LAS VEGAS – Jalen Suggs probably accumulated five years of NBA wisdom during his rookie season with the Orlando Magic.
There was an injury setback on Nov. 29, when Suggs fractured his thumb playing against the Philadelphia 76ers. Another one, on April 7 against the Charlotte Hornets, ended Suggs’ season prematurely and the former Gonzaga standout was forced to undergo surgery for a stress fracture to his right ankle.
On the court, Suggs had fleeting moments of success, picking up an invite to the NBA Rising Stars Game and posting double-doubles against the Phoenix Suns and Indiana Pacers, but he’s also conscious of the narratives that followed him into the offseason.
Suggs averaged 11.8 points and reached the 20-point mark on multiple occasions, but he made only 36% of his total shots, shot 21% on 3-pointers and registered a true shooting percentage of 45%, a number that wouldn’t rank inside the top 500 of NBA players.
He wasn’t always consistent as a facilitator, dishing out 4.4 assists per game but also averaging 3.0 turnovers.
“I think just being more efficient all over,” Suggs said of his objective in 2022-23. “On everything. Shooting, handling the ball, I think you can always get more efficient in that aspect. But for me I think it was a positive first year. … I learned so much just through seven, eight months throughout the season. I’m looking forward to getting to year two and really proving to myself, not to anybody else, what I can do, what I’m capable of.”
Suggs is still working through the rehabilitation process from his ankle surgery. He’s shooting and running now, but the former Zag hasn’t been cleared for full contact or 5-on-5 work, which kept him off Orlando’s Summer League roster. Suggs, who had the third-highest odds to win Rookie of the Year honors last season, was one of the top draws at the midsummer showcase in 2021 – especially after his Final Four heroics for Gonzaga in Indianapolis – but the Magic asked their former No. 5 pick to embrace a different role at this year’s Summer League event.
The former Bulldog arrived approximately one hour before Orlando’s Summer League opener Thursday wearing Converse shoes, green camouflage pants, a designer T-shirt and two silver chains. He spent 10-15 minutes mingling with the Magic’s coaching staff, dapped up Orlando’s Summer League players as they filtered onto the court then briefly signed autographs – receiving a “Zag Up” from one signature-seeker – before taking a courtside seat next to teammates Markelle Fultz, Wendell Carter, Cole Anthony and Jonathan Isaac.
“It sucks, I wish I could come out with the guys. I wish I could come out with the guys, get back to playing 5-on-5 and things like that,” Suggs said. “Just the Summer League environment is obviously super fun. So it sucks not to play but got to stay patient, got to trust the process and rehab is going really well. Back on the court moving, shooting, running around. … Really enjoying continuing improving and while I’m here, cheer these guys on.”
Twice in the first half, Suggs sprung out of his chair when top overall draft pick and new teammate Paolo Banchero knocked down a 3-pointer. Orlando fans are optimistic the lottery-pick pairing of Suggs and Banchero can restore a winning culture for a franchise that’s compiled a record of 43-111 over the past two seasons.
“Me and Paolo are close and good friends. We’ve got a lot of mutual friends,” Suggs said. “He’s the best, he’s going to do great and I can’t wait to see him develop and playing with him this year is going to be fun.”
Suggs was deeply invested in the draft, beyond the ramifications for his own team. Moments after Banchero went to Orlando, Suggs was back on the edge of his seat as the Minnesota native watched longtime friend, ex-Minnehaha High/AAU Grassroots Sizzle teammate and former Gonzaga standout Chet Holmgren go No. 2 to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Holmgren, Suggs and Adam Morrison are the only players in program history to be selected inside the top five of the NBA Draft.
“Then to see Chet get drafted, it’s something we’ve talked about for so long,” Suggs said. “You can see the process and the work that’s been happening since we were little kids. He stuck to his process and dedicated himself to the weight room, to his craft and he’s one of the hardest workers I know. To see it all pay off, I couldn’t have been more happy for him. I told him that right afterwards and now I can’t wait for him to get out here and get to spend some time together.”
Not many are more familiar with Holmgren’s game than Suggs, so he wasn’t surprised to see the full package come together in Holmgren’s debut as NBA player, when the Oklahoma City rookie scored 23 points on four 3-pointers, hauled down seven rebounds and set a Summer League record with six blocked shots in Salt Lake City on July 5.
“Oh yeah, he looked comfortable, he looked comfortable. He was ready to play,” Suggs said. “Stuff that we do, I knew he was going to come out and do him, be himself. So I love to see it.
“It’s great to see him perform. We knew he was going to do it. He has supreme confidence in himself and we all have confidence in it. So to see a longtime friend, and really a family member to me, do well like that on a big stage is great.”
If it’s anything like the one Suggs just completed, Holmgren’s rookie season should be filled with eye-opening experiences. Before Orlando’s Summer League opener, the second-year guard recalled his “welcome to the NBA moment.”
“I think it was just going up against Brooklyn and having KD,” he said. “It was just one of those ones. He came out, what 10-for-11, 30 points. Nothing you can to do stop it. I don’t know.
As for how many of Durant’s buckets came with Suggs as the primary defender?
“You’d have to go back and watch it,” he laughed. “But yeah I think that was the first of the stars in this league (I played).”
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