Suggs projects as a clear top 5 pick in this draft, as he is an athletic guard with excellent basketball IQ and a well rounded skill set with a clear path to NBA usefulness.
The big question is: for a PG sized guy at 6’4″ with 6’6″ wingspan, does he bring enough offensive upside to the table relative to his hype? In this regard he has a clear comparison to another recent high lottery pick: Marcus Smart. They have a number of statistical parallels:
Right off the bat the upside concerns are apparent. Suggs does not have Smart’s length, and he is not as disruptive as Smart who posted better steal and block rates. Smart is also the more physical player drawing more free throws. Both players also excel defensively on film, although Suggs is slightly more mistake prone. Smart offers approximately the maximum defensive value for combo guard size, and while Suggs is not far behind, he does project to be at least slightly worse on this end than Smart.
This means that Suggs needs to pick up the slack on offense, and do so by a significant margin to be more than a quality role player like Smart. He had similar efficiency on lower usage, a lower assist rate, worse assist:TOV, and a similar shooting signal. At a glance, it is clear why Suggs is currently not projected top 3, as there is no guarantee that he has the offensive skill to offer a big upside tail for his size.
What is his path to greatness?
His biggest advantage over Smart is a better first step, that he uses to get to the rim with greater frequency. Based on play by play data, he created his own shot at the rim in the halfcourt 1.62 times per 40 vs 1.07 for Smart. Smart’s free throw rate indicates his physicality which is a strength on defense, but offensively he was more of a pure bully which is difficult to translate to the NBA for a guard.
Also, Suggs’ pedestrian assist rate may be deceiving considering he was playing on one of the best NCAA offenses of all time for Gonzaga that was absolutely loaded with ball handlers and scorers. They typically played 3 guard lineups, and everybody’s assist rate took a hit:
Suggs also eye tests as much better than his assist rate, as he sees the floor well and makes excellent reads. He likely would have been able to successfully handle a bigger usage with a higher assist rate on an ordinary NCAA team that wasn’t insanely loaded with offensive talent.
The only cause for concern is that many of his best assists were in transition, and it is not clear if he has the handle to make advanced passes off the dribble against set defenses. But in terms of vision and IQ, he has elite passing upside.
He also should be a better shooter than Smart, as Smart’s outside shot has developed at a mediocre rate in the NBA while being slightly worse in college.
While he does not project to quite match Smart’s defense, Suggs should be better offensively, possibly by a significant margin.
Let’s Talk About Upside
It’s difficult to come up with perfect upside comps for Suggs, but he has one clearly attainable one that stands out: Jrue Holiday.
Jrue shared the handicap of having to share ballhandling duties with another PG, as he played alongside senior Darren Collison at UCLA. He was significantly less effective on offense than Suggs, although much of this could be chalked up to his 1 year youth advantage as guards often make a big leap from age 18 to 19. Given that he was #2 RSCI and NBA ready as a rookie, it would be fair to expect him to post similar production to Suggs had he stayed for his sophomore season.
Overall they are similar as they thrive on defensive IQ with intelligent passing with decent enough skills offensively. And Suggs is the better athlete, so he does not need all that much to go right to become Jrue level or better.
But How Much Better?
This is where it gets murky, as it is difficult to find anybody with more than a vaguely similar distribution to Suggs. You need to go back to the 90’s to find any half decent upside comps, per 40 stats used:
Jason Kidd is an interesting comp as he was also an exceptionally cerebral player who thrived with transition passing and defense, and was an old freshman:
Suggs was a better shot maker, but Kidd’s instincts were on a different level with much better assist and steal rates. Suggs could have maybe posted a better assist rate elsewhere as aforementioned, but that assist rate for Kidd is insane. Granted it dropped to 3.6 as a sophomore, but it still makes it difficult to project Suggs on Kidd’s level as a defensive player or passer. He can make up with scoring, but it is overall a highly imperfect perfect comp.
Baron Davis is a bit more athletic than Suggs, but Suggs is 1″ taller. And Baron’s better steal rate can’t really be glazed over. There are some clear similarities here, but once again not perfect.
Gary Payton’s breakout junior year is included as it is likely more indicative of his true value. It’s unlikely that Suggs’ passing is as saucy or that his defense is as elite as the glove, but they are the same height and athletically similar so it may be somewhere in his range of possibilities if we want to envision his most optimistic outcome.
Suggs is a relatively safe pick as he comes as a polished as a high IQ player who has the athleticism to make plays, and it is difficult to see him not being a useful NBAer.
Most likely he will be somewhere on a scale of Marcus Smart to Jrue Holiday level of goodness. But because he is more athletic than both, he should have upside to surpass Jrue if things go well for him.
But it is still unclear exactly how much upside he has. Both because it is difficult to find a satisfactory comparison for him, and because it is unclear exactly how good his passing would be if given complete control of an offense rather than sharing the load on an excessively talented NCAA team.
As far as this draft goes, the only guy he is clearly below is Evan Mobley who is super well rounded with more upside and fewer limitations.
After that, it’s difficult to compare Suggs to Cade Cunningham and Scottie Barnes. Cade and Barnes are in higher upside molds, but Suggs is a safer bet to reach his upside. We likely don’t have enough information to rank those 3 with any confidence.
It is easier to compare him to Jalen Green, also sized like a small SG. Green is a bit taller, longer, and more athletic with better shooting and creation ability. But Suggs is stronger with vastly better passing and defense, more potential to play PG, and should fit in a wider range of lineups. It’s understandable why many folks prefer Green, but Suggs feel, IQ, and well roundedness should give him the edge.
There is something to be said for a good median outcome with decent enough upside. Consider 2014– Marcus Smart arguably was the best non-Embiid selection in the lottery in spite of being somewhat of an unsexy role player. And he was retained for a reasonable 4 years @ $52 million compared to Andrew Wiggins’s ridiculous 5/147 extension.
Ultimately Suggs is a solid and safe pick, and once Mobley is off the board it is difficult to see how he could be a bad selection.