Nineteenth century French author Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr famously coined the phrase “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Upon embarking on one of the more critical off-seasons in recent franchise history, the Orlando Magic organization is once again finding itself in a familiar situation: change (and lots of it).
Orlando’s top executives, led by Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and General Manager John Hammond, made franchise direction-altering moves this past March, trading All-Star center Nikola Vucevic (nine seasons with the Magic), starting forward Aaron Gordon (seven seasons with the Magic), and starting wing Evan Fournier (seven seasons with the Magic) prior to the league’s trade deadline. After appearing in the playoffs for two consecutive seasons from 2019-2020, Orlando’s front office decided to change the organization’s course - at least partly due to the significant knee injuries suffered by Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac (which caused the Magic to fall considerably in the Eastern Conference hierarchy).
If that wasn’t enough change (or maybe because it was too much), the Orlando Magic organization will also be searching this offseason for their sixth head coach in the last eight years. On June 5th, an announcement was made that the team and former head coach Steve Clifford had “mutually agreed to part ways”. Clifford, who was an assistant in Orlando under Stan Van Gundy from 2007-2012, compiled a 96-131 record leading the Magic over the last three seasons. It is widely believed that the Orlando organization’s new blueprint- with so many young players on the roster - doesn’t align with a veteran coach such as Clifford’s timeline.
So here we are, with a turned-over roster full of 20-somethings, and a new lead coach yet to be hired. But with so much change, why do things in Orlando still feel the same?
The draft. Once again, the Magic organization is embarking on a critically important draft - and they have to get things right. The mainstays from recent Orlando past are gone, the team is in full rebuild mode, and much of what the franchise has done over the last year hinges on hitting a homerun during this draft process.
So I’m back for my fourth consecutive offseason, putting together a series of scouting reports on players the Magic will likely be targeting, either with their first round pick or Chicago’s pick (which Orlando acquired in the Vucevic deal). Chicago’s first round pick this year will be conveyed to Orlando as long as it doesn’t land in the top-4 (Editors Note: It conveyed - the Magic will be picking fifth and eighth in this year’s draft).
Some important dates in this process to keep in mind between now and the end of the summer are: June 21st-27th (the NBA Draft Combine), June 22nd (the NBA Draft Lottery), and July 29th (the NBA Draft).
In this series, I have compiled scouting reports that include film observations, loose player comparisons, talking points, Magic-specific potential fits/needs, and more. Next in this series is an athletic guard and natural leader - Gonzaga freshmen and Minnesota prep star Jalen Suggs.
14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists
(28.9 minutes per game)
59.5% TS%, A/TO ratio: 1.55
Film Study: Eye in the sky
-Athleticism really pops when he’s playing in transition; big-time run & jump athlete
-Very crafty at the rim, excellent finisher in transition and on the move (with either hand)
-Evident he’s a multi-sport athlete; elite body control, movement in space
-Was often able to get downhill and to the rim as a pick-and-roll initiator; remains to be seen if he will be able to do that against elite NBA athletes/smarter defenders (who go under screens/fight through with more success)
-Was solid enough as a shooter when defenders went under screens, has room to improve shot mechanics (I would like to see him release the basketball a little higher)
-Can make all the passes necessary out of pick-and-roll action; very underrated vision
-Proverbial “quarterback” on the court, sees the floor exceptionally well – plenty on film (skip passes, cross-court passes to shooters in the corner) to support his passing acumen; unselfish lead guard
-Strong and athletic on-ball defender. Uses size and quick hands/quick feet to be disruptive and stay laterally in front of his man
-Big-time “hustler”; creates positive plays in so many ways based solely off effort – chase down blocks, steals from back-taps and jumping passing lanes, diving for loose balls, deflections, etc.
-Has ‘All-NBA Defense’ potential; possesses everything needed: size, strength, athleticism, effort, awareness, versatility
His game resembles...
Chauncey Billups - This loose comparison is solely based upon similar leadership styles; both players (at their respective levels) have proven to be leaders of men, capable of hitting big shots. Billups was an All-NBA defender, and I think Suggs has that same potential
Jrue Holiday - A more modern comparison, both players have similar measurables and play with similar styles. Holiday has developed into an efficient perimeter shooter, which will clearly be a swing-skill for Suggs, Another great leader (Holiday) that ha made All-NBA Defensive teams
Russell Westbrook - I don’t love this comparison, but stay with me. Suggs has athleticism and the ability to break a game open in transition in a similar fashion to a Westbrook. By no means do I anticipate Suggs scoring at the same prolific rate (or playing with a similar usage rate) that Westbrook has enjoyed throughout his career. I see the similarity between these two playing out at the NBA-level mostly with the ball in their hands in transition.
Best games/films of the season
November 26th vs. Kansas: 24 points (9-15 FGA’s, 2-3 3PTA’s), 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals
December 19th vs Iowa: 27 points (7-10 3PTA’s), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals
March 30th vs USC: 18 points (7-11 FGA’s, 2-4 3PTA’s), 10 rebounds, 8 assists
Video Credit: Frankie Vision
Video Credit: Swish
Video Credit: The Scouting Rapport
Resume & By the numbers
- Won three consecutive Minnesota high school basketball state titles his freshmen through junior years (his senior year was cut short due to COVID-19); named Minnesota Mr. Basketball in 2020
- Was selected to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game, the Jordan Brand Classic, and the Nike Hoops Summit (all cancelled due to COVID-19)
- Was also named Mr. Football in Minnesota in 2019, quarterbacked his team to a state title in ‘18
- Won three gold medals playing for Team USA in the FIBA U16 Americas Championship (2017), the FIBA U17 World Cup (2018), and the FIBA U19 World Cup (2019)
- All-West Coast Conference (1st Team), West Coast Conference Rookie of the Year (2021), West Coast Conference Tournament MVP (2021)
- 2nd Team All-American
- Led the WCC in Defensive Rating, Defensive Box Plus/Minus; ranked second in the conference in steals per game and steal percentage
- Recorded three or more stocks (steals and blocks) in a single game eleven times this past season
1) Tournament boost?
Year after year, a prospect from seemingly every draft class gets a “boost” following their play in the NCAA Tournament.
With more eyes on college games/teams during the tournament than at any other time in the season, there has historically always been at least one prospect who has shot up industry big boards as a result of an incredible three or four game stretch in March.
I’m telling you, that’s not the case with Suggs. Yes, his team was chasing an unprecedented and historic undefeated season, ultimately falling one game short in the National Championship. And yes, because of those circumstances, Gonzaga (and their players) was a team in the spotlight throughout the NCAA Tournament. But in reality, Suggs showed up big this past season from Game 1 – he’s not some prospect that’s riding a stock wave after hitting a miracle game-winning shot to down UCLA in the National Semifinal (although it was incredible).
For me, Suggs exploded on the scene in Gonzaga’s opener back in late November, playing in a holiday tournament against Kansas (his college debut was probably his best game: 24 points, 8 assists in 24 minutes – defended primarily by reigning Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Garrett). Three weeks later, against Big Ten power Iowa, Suggs scored 27 points (7-10 3PTA’s), grabbed 7 rebounds, dished out 4 assists, and recorded 3 steals.
In fact, in Gonzaga’s five non-conference contests against Power 5 teams (Kansas, Auburn, West Virginia, Iowa, and Virginia), Suggs averaged 15.0 points, 5.8 assists, and 2.8 steals on 51.8 percent shooting (9 for 17 on three-point attempts).
Make no mistake, I’m not saying Suggs wasn’t at his best playing in the NCAA Tournament (he absolutely was). I’m just saying, he made his presence felt as a top prospect in this class well before that.
2) How many times are you going to say that?!?!
From the moment that Jalen Suggs is drafted by an NBA team, throughout the rest of his hopefully lengthy career, I can pretty much guarantee you will overwhelmingly hear one talking point come up without failure when the Gonzaga product is discussed (if you haven’t heard it already)…
Commentator #1: Did you know that Suggs played quarterback in high school as well? He was quite the star on the gridiron, and the former Mr. Football in Minnesota could have played quarterback in college, but he chose to play basketball instead.
Commentator #2: Good choice.
Both commentators enjoy a chuckle.
I mention this because there are countless sports clichés that are often overused. But in this case, I think mentioning (hopefully not too often) that Suggs has significant experience playing quarterback/football really helps.
Because when you watch Suggs on film, one thing that really jumps out at you is the hustle, intensity, and ferociousness he plays with on the defensive end. The way he jumps passing lanes, forces deflections, and contorts his body when finishing at the rim, you can tell that he’s playing basketball with a football mentality.
And again, it may be cliché, but I think there’s a lot of cross-over between playing the quarterback and point guard positions. Both assignments require a player to see the whole field/court, make quick adjustments on the fly, and take care of the ball.
A team that is lucky enough to be in a position to potentially draft Suggs is getting a menacing athlete in the open-court who has two-way potential as both an elite defender as well as a lead guard with the requisite skills to hurt a team in a multitude of ways.
And a lot of those positive qualities stem from his experience playing football. Kids, don’t be specialists – play more than one sport.
Whether it’s playing off the ball in a multiple lead guard lineup, or attempting to make defenders pay for going under screens as the initiator in pick-and-roll situations, my biggest concern with Suggs is his outside shooting.
Perimeter shooting aptitude isn’t a glaring weakness in his game, I’m not saying that. In fact, Suggs ranked in the 93rd percentile of college basketball in scoring off-the-dribble in half-court situations this past season (according to Synergy Sports).
The problem was that he only posted 0.919 points per possession in catch-and-shoot situations (39th percentile, according to Synergy). The appeal of drafting a prospect such as Suggs is his versatility, a plug-and-play guard that can fill in either backcourt positions.
We know Suggs can run the pick-and-roll and initiate offense. He’s elite in transition and finishing at the rim too (and he’s a smart off-ball cutter as well). But will he be able to consistently knock-down perimeter shots at the next level?
He buried seven three-point field goal attempts against Iowa on December 19th, but those makes accounted for twenty percent of his successful attempts for the entire season. He only made three or more three-point field goals in a contest on two other occasions last season. Conversely, Suggs failed to convert a three-point field goal in 13 of Gonzaga’s 30 games.
Making a case for the Magic to draft Jalen Suggs in the ‘21 draft
|Does Suggs fit the Weltman/Hammond archetype?
|Would taking Suggs in the lottery be considered a BPA/value selection?
|Yes (Magic pick)
|Would Suggs provide the Magic with depth in a needed area?
I don’t really need to make much of a case here, this one’s pretty simple. If Suggs were to fall into Orlando’s lap, you take him.
In fact, you run that pick to the podium.
Suggs doesn’t possess the superior length that Weltman and Hammond covet in a prospect (although he does offer significant positional size). And with Fultz (probably out for the first few months of the season) and Cole Anthony already on the roster, the Minnesota native doesn’t play a position of relative need for the Magic either.
But Suggs has legitimate star potential, he’s one of the consensus top-four projected picks in this strong draft class for a reason. And that’s what Orlando was seeking heading into this draft process to begin with, a potential star player that could change the course of the franchise.
I think it’s highly unlikely that he’s still on the board for Orlando when they pick at number five, but stranger things have happened. If a team in front of Orlando (perhaps Cleveland or Toronto) were to become enamored with Jonathan Kuminga or Scottie Barnes, then a situation could potentially unfold where Suggs would then still be available.
Again, I doubt it (Suggs seems like a really nice fit in Toronto). But assuming he’s there, then to hell with the depth chart - go with the five star freshmen from Gonzaga if he’s on the board. Suggs could fit in the backcourt next to Markelle Fultz and/or Cole Anthony. He’s got the size, strength, and athleticism to defend either guard position; and he has the ability to swing between both spots in the backcourt offensively as well (although he profiles more as an on-ball lead guard than an off-ball contributor at this stage of his development).
ESPN, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic, and Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer all list Jalen Suggs within the top-four of their respective best available/big boards in this class. It would take something very strange to happen for Suggs to fall down to the Magic at number five, but I’m not sure it’s an impossible scenario.
If the unforeseen does ultimately play out on draft night, the Magic could potentially have a guard on their hands who possess elite leadership qualities, tremendous defensive upside, and outstanding athletic ability (especially in the open floor).
Aaron Goldstone has been writing for Orlando Pinstriped Post since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @AaronGoldstone.
Also, check out Aaron’s other scouting reports in this series: Scottie Barnes, Franz Wagner, Keon Johnson, and Moses Moody.