Jalen Suggs had a simple message for the Toronto Raptors and the three other teams drafting atop the 2021 NBA Draft: pass up on me and you'll regret it.
It's fair to poke holes in Suggs' game, at least as a truly top-tier prospect. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds he doesn't possess the kind of rare physic that usually wows scouts. He shot just 33.7% from three-point range and his 2.9 turnovers per game were a lot for someone who prides himself on being a supremely skilled passer.
Is he the perfect NBA prospect? No. But what he is is a winner, the kind of player who has it, and someone the Raptors would be foolish to pass on at No. 4.
"I will say the ones that do pass up on me and take another prospect, you know, it'll come back, it'd be to their detriment," Suggs said Tuesday. "You can look at my track record and what I've done and where I've been, you know, it's always win at a high level, at the highest level."
Over Suggs' five-year basketball career dating back to his freshman season at Minnehaha Academy in Minnesota, he has a 140-15 record with three state championships to his name and a near-perfect 31-1 record at Gonzaga. He became one of college basketball's most dominant players averaging 14.4 points, 4.5 assists, and 5.3 rebounds per game on an elite Bulldogs team. Oh, and if that wasn't impressive enough, he did it all while essentially developing as a part-time basketball player who spent five months of the year on the football field where he was a three-star quarterback prospect with college football offers from Georgia, Michigan State, and Iowa.
"It's funny. I haven't been a full-time basketball player yet," he said. "I mean I think, I have honestly the most improvement to make out of to anybody in this draft."
That, as Suggs said, is scary to think about. He has arguably the highest basketball IQ of anyone in the draft while spending half of the year reading defensive backs on the football field or sprinting down the sideline to make an open-field tackle on an opposing running back. Those football skills, he said, have made him a more well-rounded point guard.
"You of course see it in the aggressiveness and the way how I embrace contact and bring contact on the basketball floor," he said. "And then the vision I think is the biggest one. Honestly, from being a safety, reading eyes, reading body language, and seeing where guys are turning toward to where they're going to make a pass or make a certain move. And then quarterback wise on offense just reading defenses, seeing different windows to throw the ball in and I know I have the ability to fit it in those tight windows."
The biggest knocks on Suggs right now are his handle and his finishing. His football background usually has him seeking out contact around the rim making his finishes a little bit more difficult than they need to be. Ideally, at the next level he can iron those out a little more, smooth out his control and make things easier on himself.
That's where the Raptors will ideally come into play. Toronto, as Suggs acknowledged, has one of the NBA's best developmental programs. He mentioned how far Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Fred VanVleet have come and that kind of developmental trajectory would work wonders for a player as talented and, in some ways, as raw as Suggs.
If everything comes together for the 20-year-old, there's a real chance he develops into a taller version of Kyle Lowry. That's high praise considering Lowry's hall of fame career, but Suggs is built mentally in that same vein with all the winning traits and defensive intangibles you could want out of a lead guard.
"I think one little thing, not even a little thing, but just the way he competes and plays defense and his effort on the floor is, you know, it's talked about as a skill now that players have, but honestly, that should just be in everybody," Suggs said of Lowry. "That should just be in every player, and I think that's the mindset that I carry, that he carries, and something that is needed in a winning locker room."
When the ping pong balls started popping up on NBA lottery night this was the situation the Raptors were praying for. They moved from No. 7 to No. 4 in a draft that's considered to have a pretty clear-cut top four. Assuming Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, and Evan Mobley are gone when Toronto's pick rolls around, it should be a no-brainer for the Raptors when Adam Silver calls out Toronto's pick.
Don't pass on Jalen Suggs, or as he said, you'll regret it.