When the Toronto Raptors jumped up in the 2021 NBA Draft Lottery to earn the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, they were put in a position to select a future superstar to build an already talented young core.
Among the names expected to be available are USC freshman center Evan Mobley, G League Ignite guard Jalen Green, G League Ignite forward Jonathan Kuminga and Gonzaga freshman guard Jalen Suggs. That foursome, along with projected No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham, is believed to be the top tier of the 2021 NBA Draft class, and the Raptors would be lucky to land any of the five players.
SCOUTING REPORTS: CUNNINGHAM | MOBLEY | GREEN | KUMINGA | SUGGS
But which prospect will they target with their first-round pick?
In the first edition of my 2021 NBA Mock Draft, I had Suggs falling to the Raptors with the No. 4 pick. The standout freshman was beyond stellar during his lone collegiate season at Gonzaga, leading the Bulldogs to a near-perfect 31-1 record with the only loss coming in the National Championship.
Suggs is a 6-foot-4 guard with intangible leadership skills, a fierce demeanour on the defensive end and a knack for elevating his teammates on the offensive end. Although his birth date says he's 20 years old, you'd never know from watching him play with a poise that is well beyond his age.
With longtime captain Kyle Lowry facing unrestricted free agency this offseason, the time may be drawing near for the Raptors to find their floor general successor.
And where Suggs fits in particularly well with Toronto's current roster and head coach Nick Nurse's offensive scheme is that the young star is at his best when he is pushing the pace in transition, catching the defence on its heels to find teammates running the lanes around him.
Whether it's off of a defensive rebound, an outlet or even a made basket, opposing defenses need to get back fast before Suggs is off to the races, trying to catch defenders sleeping while delivering on-the-money passes with either handoff of a live dribble.
But don't mistake his downhill speed or high-tempo style for a lack of control - Suggs will push the pace with patience, using his sixth-sense court vision to let things develop around him before dishing a strike for the easiest bucket available.
In the play above, you see exactly that. Suggs works the ball up the floor with some urgency as multiple USC players - including likely top-five pick Mobley - have their backs turned as they try and get set defensively. You can watch him scan the floor as he sees sharpshooter Corey Kispert lagging behind for a spot-up 3 on his left and another shooter in Canadian guard Andrew Nembhard in the corner.
Despite a crowd of crimson jerseys around a cutting big man in Drew Timme, he recognizes only one opponent is in a position to defend a pass. Despite the small window, he fires the ball with pinpoint accuracy, leading to an easy dunk.
And if you try and anticipate where he'll go with the ball in transition, Suggs will make you pay by exploiting better options. Take this similar play below as an example, where Suggs again pushes the tempo with patience.
This time, Suggs recognizes that one Saint Mary's defender is trying to mark two different players running the break - Nembhard out to the perimeter and Joel Ayayi through the lane. Suggs is deceptive in that he moves the Saint Mary's player with his eyes, making him think he's going to Ayayi for a layup. Once the defender commits, he dishes a crisp pass for an open and easy 3-pointer to Nembhard.
Now just imagine those scenarios with Pascal Siakam or OG Anunoby running the lane and Fred VanVleet and (potentially, pending restricted free agency) Gary Trent Jr. kicking out to the wing.
Why it matters: In the three seasons that Nurse has been the head coach of the Raptors, the team has always been at its best when they play fast. According to NBA stats, under Nurse, they have never ranked outside the top five in transition points per game or outside of the top 10 in fast break points per game.
|Year||Transition PPG||League Rank||Fast Break PPG||League Rank|
What sticks out to you there?
This past season - the first time the Raptors have missed the playoffs in eight years - they averaged their lowest number of transition and fast break points per game, therefore giving them their lowest league rank in each respective category since Nurse took over in 2019.
Toronto's halfcourt offence was stagnant in 2020-21 and they weren't pushing the tempo the way we have seen in years past. With Suggs at the helm of the offence, pace and tempo would not be an issue.
One of the major reasons Gonzaga was so successful in his one college season was because they led the country in points per game, playing at one of the fastest rates in the NCAA.
If the Raptors elect to go with Suggs at No. 4, he could bring that playstyle back to Nurse's offence with a perfectly constructed roster around him to get out on the break.
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