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Draft Watch: Jalen Suggs could usher in a new Raptors era

We’ve looked everywhere for the Raptors’ next franchise cornerstone. Is the answer right under our noses?

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-UCLA at Gonzaga Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA Draft is this week, and there’s a good chance the Toronto Raptors keep things simple and draft the best available player available at #4. And if most mock drafts hold, that player might well be Jalen Suggs — and it might turn out to be a brilliant move.

This assumes Toronto keeps the 4th overall pick, of course. But Suggs just makes sense in that spot. He may not be as sexy a pick as, say, Jalen Green or Evan Mobley. But Suggs’ floor is already higher than Green and Mobley. If he ends up with the right team, perhaps Suggs can even exceed expectations and be the better player than those two players in 2-3 years.

Suggs doesn’t have the unicorn physical attributes that Mobley’s got, and he doesn’t have the same size and aerial attack as Green. But he brings a winning mentality and many other intangibles that we love from our own point guards. He might also give the Raptors fanbase hope to get back to the playoffs sooner rather than later.

Jalen Suggs

  • Age: 20
  • Height: 6’4”
  • Wingspan: 6’6”
  • School: Gonzaga (Freshman)
  • College Stats : 14.4 PTS (50.3% FG%), 33.7% 3P%, 5.3 REB, 4.5 AST, 1.9 STL, 0.3 BLK, 2.9 TO

Why Jalen?

If the top of the draft happens as expected, with Cade Cunningham, Green and Mobley going 1-2-3, Jalen Suggs is the best player available at #4. The Raptors could look in Jonathan Kuminga or Scottie Barnes’ direction, but there’s no need to overthink it. Suggs fits!

Suggs does many things well — and that versatility is his best attribute. Tell him what you need from him to win the game, and he’ll do it. Do you want Suggs to be the floor general? Check. Do you want him to be the go-to scorer? Check. Do you want him to generate offense and be a playmaker? Check. Do you want him to defend, hustle, and make those winning plays? You don’t need to tell him that.

In a way, Suggs reminds me of Brandon Roy. There is an argument that they are well-rounded, but do nothing fantastic. Roy was overlooked during the 2006 draft, where the Raptors had the #1 overall pick. Roy went sixth, and went on to win the rookie of the year award while shattering the ceiling that draft evaluators placed on him before his body started breaking down.

Suggs should come in as an NBA-ready point guard, regardless of his future team’s situation. His court vision, playmaking prowess, and ability to get anywhere on the floor as a threat to score or pass should translate well in the NBA. Suggs’ decent size, athleticism, and, more importantly, toughness and compete-level should allow him to play on two-point-guard lineups. Out of the top four prospects in this draft, he’s got the resume when it comes to coming up big in clutch moments, something that the Raptors are short of.

Areas of Concern

I see nothing here (kidding!).

If you’re doubting Suggs, you just like the other top prospects ranked slightly higher than him. This is “analysis paralysis,” and it’s all about trying to find out glaring weaknesses when there’s none.

Sure, Suggs will need to improve his shooting — particularly around the perimeter and on catch-and-shoot situations. The Raptors have a track record of improving their guards’ perimeter shooting and their limitations, with Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet as Exhibit A and B. Both were decent enough shooters who consistently improved to where opposing teams couldn’t risk leaving them on the perimeter. Even Kyle Lowry’s perimeter shooting (volume and percentage) got consistently better in Toronto. He’ll also need an improved in-between game (runners, floaters, 15-footers) to balance his improved shooting.

Despite not being at a Cade Cunningham-level of usage as the point guard, Sugg’s turnover rate is pretty high at 2.9 TO per game. It would be nice to see his handle get tighter, but that can come in time.

Raptors Fit

After the lottery, a potential scenario at the back of my mind finally reared its ugly head. With Jalen Suggs as the consensus #4th pick, is this it for the Kyle Lowry era? I followed Gonzaga games throughout the season, but I went back to study the tapes again, and I concluded: Picking Suggs should not affect Kyle Lowry’s contract situation and, should Lowry stay, would simply make the Raptors’ backcourt even more potent.

A Suggs selection gives the Raptors flexibility to go in several directions. If anything, Masai Ujiri does not like to commit either way unless he’s ready to go all-in. The Raptors can quickly re-tool, and of course, that can include moving on from Lowry, and perhaps one, if not both of Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet. The Raptors can also go with a complete rebuild and prioritize Suggs and OG Anunoby’s timeline.

But perhaps the most attractive option here is to run it back with Jalen Suggs.

We had one impressive season with a small backcourt of Lowry and VanVleet plus Powell, and a second that had flashes but was marred by COVID. Suggs is NBA-ready and can take over Powell’s minutes as a combo guard.

If there’s a roster casualty here, it would be Gary Trent Jr. or Malachi Flynn. Given the option, I would rather give Lowry the bag than pay Trent at this point. Trent doesn’t necessarily have to walk away, as he can use the Raptors to facilitate a sign-and-trade to get the money that he deserves. Flynn, on the other hand, would have to be traded. We saw how many minutes were left after VanVleet/Lowry/Powell soaked up the backcourt minutes. Given what Flynn’s shown when given the minutes, he deserves to go to a team that can give him that.

Suppose the Raptors can surround a Suggs/Lowry/VanVleet backcourt with decent two-way finishers outside of Siakam and Anunoby. In that case, this team can make some noise in the playoffs, especially if Suggs’ growth accelerates as we get deeper in the playoffs. I’ve said this before — The Raptors have a “playoff starter pack” in VanVleet/Anunoby/Siakam. Should Bobby and Masai played their cards right and surrounding Suggs with the right players, they should be able to get him to the playoffs to get his feet wet as a rookie.

As I mentioned above, Suggs’ best attribute is providing what the team needs. Everyone remembers the buzzer-beater against UCLA, but look at this two-way play a few possessions prior to that:

Suggs’ addition should provide additional playmaking and positional toughness. Sure, the Raptors already have strong guard play. But playing combo guard should not be something new for Suggs, as he alternated between playmaking and scoring with Gonzaga. With the Raptors, he has the opportunity to be the engine of the offense. His shot and playmaking should alleviate the pressure from VanVleet and Siakam to try to shoulder the offense in late-game scenarios. We just saw a team win a championship based on a collective effort of their key players. Perhaps a three-headed monster plus an always clutch, shot-ready OG Anunoby can make some noise in the East as well.