Suggs sizzles with star power as Pistons mull their options with NBA’s No. 1 pick
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
(Editor’s note: The Pistons won the NBA draft lottery for the first time in franchise history last month and general manager Troy Weaver said there were five players who were legitimate candidates to be the top pick. Pistons.com today continues a five-part series looking at the consensus top-five prospects in the draft with an examination of Gonzaga freshman Jalen Suggs.)
When Troy Weaver waxes about the qualities he’s laser focused on when considering players he deems fit to don a Pistons jersey, he might as well be reading the background reports on Jalen Suggs.
Toughness? Suggs was playing quarterback as a 4-year-old in a football league for 10-year-olds.
Leadership? Those who play quarterback as 4-year-olds are fairly certain to ooze leadership qualities.
Talent? Suggs was both Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball in Minnesota, leading his private school to four state championships.
The players to whom Suggs has been compared – Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd most prominently, Jamal Murray among active players – all were surrounded by a force field of charisma and star power.
Here’s a look at Suggs and what the Pistons would be getting should they use the No. 1 pick in the July 29 draft on the Gonzaga star:
FIRST-ROUND CANDIDATE: Jalen Suggs
ID CARD: 6-foot-4 guard, Gonzaga, 20 years old
DRAFT RANGE: Ranked 2nd by The Athletic, 4th by ESPN.com, 4th by Bleacher Report, 3rd by The Ringer, 3rd by SI.com
SCOUTS LOVE: Suggs was a dominant two-sport star in Minneapolis who became the first athlete in state history to be named both Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball. As a quarterback who visited Notre Dame, Alabama and Ohio State before deciding to stick to basketball, Suggs led Minnehaha Academy to the state title as a junior and came up one point short of repeating as state champions as a senior when he passed for 2,213 yards and 25 touchdowns and ran for 978 yards and 12 touchdowns while intercepting nine passes on defense. A five-year starter for the basketball team – he was elevated to varsity while in seventh grade – Suggs averaged 23.3 points, 7.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 3.9 steals to lead his school to three state titles, denied a fourth when the 2020 tournament was canceled amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Suggs committed to Gonzaga in January of his senior year and walked into the starting lineup for a team that came up one game short of an undefeated national championship season, losing to Baylor in the NCAA title game. Suggs averaged 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists for a loaded Gonzaga team and showed off the winning DNA scouts love by making several big baskets, including a 40-footer at the buzzer to lift Gonzaga over UCLA in the national semifinals. Suggs has tremendous speed and a physical frame plus keen passing and playmaking instincts on top of a high defensive ceiling. His athleticism, IQ and leadership skills make Suggs as close to a complete package at guard as it gets.
SCOUTS WONDER: The most notable question mark hovering over Suggs is the potency of his 3-point shot and his perimeter shooting in general. Suggs hit 33.7 percent from the college 3-point line on 3.5 attempts per game with 34 percent of his shots coming from the arc. One of the players to whom Suggs is often compared is Jason Kidd, though it’s probably a stretch to expect Suggs to become a playmaker of that caliber. Suggs has the athleticism and physical characteristics to play either backcourt spot, but his value is increased if he sticks at point guard where his size, speed and physicality would give him distinct matchup advantages and his developing perimeter shooting would be less of a liability. Suggs’ free-throw percentage (75.4) reflects the reality that he’s a good but less than a significantly above-average shooter.
NUMBER TO NOTE: 37.0 – That’s Suggs’ free-throw attempt rate, the number of free throws attempted per field goal attempted, a strong number that underscores Suggs’ ability to get to the rim and draw fouls. It’s in line with Cade Cunningham’s 39 percent rate and more than twice the 17.2 percent rate of Jalen Green, other perimeter players who are projected to be top-four picks.
MONEY QUOTE: “He makes shots. He’s got that magical aura. He makes them in practice all the time. It’s been crazy this year how many he’s made in practice, last-second shots. I felt pretty good. I was staring right at it. And I said, ‘It’s in.’ And it was.” – Gonzaga coach Mark Few after Suggs hit the game-winner over UCLA in the national semifinal
BOTTOM LINE: Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey have put a premium on the character traits that Suggs exudes as a leader and selfless teammate who pours effort into both ends of the floor equally and places winning above all individual achievement. It will come down to whether the Pistons believe Suggs also moves the needle more than anyone else in the talent department and how he would blend with the several other young players – 2020 draft picks Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey, foremost – Weaver has added to the roster since becoming Pistons general manager in June 2020. Suggs’ winning DNA might be hard to quantify but he could make it impossible to ignore as the player evaluation process plays out to its conclusion ahead of the July 29 draft.