After an incredible freshman season with the Gonzaga Bulldogs, Jalen Suggs’ first year in the NBA didn’t exactly go as planned.
The 21-year-old guard fell to fifth in the 2021 NBA draft, getting snapped up by an Orlando Magic team that didn’t have a ton of help around him. Factor in a midseason injury which sapped him of momentum and you have a rookie season that didn’t exactly jump off the page.
“He was put in a role that I don’t think was great for him,” NBA scout and analyst Mark Schindler said on the Locked on Zags podcast. “Yeah he played off Cole Anthony but I felt Jalen was running more of the offense and needed to bend the defense more. And as we saw at Gonzaga, as good as he was, he’s not the guy you want consistently bending the defense. Even with what his profile was coming out, that’s not who he is supposed to be.”
Suggs thrived as an open court threat and a transition athlete while in Spokane, and concerns about his half court offense and outside shooting reached deafening levels after his first NBA campaign. Suggs averaged 11.8 points, 4.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.2 steals in 48 games for the Magic, but he shot just 36.1% from the field and 21.4% from deep.
While the offense was disappointing in year one, there is little reason to be concerned about Suggs going forward – according to Schindler – in part because of how impactful he is on the other end of the floor.
“I do think there were a lot of promising signs with him,” Schindler continued. “Number one, the defense was really, really good for him last year. I still think, as good as he is at the point of attack, there’s still some things I’d like to see him clean up off the ball too – he can be a little over-aggressive, he can fall asleep sometimes or ball watch, but that’s what happens when you’re 20 years old.”
Suggs was one of the best guards in the NBA at defending the pick and roll, and as he gets more used to the NBA game – and fills out more physically – he has the potential to be among the best defensive players in the entire league.
That gives Suggs an extremely high floor, but ultimately players are judged by how much they put the ball in the hoop, and Jalen will need to prove he can do that more consistently to reach the expectations lauded on him out of the draft.
Fortunately, Schindler believes Orlando will be better next season, and pieces on the roster will help him play a more natural role off-the-ball in year two.
“I think this team is going to be a lot more potent offensively,” Schindler said. “You’re getting a lot more internal growth from guys. Theoretically you’re going to have (Markelle) Fultz all year around, which helps a lot. Having him to help carry some of that load and let Jalen play off the ball more.
“Again, the shot is going to have to fall, but I’m just not all that worried about it.”
Hear more about Suggs, as well as Chet Holmgren, Andrew Nembhard, Corey Kispert, Rui Hachimura, Domantas Sabonis, and Courtney Vandersloot, in the latest episode of Locked on Zags:
Host – Locked on Zags Podcast
Writer – Ducks Wire