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‘It’s a learning experience’: Jalen Suggs reflects on NBA Summer League

Aug. 19, 2021 Updated Thu., Aug. 19, 2021 at 7:48 p.m.

Orlando Magic’s Jalen Suggs looks to shoot in front of Golden State Warriors’ Jaquori McLaughlin (40) during the second half of an NBA summer league basketball game in Las Vegas, Monday, Aug. 9, 2021.  (Associated Press)
Orlando Magic’s Jalen Suggs looks to shoot in front of Golden State Warriors’ Jaquori McLaughlin (40) during the second half of an NBA summer league basketball game in Las Vegas, Monday, Aug. 9, 2021. (Associated Press)
By Danny Webster For The Spokesman-Review

LAS VEGAS – There’s 1:18 remaining in the second quarter. Janis Timma takes a 3-pointer from the right corner. The ball bounces off the front of the rim.

Coming full speed from the left wing, as if he’s the only one thinking this shot is going to miss, is Jalen Suggs. He takes off, times the jump perfectly, and throws down the one-handed dunk of the NBA summer league over an unsuspecting Lamar Stevens.

But it was the ensuing inbounds that showed why the Orlando Magic are so high on Suggs, the former Gonzaga star, to take him No. 5 overall in this summer’s NBA Draft. He hustled back down the court to help draw a charge on Cavs guard Isaac Okoro.

Suggs pumped his fist, gave a roar to the crowd and celebrated with his teammates.

It’s those plays and energy that gave the Gonzaga faithful so much to cheer for this past season when the Bulldogs rode the magical wave all the way to the National Championship game. It’s why the 20-year-old was considered a top-5 pick in most mock drafts and could be considered a cornerstone for most teams that need a turnaround desperately.

“It is what I thought it would be. It’s a learning experience. You’ve got to take it for what it is, the goods, bads, ups and downs,” Suggs said. “The big thing is to keep pushing and not get discouraged.”

The Magic hope Suggs is the final piece that will fast-forward their rebuild. But there’s a logjam in the Orlando backcourt that lies in the way of Suggs.

The ideal scenario for the future is to pair Suggs with last year’s first-round pick Cole Anthony, or even former No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz. At shooting guard, seven-year veteran Gary Harris occupies that role. Last year’s 24th overall pick R.J. Hampton is another option in that slot.

Even veteran guard Terrence Ross, who can switch between the two and three, is a presence the Magic value. Ross is Orlando’s returning leading scorer at 15.6 points per game.

“I think I’m just trying to control the pace as best I can,” Suggs said. “Be the leader on the team, offensively and defensively. I think just making it more consistent; I’m getting to my spots. I’ve just got to knock down my shots.

It’s going to be a challenge for new Magic coach Jamahl Mosley and how he deploys all that talent. Suggs has the feel of a prototypical point guard but could transition to shooting guard if given the chance.

“I just think he’s shown he’s not afraid of the moment,” said Mosley. “He’s also willing to trust his teammates in times and make the right plays at times.”

Unfortunately, Suggs’ stint in the summer league came to an end last Friday due to a sprained left thumb. His time with the Orlando summer squad ends by averaging 15.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.7 steals and one block over 2.5 games.

This was Suggs’ first 5-on-5 action since the national title game against Baylor on April 5. It’s been an adjustment for him, and a time to get his feet back under him in a competitive nature.

So far, it’s been a success.

“I think everyone we have on this Summer League roster has been great,” Suggs said. “We’ve done a good job picking each other up. We all talk, we have great communication, we laugh and joke. Things stay pretty light.”

Suggs is going to a situation where the franchise traded two cornerstones last season in Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon. He’s going to be a part of a culture that he hopes to help build and strengthen for years to come.

“I’m just coming in to be myself,” he said. “I hope [the fans] gravitate towards that; my leadership, my positive energy, the way I give it all on the floor each and every night.

“I just hope they gravitate towards that and embrace me the way I’ve embraced their fans so far. Just the amount of support and outpour of love I’ve gotten on social media and from everyone who’s here in Vegas supporting us, it’s been great. I can’t wait to get back to Amway, see the fans in the arena, get to interact with them back at home and give it my all every night.”

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