Cade Cunningham has been the consensus number one pick since November, but since Gonzaga’s recent run in the NCAA Tournament and the heroics of Jalen Suggs, there is some doubt surrounding that now.
Gonzaga has been, perhaps, the best team in the history of the NCAA and Jalen Suggs is a major reason for that. The future top-five draft choice is an elite point guard prospect. He is a very good athlete, a decent shooter, and he has an incredibly high basketball IQ. All of these things make Suggs a very enticing NBA prospect.
Cunningham, on the other hand, is a true blue wing prospect. He has everything you could hope for in a 6-foot-8 wing at the top of the draft. He is a great shooter and passer, a solid athlete, and a very smart player. He could potentially be the center of a heliocentric offense, which is the ultimate compliment to give any prospect. So, if Cade is this good of a prospect, what could make Jalen Suggs a better one? Here are three reasons Jalen Suggs could be the number one pick in the upcoming NBA draft.
Reason 1: Transition Playmaking
Comparing athletic profiles, Jalen Suggs is the better prospect. He is quicker and more explosive as a guard and this shows itself mostly in transition. He has an uncanny ability to run off-ball in transition, catching lobs or spotting up in the corner. He is also elite as a passer in transition. His hit ahead passes are elite, and he can make insane bounce passes from well behind the half-court line. It’s truly a special and uncanny ability that is further unlocked by his athleticism. Cunningham is a solid transition playmaker, but he doesn’t have the run and jump athleticism that Suggs does.
Reason 2: Role Versatility
If there was one major question with Cade Cunningham, it would be “what does he do without the ball?” This question is not one asked of Jalen Suggs. Suggs has already shown an ability and willingness to play off the ball. He can be an incredible shooter in spot-up situations, with range and precision, and he is a very good cutter. He is also a great guard defender and this can allow him to have an incredible two-way impact.
Reason 3: Leadership
This is definitely the one that is getting the most traction in draft circles about Jalen Suggs. Anyone listening gets to hear all the truisms; “killer instinct”, “ultimate leader”, “winner”, etcetera, etcetera. These things can be trite and exploitative, but there is some truth to them. It’s hard to watch Suggs and not marvel at the hustle and intensity that he plays with. He gives 110% every play and he lays his heart on the line at all times. He has that leadership quality that you desperately want in any point guard and it will certainly engender favor with him in front offices. His intensity, competitiveness, and love for the game are undeniable and a major help to his draft stock.
Counter 1: Teams
Comparing the college careers of these two is completely unfair. Jalen Suggs played on the best team in college basketball history, flanked by other elite talents like Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi, and Drew Timme. Cade played on an Oklahoma State team with no other elite players and almost no spacing. He single-handily led them to a four seed in the NCAA tournament. He was an elite passer but struggled to get assists because his team struggled to score and he had to carry a huge load late in games. Giving Suggs the boost simply because he won in March, ignores context and a major piece of the scouting process.
Counter 2: Tremendous Upside
Cade, simply by virtue of being 6-foot-8 with an elite handle, great shooting, and great passing, has the higher upside of the two. Suggs has a very glaring, underdiscussed flaw in his handle. He doesn’t create advantages at an elite level, and his handle can be loose and robotic. That would make it hard for him to ever be a top-level scorer in the NBA. A handle is a tough thing to develop, especially for a guard and he doesn’t have the height or strength that Cade has either.
Conclusion: Cade is Still the Guy
Both of these guys are elite and will be among the top five prospects selected in the upcoming draft. Comparing them almost does them a disservice because it forces an evaluator to disparage one. Cade Cunningham is the consensus number one prospect for a reason. He’s a big wing with all the upside in the world. Generational is certainly the word to describe Cade. Jalen Suggs is an elite complimentary prospect. He does every little thing well and that makes him an undeniable talent. Both of these players are very good and very deserving of their draft position, but Cade is still the number one prospect for sure.