Name: Jalen Suggs
Dominant Hand: Right
Weight: 205 lbs
Position: Combo Guard
ESPN Top 100 Ranking: 4
The Toronto Raptors scouting and development staff have built a glorious reputation for themselves by consistently finding steals late in the draft. Look no further than Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, or Malachi Flynn for proof. The Raptors have been able to defy the value of their late picks by selecting players based on their character and work ethic instead of simply choosing the highest-flying or rawest athlete left on the board. With a top-four pick in this year’s draft, the Raptors will be able to select a player who not only has a formidable work ethic, but at the same time, will be able to make a strong and immediate impact on the basketball court.
Enter Jalen Suggs. The freshman product from Gonzaga is one of the biggest names in this year’s draft, primarily because he hit a half-court heave in an overtime thriller against the UCLA Bruins in this year’s March Madness tournament. Aside from his skill on the basketball court though, he was also an accomplished high school football player, starting as the quarterback for Minnehaha Academy. Before ultimately deciding to focus on basketball, Suggs had offers to play D1 football for Iowa, Iowa State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Ohio State. Often, dual sport athletes are able to take another leap in their game once they decide to focus solely on one of their sports. A prime example of this ideology is Pat Connaughton – a second round pick from 2015 who has been able to work his way into the rotation of an NBA Finals team after shifting his focus from baseball to basketball.
Furthermore, Suggs is the ultimate competitor. Despite suffering a hip pointer in his sophomore year of high school at Minnehaha Academy’s tournament, he returned just a couple of games later to help lead his team to the semi-finals. Unfortunately, he would later suffer from a fractured tibia, but he wouldn’t let that hold him back from attending Stephen Curry’s invitational camp for the best high school players in America, where he was still able to learn from one of the greatest point guards of all-time. Jalen’s drive to always learn and be better was partially instilled in him by his father, who coached him in high school, and had Jalen playing with fourth graders from the time that he was in kindergarten. That ability to lead older players translated to Suggs’ lone season at Gonzaga, where he was playing alongside a handful of upper-year classmates with NBA dreams of their own. He even led them to a perfect record until they ran into Baylor in the tournament finals.
“He’s a happy kid. He wants to be great, but at the same time, he understands where his priorities are at in his friendships and relationships. He’s a good kid, he likes to joke around a lot, but you know, when it’s time for him to put in the work, he’s out there to do that,” Suggs’ father said about him.
Even when Jalen appeared on ESPN’s The Jump to announce that he was declaring for the 2021 NBA Draft, he opted to momentarily take the spotlight off of himself to talk about the acts of police brutality that had recently occurred in his hometown of Minneapolis.
Suggs is excellent playing in the open floor, and off every rebound that he catches, he is always looking to push in transition. When he does not rebound the ball, he will often be running the length of the floor looking for an outlet pass, or looking to catch a lob around the rim. He has an underrated burst of athleticism and is often able to get out ahead of the pack in transition to create easy buckets for his team. See examples of his stellar acceleration below.
Being a guard in today’s NBA means that you have to be able to get by your initial defender with ease to create an advantage for your team’s offense. Jalen Suggs checks that box with his quick first step and his good strength, which has allowed him to become the highest-ranked point guard in the nation. This ability to get by defenders in space is an area of his game where he’s arguably better than this year’s consensus first overall pick, Cade Cunningham. Suggs is also very strong, weighing a stocky 205 pounds, which allows him to play through contact once he runs into bigger players inside the three-point line. See examples of Suggs’ advantage creation below.
As a slightly taller point guard, Suggs is able to see the floor better than most smaller guards, but he doesn’t use his size to bully smaller defenders by passing over the top of their head. Suggs is a gifted bounce passer, and he is great at finding teammates jolting down the court when he catches the rebound. His ability to throw full-court passes is Kevin Love-esque, although it’s not necessarily the accuracy of his passes that impresses scouts. Instead, Suggs’ ability to play out of the pick and roll and manipulate the back line of defenses is what stands out for a player of his age. He shows a feel for the game that is well beyond his years, which is what leads many to believe that he has the highest floor among anyone else in this year’s class. Much of his passing ability was probably derived from his time spent as a quarterback in high school. See examples of Suggs’ ability to find his teammates below.
With Suggs’ height, length, and strength, it is easy for him to play either guard spot defensively, or even guard some smaller wings. Similarly to how Suggs is able to read the game at an elite level offensively to create for his teammates, he is great at positioning himself defensively too. Despite being a guard, Suggs is good at stepping in as a help defender to make shots difficult around the rim, or even getting into passing lanes and being a pest where he can. The only knock against Suggs’ defense is that he gambles for steals a little bit more often than you’d like. Given that this is a tendency of Fred VanVleet, having both of them on the court could cause some issues for a back line that projects to be anchored by Khem Birch. Regardless, here are some clips of Suggs showing off his astute defensive positioning.
This is less of a strength in Suggs’ game, but it is something that Nick Nurse will appreciate: 85% of Suggs’ looks during his season as a Bulldog came either at the rim, or from behind the three-point line. This is likely a product of two factors: that when Suggs gets into the mid-range, his strength and leaping ability often entice him to drive a few feet deeper to take a layup instead of a pull-up jumper, and also because Suggs’ shot is relatively inconsistent, which I will dive into next.
Suggs is not a bad shooter by any means, and this is why his shot-making ability is less of a concern than his overall consistency shooting from deep. Despite shooting 33.7% from three and 75.4% from the free-throw line during his lone season an Gonzaga, he would often go through stretches of several games where he struggled to find his rhythm from deep. After shooting 11-20 from three-point range through his first five games of the season, he shot a dismal 4-24 through his next eight games. It’s still a small sample size, and it’s an amateur scout’s attempt at picking a hole in Suggs’ game where there aren’t any obvious ones, however to be a three-point threat at the next level, it’s an aspect of his game that he’ll have to improve. This shouldn’t be of much concern for Raptors fans if Toronto ends up selecting Suggs at #4, since the team has a formidable history of developing subpar shooters into three-point threats.
As a taller guard, Suggs naturally has a slightly higher dribble. Many taller point guards in the NBA are subject to the same criticism, such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Delon Wright, or Shaun Livingston. For Suggs to excel as a playmaker in the NBA and leverage his driving ability, he will need to tighten his handle, become more aware of where double teams are coming from, and keep the ball a little bit closer to his body. This is partially what has led to Suggs’ higher-than-desired turnover rate. See examples of Suggs’ loose handle leading him into trouble below.
If you’re looking to keep a lean memory of who Jalen Suggs is as a prospect, the key things to remember are his sneaky athleticism, his ability to push in transition, his defensive IQ and hustle, and his well-roundedness. Neither of his weaknesses are glaring, especially for a kid who just turned 20-years-old, and given Toronto’s development system combined with Suggs’ work ethic, he should be able to eliminate any holes in his game fairly quickly. As a result of Suggs’ size, athleticism, advantage creation, and ability to dominate in the open floor, Suggs is very reminiscent of a pre-injury John Wall. If the Raptors end up drafting Suggs, he would become the first freshman product that the franchise has selected since DeMar DeRozan in 2009.