ORLANDO - Three contests into his return from a fractured right thumb that cost him 20 games, Jalen Suggs has looked sharp. In his 22.5 minutes per game coming off the bench, he’s averaged 12.7 points on 58.6 percent overall shooting along with five rebounds and four assists.
Let’s take a deeper dive into his play.
The first thing that has stood out is his zip off the dribble. Pre-draft last summer, this was considered one of Suggs’ primary attributes. It’s not just the speed that’s been striking, though. It’s also the shiftiness he’s used to evade defenders on his way to the basket that has made him tough to stop.
Defenders have had a hard time staying in front of him. Ten of his 26 drives, per Second Spectrum tracking data, were blowbys. Even better is that he’s generally been able to finish at the basket.
Over these last three games, the 6-foot-5 guard has made 14 of his 17 shots within five feet of the hoop (82.4 percent). Of all guards who have attempted a minimum of 15 shots from this range over this span, that’s the best percentage in the league. De’Aaron Fox has the next best percentage during this time (76.5 percent).
In transition, he’s looked even more spry. The faster the pace, the more active Suggs is – even when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. One play in Dallas accentuated that. Late in the first quarter after R.J. Hampton intercepted a bad Mavs pass, Suggs raced ahead of the pack and rose high into the air for an alley-oop dunk delivered to him by Hampton.
Expect Suggs to rack up plenty of coast-to-coast buckets. Either off a turnover or rebound, which for a guard he gobbles many up, he resembles a quarterback scrambling for yardage after seeing daylight ahead. If the “end zone” is within reach, he’ll find ways to dodge “tacklers” using his blend of speed, agility, and craftiness. As a sidenote, Suggs was a star quarterback in high school.
Crisp as well has been Suggs’ passing. One teammate thriving lately playing alongside the 20-year-old in the second unit is Moe Wagner, who is averaging 18.7 points since Suggs returned. The 12 assists Suggs has accumulated since returning is the fourth most in the league among reserves during this stretch.
Hitting the trailer when he races ahead is something Suggs excels at, one reason why the older of the two Wagner brothers has gotten good looks from 3-point range recently. Meanwhile, in the pick-and-roll, Suggs has done a pretty good job identifying when a second defender has slid over to cut off his drive, enabling him to locate rollers for uncontested baskets inside. Examples below of each.
Although 10 fouls in three games is quite high, especially for a guard, Suggs continues to be a menace on the defensive end. Over these last three games, opponents have shot 39 percent from the field when he has been the closest defender.
Just 3-of-11 on shots beyond five feet from the basket, Suggs is still in the process of shaking off the rust from missing so much action. For him to blossom into a more potent scorer, his pull-up jumper is going to have to improve. On the season, he’s shooting just 20.2 percent on his pull-ups.
Suggs admits that early in the season his conditioning wasn’t at peak level. A blessing in disguise perhaps, but his time away from game action gave him the opportunity to work on his body and get in optimal physical shape.
“I think conditioning wise, I’m way, way better than I was coming into the season and even right before I got hurt in November,” he said. “That was a big thing. That day I got hurt, I think two days later I was in a hotel (and) I met with (Magic President of Basketball Operations) Jeff (Weltman) and we talked about some things I’m going to work on and what I believe needs to be worked on coming back, and the biggest thing that everybody came up with was conditioning -- so that I’ll be able to defend, be able to be out there for more minutes, give it my all without tiring out so quick. Coming back, I can really feel how that’s impacting in a positive way.”