NBA Draft on ABC: Gonzaga represents Washington the 2021 draft class

NEW YORK — The first round of the 2021 NBA Draft is set to air on 4 News Now (ABC) on Thursday, July 29 starting at 5:00 p.m. and while there aren’t a ton of Washington-based prospects in this year’s class, the Gonzaga Bulldogs are front and center in the draft lottery.

Three Bulldogs entered the talent pool, and while their expected draft ranges may vary, each of the players is expected to join an NBA team by the end of draft night. Representing the state at the top of the draft is point guard Jalen Suggs — A gritty, team-first player who uses his athletic ability and scoring threat to manipulate defenses at will.

A stocky 6-foot-4 ball-handler who led the Bulldogs in assists and steals, Suggs plays with the wit of a veteran at only 20 years of age. Remembered by most for his glorious game-winning shot to defeat UCLA in the NCAA Tournament, Suggs improved his draft stock by taking command of his team in the postseason and dominating the stat sheet.

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By most accounts, the top four players in this draft are solidified: In some order, Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State), Evan Mobley (USC), Jalen Green (G League), and Suggs are expected to be picked before anyone else.

Unless one of Houston or Cleveland falls in love with him, Suggs’ most likely landing spot is with the Toronto Raptors at No. 4. Their championship point guard, Kyle Lowry is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and the team is headed in a younger direction. Lowry is likely to make some money on the open market during free agency, and his departure would pave the way for Suggs to make an instant impact on a highly competitive young team; just like he did in his freshman campaign with Gonzaga.

After Suggs, forward Corey Kispert is a near-lock to get drafted in the first round. In a league that leans heavily into 3-point shooting, Kispert’s excellent size and range make him an easy fit with almost any team in the draft. However, draft analysts fear that Kispert won’t bring much to the table outside of his 3-point shot; causing him to be projected in the mid-first round.

A 22-year-old from Edmonds, Washington, Kispert shot 44% on 6.5 3-point attempts per game in his senior campaign. One of the more experienced players in the draft class, Kispert is more likely to fill an immediate role for a team than some of the higher-upside prospects that will go before him. For many teams, drafting someone with star potential is a better bet than picking someone who can fill a defined role like Kispert. However, the 3-and-D playstyle is a hot commodity in the modern game and teams may be willing to pay a premium for his services.

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NBA Draft analysts commonly fit Kispert in as the No. 10 pick to the New Orleans Pelicans. The reasoning is simple — New Orleans needs consistent size and 3-point shooting to surround former No. 1 pick Zion Williamson — A dominant athlete whose overwhelming ability to score at the rim opens up 3-point opportunities for teammates. While it’s a logical fit, Kispert could slip into the early 20s if teams opt to swing for high upside over the guaranteed production expected from the 3-point marksman. Other reasonable landing spots include the San Antonio Spurs at No. 12, the Oklahoma City Thunder at No. 16 or 18, or the New York Knicks at No. 20.

Lastly, shooting guard/small forward Joel Ayayi, who played all three of his collegiate seasons with the Bulldogs, has thrown his name into the ring. Ayayi’s role was understated yet necessary for the near-flawless 2020-21 Bulldogs. He provides a burst of energy on defense while doing all of the dirty work like taking on difficult defensive assignments, cleaning up rebounds, and spotting up for 3-point jumpers while others run the show.

Draft experts don’t quite know what to make of Ayayi with some ranking him near the end of the first round while others leave him off their draft boards entirely. At the very least, Ayayi will have a spot on someone’s NBA Summer League roster to prove himself and earn an NBA contract. A recent Mock Draft by Bleacher Report expects Ayayi to be drafted 39th by the Detroit Pistons while other outlets leave him out entirely.

Personally, I expect Ayayi to be drafted somewhere near the middle/late second round to a team that’s actively trying to compete. Teams that would benefit from his selfless approach to the game and wide range of skills include the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, and Portland Trail Blazers.

Beyond these three prospects from Gonzaga, basketball players representing Washington state have been relatively quiet in this year’s draft. Even so, these three prospects will keep this state extremely relevant in this year’s draft.

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