Jalen Suggs couldn’t stop smiling after he left the court in his NBA summer league debut as a member of the Orlando Magic.
The former Gonzaga star put on a show for the Las Vegas crowd. He scored 24 points, grabbed nine rebounds, had two steals, and two blocks. He led his team to a 91-89 victory over the Golden State Warriors in overtime.
Suggs embraced the whole experience, even the tough ones. He enjoyed every single moment of his first live NBA game. Well, until the regular season begins. For now, it’s practice jerseys and teammates who may never see again.
“I’m just so happy to be here, to be honest,” Suggs told NBATV’s Dennis Scott.
“Tempo is a lot different,” said the 6-4, 205-pound guard, who was the fifth overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft. “Coming off the picks and going up and down the floor, the physicality. The bumps.”
Orlando was thrilled Suggs was still available when it made its selection at No. 5. Many draft experts predicted that Suggs would be taken fourth and wear the Toronto Raptors jersey. But the Raptors pulled off a draft-day shocker by taking Florida State forward Scottie Barnes. Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri is one of the most well respected and highly regarded NBA executives, but after what we’ve witnessed in the NBA summer league in Las Vegas, Ujiri and the Raptors may regret not selecting Suggs.
Barnes hasn’t been bad in the summer league. He’s just not Suggs.
Barnes is seen as a do-it-all forward who can play multiple positions. Positionless basketball has become fashionable these days. But not having a clear position also has its disadvantages. You still need a primary ballhandler or a 1, you still need a 5 man (aka center), and you still need wing players (2-3). The power forward (also referred to as 4) has evolved over the years. The 3 and 4 have become interchangeable, and some 4s are able to play the small-ball 5.
Suggs is clearly a 1 or 2. But what is Barnes?
At Florida State, Barnes came off the bench and was utilized as a Swiss Army knife. Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton subscribes to positionless basketball and Barnes falls in line with other positionless athletic wing players who came through Hamilton’s system: Patrick Williams, Jonathan Isaac, and Terance Mann. Williams, Isaac, and Mann are good role players but none of them are going to receive a max contract.
Sometimes NBA scouts and executives fall in love with trends. Barnes was a trendy pick because of his versatility. He could ultimately be a solid player for the Raptors. He’s shown he can fill up the stat sheet and can defend multiple positions. However, Barnes hasn’t flashed star quality. Suggs, on the other hand, has star quality. He already looks like a superstar capable of lifting an entire franchise and leading a huddle. Suggs looks like a natural leader, and his background as a top high school quarterback gives him a leg up over other rookies. He can lead.
The Magic have completely retooled their team in the last two years, moving off Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic and sending their massive contracts to the Denver Nuggets and Chicago Bulls, respectively. Orlando mutually parted ways with head coach Steve Clifford and handed over the reins to Jamahl Mosley.
Mosley, the 15th head coach in franchise history, comes to Orlando after spending the previous seven seasons as an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks. He is considered as a rising star in the Magic’s eyes and he’ll be tasked with helping the franchise rebuild. And Suggs appears to be the cornerstone of the rebuilding process along with second-year guards Cole Anthony and R.J. Hampton.
Anthony, the son of former NBA player Greg Anthony, was the Magic’s first-round pick in the 2020 draft and showed some flashes of brilliance in the second half of his rookie campaign. Anthony and Suggs have shown they already have strong chemistry, Mosley should at least try to pair them together in the starting lineup. Suggs thinks the combination of himself and Anthony will be “dangerous.”
“The moment we started going, the rhythm that we get the closeness. It’s gonna get dangerous,” Suggs said. “We’re gonna continue to work. We’re both workaholics. We both want to be great.”