By: Ryan Brock
After a tumultuous rookie season, the former fifth overall pick seems to be finding his footing as he builds momentum towards a much improved sophomore campaign.
All stats come from Cleaning The Glass, unless stated otherwise
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the 2022-2023 version of Jalen Suggs.
That game winner to defeat the Bulls is a shot that didn’t even seem possible last season for Suggs, as he struggled with his confidence, handle, and jumper for the entirety of his injury-riddled rookie year. In his second year as a pro, however, Suggs seems to be taking Coach Jamahl Mosley’s mantra of “leveling up” personally, improving virtually every facet of his game as he trends toward an encouraging second season.
Suggs is averaging 12.4 points, 5.4 assists, and 3.3 rebounds in 14 games played thus far, handling the majority of point guard duties while Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony rehab from injuries. While Jalen still has a tremendous amount of growth to show in regards to decision making with the ball in his hands, he’s also displayed immense progress in crucial aspects of his game.
If there was one category where Suggs needed to make the most improvement this season, it was shooting the basketball. His struggles with his shot during his rookie year are well documented, so it’s encouraging to see Suggs take strides toward being at least an average shooter in the league. The biggest revelation comes in the form of his mid-range jumper, and the obvious work he put in this off-season is paying major dividends early in his sophomore year.
Jalen is shooting 47% on all mid-range jumpers this season, a vast improvement compared to his measly 27% last season. From the long mid-range, he’s shooting it at a 58% clip, a number that ranks him in the 97th percentile of point guards who shoot it from that range, placing him right ahead of Steph Curry, James, Harden, and Darius Garland. While long jumpers that only net you two points aren’t exactly the most efficient shots in the world, the fact that he’s hitting them at such a high rate is a great sign for his trajectory as a jump shooter.
They also continue to build his confidence as he looks to extend his range. Suggs shows zero hesitation when dribbling past his defender to get into his pull-up.
Jalen is also showing progress with his step-back jumpers.
IImproved footwork and steady shot mechanics have aided Suggs in improving his eFG% from 40% to 49% this year, a number that still only ranks him in the 31st percentile of point guards. That’s still largely due to his 3-ball, where he’s shooting 30% on the season on 5 attempts a game. While that may seem low (and to be clear, it is), it’s still a major surge from his 22% on 3s last season.
Building off his newly found mid-range game, Suggs has begun showing competence on pull-ups from behind the arc deep as well. According to Second Spectrum, he’s shooting 42% (13/31) on all pull-up threes and continues to look comfortable shooting off the bounce no matter where he is on the court.
His step-back is starting to translate from long-range as well.
These clips don’t only display his confidence in his shot off-the-dribble, but highlight his improved handle that was such a hindrance to his game last season. A lot was thrown on Jalen’s shoulders as soon as he stepped foot in the league. Where many scouts coming into the draft saw Suggs as someone who can step right in and play, he clearly needed time to adjust to the speed of the NBA game.
A consistent jumper and a tight handle were the most glaring weaknesses for Jalen as a rookie, and improvement in the latter seems to be giving him a much easier time in helping him get to his spots. He’s not exactly Steph Curry with the ball in his hands, but he’s become a much more reliable and creative ball-handler.
So where does Jalen need to take another step forward? Well to start, the spot-up three is still giving him all sorts of trouble. He’s only shooting 19% on all catch and shoot opportunities from beyond the arc and just 22.5% overall, per second spectrum. When Suggs doesn’t have the rhythm of a dribble, his shot struggles to fall. Hopefully that changes as he logs more reps, which makes it imperative that Suggs remain healthy for a prolonged period of time.
Once Markelle Fultz returns, Suggs will likely find himself playing off the ball much more frequently, creating plenty of catch-and-shoot opportunities as he plays off Fultz and the 6 '10 playmaking duo of Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero. Transitioning to a secondary ball-handler could help Suggs’ improve as a decision maker as well, as his other big area of concern comes with his propensity to turn the ball over.
Suggs turnover percentage sits at a whopping 18.7% for the season, currently worse than what he posted during his first year in the league and giving him the 6th highest TO% amongst all guards in the NBA. Put simply, he has to be better.
Carless passes continue to hamper the progress that Suggs has made with his handle in regards to turnovers. Far too often does Jalen throw what should be an easy pass, either to a man on the block or just simply rotating the ball, to a player on the other team. He’ll also often try to force the ball to a cutter or a big in the paint when he runs into trouble.
What’s so frustrating is that Suggs shows flashes of being a high-level passer, racking up high assist games with cross-court darts, lobs, and setting up a trailer perfectly in transition.
The positive of this is that it feels like it should be a relatively easy fix as he plays more minutes in the league. Again, you hope that the more experience Suggs gets on the court–he’s still only played in 62 career games–the more he’ll learn how to better protect the rock.
Already a tenacious defensive player who plays with maximum effort each and every night, if Jalen can get the spot-up jumper trending in the right direction and cut down on the bone-headed mistakes, it would unlock a new dimension to his game and raise his ultimate ceiling to a high-level NBA player. That being said, his overall development as a pull-up shooter and refined mid-range game is something to be excited about as he continues to mature and gain valuable experience moving forward.
Follow Ryan Brock on Twitter