Jalen Suggs has a saying that he’s stuck with during the early phases of his NBA career: knowledge is free.
The second-year Orlando Magic guard’s eagerness to learn has led to him getting guidance from two guards on the opposite side of the country: Portland Trail Blazers Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons, the Central Florida native and Edgewater High School alum.
Suggs’ connection with Lillard and Simons was sparked by Magic assistant coach Nate Tibbetts, who was an assistant coach in Portland for eight seasons (2013-21) before joining Magic coach Jamahl Mosley’s staff.
“Dame, how he carries himself: press conferences, body language, leadership,” Tibbetts told the Orlando Sentinel on the emphasis of the lessons Suggs took from each player. “[Simons] more, they kind of went through this both at a young age. They spent a little time talking about just the differences [between] being on an older team vs. a younger team. All of us learn from others.
“We’re trying to help these guys grow as players, but also as who they are.”
Lillard and Simons bring different perspectives that have been helpful to Suggs as he navigates through the first couple of years as an NBA player.
With Lillard, an 11-year veteran and seven-time All-Star who scored 41 points in Portland’s victory at Amway Center on Sunday night, the lessons have more so been focused on off-the-court and interpersonal skills: how one conducts himself in media conferences plus his body language in huddles and how to carry yourself.
Suggs and Lillard worked out together in Portland ahead of Suggs’ rookie season.
“That’s someone I like to learn from,” Suggs told the Sentinel. “The same way you can get better [on] the court is the same way you can get better off the court. How to handle yourself, how to carry yourself, how to lead, run a team … he shared a lot of stories about how he went about things. We try to replicate the best people. This profession — one aspect of it is on the court and skill-wise. Another aspect of it is your approach.”
Simons, the No. 24 pick in the 2018 draft, has spoken with Suggs about navigating through the first couple of years as a professional and the ups and downs that come with it.
Simons averaged 7.1 minutes in 20 games as a rookie before averaging 20.7 minutes his second year, 17.3 his third and eventually 29.5 in 2021-22 — a breakout season for Simons during which he averaged 17.3 points and 3.9 assists.
“Talking about the process, missing games, controlling pace, people skills and composing yourself and things like that,” Suggs said. “Just to be present and stay the course. The same thing Nate tells me all the time is [to] trust your work.”
Lillard and Simons have had similar advice for Suggs, the No. 5 pick in the 2021 draft.
“Just overall, patience,” Simons told the Sentinel ahead of the Magic’s Sunday loss to the Blazers. “I know especially for [Suggs], [being] a high draft pick. Coming into a great opportunity. Being able to play at a young age, just having patience. Everything’s going to work out the way it should be. No matter what, continue to work and continue to put the work in.”
Suggs said of the advice he’s received from Lillard: “Stay the course. [Things] are going to happen. You’re going to get hurt. You’re going to go through rough stretches. Stay the course [and] handle your business. You do that, you put yourself in a position to have success.”
Staying the course has helped Suggs improve in his second season, especially over the last month.
Suggs averaged 10.5 points (43.5% shooting, 38.1% on 3s), 3.4 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.5 steals in 25.3 minutes in the Magic’s 13 games since the start of February entering Tuesday’s home game vs. the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks.
He had 15 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists in Sunday’s loss.
“From what I see this year compared to last year, he is figuring it out,” Lillard said of Suggs on Sunday. “He is figuring out, ‘How do I play to my strengths? … What do I do well?’ He can get downhill; he can get to the rim. He is strong. In transition, he is really good with that speed and ability to finish at the rim.”
Gary Harris (sore left adductor) and big man Wendell Carter Jr. (left hip pain) are listed as questionable vs. the Bucks after not playing Sunday.
Admiral Schofield won’t be available after suffering a concussion against the Blazers.
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.