Gonzaga Basketball: Gauging Suggs, Kispert, and Ayayi’s fit in the NBA

SPOKANE, Wash. — After dominating college basketball in the regular season, Gonzaga men’s basketball imprinted itself on the 2021 NBA Draft with two players going in the top 15 and another being added on a two-way contract shortly after the 2021 NBA Draft. Today, we’re going to take a look at how these three players will leave their mark on their new teams and how their skills translate to the NBA overall.

JALEN SUGGS – No. 5, Orlando Magic

The first pure point guard selected in his draft class, Jalen Suggs is headed down to South Florida to join an upstart Orlando Magic team that’s on the other side of a roster overhaul. Even before the draft, Orlando had eight players age 23 or younger under contract for the upcoming season without a ton of room left to grow.

Suggs will have a chance to play a significant role immediately due to an injury suffered by former No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz midway through last year. However, Suggs has a lot of competition at guard; even with Markelle Fultz out. They traded for combo guard R.J. Hampton this offseason and drafted point guard Cole Anthony a year ago. Orlando very clearly went with a “best player available” mindset in picking Suggs, so they must see a lot in him.

He’ll have to fight for his minutes, but that shouldn’t be a problem since Suggs is arguably the best defender of the bunch without playing an NBA game. His hardnosed, team-first approach to the game will make him a starter in this league for years to come, so long as he can extend his range and maintain that same competitive drive he’s already shown at every level.

COREY KISPERT — No. 15, Washington Wizards

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Washington Wizards wanted more shooting around star shooting guard Bradley Beal, and few players provide that like Corey Kispert does. Though he’ll need to add some muscle, Kispert already has NBA size with a 6-foot-7 frame that will allow him to shoot over the top of smaller guards.

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The case for Kispert is a gift and a curse — His shooting is obviously the skill that made him a top-15 pick, but it’s also the only part of his game that has been highlighted by the masses at a professional level. Casual fans don’t realize that he can be a solid team defender with the right infrastructure and contributed on the glass consistently during his collegiate career.

Unfortunately, Kispert faces a similar dilemma to Suggs in Orlando: Washington already has multiple players at his position. They have used their last three first-rounders on forwards, including Gonzaga alumnus Rui Hachimura, and their star player takes up most of the team’s shooting guard minutes. Unlike Suggs, Kispert is likely entering this situation as the low man on the totem pole; barring a few offseason trades from the Wizards.

JOEL AYAYI — Undrafted, Los Angeles Lakers

Going undrafted is not a death sentence in the NBA these days, especially since the implementation of the two-way contract. On a two-way deal, a player can spend an allotted number of days with their club, but when those days run out, they have to return to the team’s G League affiliate. Believe it or not, this is a great position for Ayayi to be in.

As a rookie, Ayayi will get up-close and personal with three all-time greats in LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the newly-acquired Russell Westbrook. As he showed at Gonzaga, Ayayi doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective. That increases the likelihood that he will make an impact during his time with the Lakers.

A solid jump shooter with a high basketball IQ and great off-ball instincts, Ayayi is the type of player who can grow within the Lakers’ system and prove himself worthy of a role. His ability to read a defense and cut to the basket for layups and dunks will do wonders playing off of LA’s playmakers, and in the G League, he’ll be able to assert himself to expand that all-around skill-set. Ayayi got scooped up mere minutes after the draft concluded because the Lakers believe in what he brings to the table, so he should feel confident about the first steps in his NBA career.

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