Among all rookies who were the closest defender to at least 200 shots this season, Suggs had the third-best defensive field goal percentage (43.5 percent). Only Sacramento’s Davion Mitchell (43.0 percent) and Suggs’ Orlando Magic teammate Franz Wagner (43.2 percent) held opponents to lower shooting percentages as the nearest defender.
Making Suggs’ defensive mark even more impressive is that he guarded some of the most electric and dynamic backcourt players in the league in many of the 48 games he appeared in.
Fellow rookie Cade Cunningham missed all seven of his shot attempts with the Magic’s 6-foot-5, 205-pounder as the closest defender, per Second Spectrum tracking data, while perennial All-Star James Harden also failed to connect on any of his shots with Suggs near, going 0-of-6. Others who struggled include D’Angelo Russell (1-of-5), RJ Barrett (1-of-5), LaMelo Ball (3-of-9), and Darius Garland (3-of-10).
Opponents had a hard time eluding Suggs off the dribble on drives. Only 21.3 percent of the time did they blow past him, per Second Spectrum. Fighting through screens is another thing he excelled at. Even in situations where he’d go under on hard-set picks, he’d quickly recover and get back to his man.
For a guard, Suggs is very good defending in the post, even when he gets switched onto a big. Opponents combined to make just six of their 13 shot attempts when they posted up against the Magic’s 20-year-old. There was one instance early in the season against Utah when he got switched onto Rudy Gobert in the paint and blocked his shot. Later in the year while switched onto Kevin Love, Suggs denied the 6-foot-8, 251-pounder from backing him all the way down and then blocked his shot.
Not many players are better at getting their hands in the passing lanes than Suggs, who averaged a Magic-best 2.5 deflections per game. Among players who appeared in fewer than 50 games, he had the third-most deflections with 119 of them.
Always playing with incredible heart and hustle, Suggs would often dive on the ground for loose balls. He recovered 33 of them, most among rookies who appeared in fewer than 50 games.
He also drew eight charges, tied for fourth-most among rookies and first among first-year players who appeared in fewer than 50 games.
The Magic’s defensive rating when he was on the court was 107.8 and 112.8 when he was off it.
"Our analytics crew almost looks at our season like pre-Jalen injury and post-Jalen injury for the way that he looked and the way that our team looked,” Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman told Mike Bianchi on his FM 96.9 The Game morning show recently. “Our defensive rating skyrocketed (drastically improved) when he got back from that injury."
Suggs recorded the highest transition shot frequency on the Magic. Just over 24 percent of his field goal attempts came in transition. He averaged 3.5 of his 11.8 points per game in these situations. His shooting foul frequency in transition was 13 percent, third highest on the team behind R.J. Hampton’s 14.9 percent and Cole Anthony’s 13.8 percent.
He also led the team in fast break points per game (2.1). Many of those made shots occurred after he came up with a steal. It was generally in these moments when he displayed his speed and explosiveness.
When Suggs was on the court, the Magic averaged 102.4 possessions per 48 minutes. When he was off the floor, they averaged 99.6 possessions per 48 minutes.
One of Suggs’ best characteristics is that he’s very unselfish. He’s the ultimate team player. It shows in his play style. From an execution standpoint, he’s particularly good at finding open shooters on the perimeter when he gets into the paint.
He dished out 137 kickout passes this season, per Second Spectrum. Many of them went to his rookie teammate Franz Wagner, who made seven of his 19 3-point attempts when Suggs delivered the kickout to him.
Areas to Improve
Above all else, his shooting needs to get a lot better. He made just 36.1 percent of his floor shots and 21.4 percent of his 3-point attempts. Many have commented that his shooting form is very good. It’s just going to come down to improving his shooting touch and balance when he squares up.
Nearly 30 percent of his shot attempts came out of the pick-and-roll, but he made just 31.1 percent of those tries.
Turnovers were an issue for Suggs. He averaged three of them per game, third most among rookies. Getting better at protecting the ball on his drives will be critical. Defenders stripped the ball from him quite a bit when he made a turn toward the basket.
Building stronger chemistry with Markelle Fultz will also be important. The two were on the floor together for just 37 minutes this season. Orlando did accumulate 20 assists in that time, which shows that the ball was moving well with two floor generals playing simultaneously.