Jalen Suggs was just finding his rhythm.
Like most rookies, he struggled through the first month of the season, shooting poorly from the field (he made just 13 of his first 64 three-point attempts) and turning the ball over a lot. Expectations were naturally high for the 20-year-old from Minnesota. In high school, he had pieced together a 111-15 record, won three state titles and emerged as a top-5 recruit. Then he helped lead Gonzaga to the national championship game as a freshman, averaging 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists. Orlando took him fifth overall in the 2021 Draft, confident that he and Franz Wagner, the No. 8 pick, could come in and contribute right away.
Suggs got off to a rocky start, however. He appeared to be settling in toward the end of November, averaging 13.6 points, 3.6 assists and 2.3 steals, and shooting 44 percent from behind the arc, over a three-game stretch. In the fourth quarter of that last game, though, he suffered a fractured right thumb when he was inadvertently slapped on the hand by big man Joel Embiid.
And the rhythm was broken.
But Suggs stayed locked in. He did everything he could to improve during his time away. He worked out, watched film, studied the game from the sidelines and communicated with his teammates and coaches.
“You’ll see him sometimes get up and throw suggestions and things that he sees. I think that’s fantastic,” Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley told NBA.com while Suggs was out. “He’s grown physically, changes in his body. He’s used this time off very well.”
In the two weeks leading up to his return, Suggs kept pleading with the staff to let him play. Finally he was cleared for a road game at Charlotte on January 14, having missed a month and a half of action. “I know the work that I’ve put in and the amount I’ve grown during this month and a half and I think it’s one of the best things that could’ve happened to me,” Suggs told reporters after Orlando’s morning shootaround. “It allowed me to take a step back, work on things that I really needed to develop, see things from a different angle—instead of on the court, get to watch it with the coaches and be in the huddles during the game and things like that. So I’m really excited to show people what I’ve been working on and get back to being me.” That night, he put up 12 points (on 5/8 shooting), 7 assists and 6 rebounds in just 22 minutes, helping the Magic secure a 116-109 win.
Suggs has continued to thrive since then, particularly in the past week. With his unique athleticism, the 6-5 point guard can impact the game in so many different ways. He attacks the paint relentlessly, finishes strong at the rim and gets to the free-throw line. His decision-making as a playmaker has steadily improved. On defense, he locks up one-on-one, jumps passing lanes and skies for blocks out of nowhere. Last Friday, he dropped a career-high 22 points against the Lakers, adding 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Two nights later, in an impressive win over the Bulls, Suggs had 15 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. Across those two games, he shot 18 free throws at an 89 percent clip.
Overall, Suggs has averaged 14.7 points (on 48 percent shooting from the field), 5.1 assists, and 5.3 rebounds since coming back. You’ve probably seen at least one of his many highlights circulating on social media.
Jalen Suggs QB1 pic.twitter.com/zwoQPotQsu
— Draft Dummies (@DraftDummies) January 22, 2022
(Worth noting: Suggs was a four-star quarterback prospect in high school who became the first athlete in state history to be named Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball in the same year.)
Jalen Suggs flashing his perimeter defense potential!
puts the CLAMPS on Stanley Johnson, forces turnover pic.twitter.com/TmZdQUd8m2
— RK (@beyondtheRK) January 22, 2022
Jalen Suggs welcomes Dwight Howard back to Orlando with the REJECTION to open Magic-Lakers pic.twitter.com/1xdWPAxyT8
— RK (@beyondtheRK) January 22, 2022
And, of course, the poster…
JALEN SUGGS PUT DEROZAN ON A POSTER 🤯 pic.twitter.com/C4OvRU2wGi
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 24, 2022
“I’ve been a fan of his since he went to school in Minnesota,” DeMar DeRozan said about Suggs after that game, via USA Today. “I always watched him, even when he went to Gonzaga. He is a hell of a talent. I’m a fan of his. I have been a fan of his without him even knowing. [I just told him] to keep going. ‘You’re a hell of a talent. You can be very successful in this league.’ I’m rooting for him.”
Us too, DeMar.