suggs to making this team tick.