Flashback – July 29th 2021. The Amway Center in Orlando explodes as the Toronto Raptors announce Scottie Barnes with the fourth pick. Minutes later, anticipation has built to a fever pitch as the Orlando Magic select Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs. This was arguably the loudest the Amway has been since the Raptors playoff series. In years to come, this could be when the culture in Orlando changed forever.
Fast forward. January 23rd, 2022. Suggs runs the length of the floor and throws a vicious dunk on Bulls All- Star Demar DeRozan. The momentum carries Suggs beyond the basket. There is audible and visible shock in the arena, and rightly so.
Not for the first time this season, there’s a large opposition presence in the crowd. Red shirts are everywhere. One Bulls fan heckles Suggs and catches his eye. Suggs clearly points out the ‘Magic’ logo on his chest in a ‘this is our house’ gesture, seemingly raising the ire of Bulls analyst and former centre, Stacey King.
Suggs would finish the game with 15 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals in an eye-catching performance, including 3 showtime dunks. A typical performance since Suggs’ return from injury. But why is this significant?
Since entering the league in 1989, the Magic have been a ‘nice’ team. In recent years, Michael Carter-Williams has been flying the ‘competitor’ flag for Orlando. Magic fans mainly would have to think back to Matt Barnes, Rafer Alston and Andrew DeClerq as stand-out win at all costs guys.
The arrival of Suggs was heralded as a culture changer when the Magic made the pick. Images were everywhere on Twitter of his jubilant Gonzaga game winner. ESPN analysts lauded the pick and even the dunked on DeRozan spoke of him being a Suggs fan after the game.
Baptism of Fire
Suggs would have a baptism of fire in both pre-season and in the regular season. Early career match-up’s included Marcus Smart, Dejounte Murray, Kemba Walker, Kyle Lowry, Lamelo Ball and Fred Van Vleet.
Defensively, Suggs showed his worth. Comparisons have already been made to Marcus Smart and Jrue Holiday. Offensively, shooting woes and turnovers plagued the Gonzaga product.
Seemingly, disaster struck for Suggs against Philadelphia on November 29th, 2021. A fractured thumb would put the Magic rookie on the shelf for weeks, just as he had seemingly taken a small leap offensively. However, nothing could be further from the truth from what would happen next…
Blessing in Diguise
Magic fans with short memories will remember a similar scenario last season with Cole Anthony’s leap taken after injury. Time out being used to observe the game, having had a taste. The same would be true of Suggs, a point reinforced by Mikey Clark in the Penny For Your Thoughts podcast dated January 30th, 2022.
A noticeable change is Suggs’ driving to the basket and especially his dunking. Speaking on the Grit ‘n’ Grime Podcast, Orlando UK’s ‘Elder Statesman’, Paul Bacon explained how the time out allowed the Magic to put Suggs through conditioning and getting him to where he needed to be. Alongside work on driving to the basket, Suggs has made use of frame, which is famously also suited to American Football.
Casting an eye to the future, expect Suggs to continue his defensive intensity. Orlando have noticeably improved defensively since his return. Looking at his return, quarterback style passing (see his pass to Wendell Carter Jr. vs the Lakers) and driving to the basket will likely continue. Longer-term, it’s the culture change with the vocal leadership, confidence and winning ‘chip on the shoulder’ attitude which will carry a new look Orlando Magic team.
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