It’s been an impressive two-plus months for No. 1 Gonzaga on the court and for some of its top players in the eyes of NBA draft evaluators.
Gonzaga has two players in the top 10 of ESPN.com’s NBA mock draft released Tuesday. Freshman point guard Jalen Suggs is listed at No. 4, selected by Orlando, and senior wing Corey Kispert, an Edmonds native and King’s High School alum, is at No. 10 (Charlotte), according to ESPN draft analysts Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz.
Junior guard Joel Ayayi is a late second-round pick at No. 53 (Boston). Filip Petrusev, who turned pro following his sophomore season at Gonzaga, is projected at No. 31 (Oklahoma City), the first pick of the second round.
All four have elevated their draft stock since ESPN’s mock draft on Nov. 24, two days before the Bulldogs’ season-opening win over Kansas. Suggs was projected outside the lottery at No. 18 (Utah) with Kispert early in the second round at No. 36 (Minnesota).
Ayayi wasn’t listed among the 60 picks. Petrusev, who is having an outstanding season for Mega Soccerbet in his native Serbia, was No. 45 (Indiana).
Suggs has franchise point guard potential with nice size and strength and he’s a mature decision-maker and tough defender, Schmitz wrote in December. Areas to work on: Streaky shooter and Suggs isn’t the most “nuanced finisher.”
Florida State’s Patrick Williams, the fourth pick of the 2020 draft, is making roughly $7 million this season with the Chicago Bulls.
Kispert is “plug and play in the NBA,” Schmitz said on ESPN during the Zags’ 73-59 win over Saint Mary’s last month. “He made the right decision coming back to school because he’s a projected lottery pick now. He reminds me a little bit of Joe Harris (Brooklyn Nets).”
Maryland’s Jalen Smith was taken by Phoenix with the 10th pick in last year’s draft. He’s earning about $4.2 million in his rookie season.
The 6-foot-5 Ayayi is averaging 11.9 points, a team-high 7.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He’s shooting 73.5% inside the arc, 36.4% on 3s.
“If he were in this year’s draft, he would certainly hear his name called,” Schmitz said. “I think he has a chance to be a first-rounder if he goes back to school (for his senior season). He’s improved as a shooter, he’s gotten tougher and I do think he has a chance to play in the NBA.”
Petrusev is shooting 63.2%, including 41% on 3-pointers, and 77.3% at the foul line while averaging 23.8 points and 7.6 rebounds.
“While his jumper has improved, playing out of short rolls is where Petrusev is at his best,” Givony wrote. “Petrusev’s skill level in the post may be the highest of any player in this draft class not named Luka Garza, but he can also create shots from all over the floor thanks to his strong ballhandling ability and much improved physicality and toughness.”
The top five in ESPN’s mock draft are Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, USC’s Evan Mobley, NBA G League Ignite’s Jalen Green, Suggs and Ignite’s Johnathan Kuminga. ESPN’s preseason top five were Cunningham, Green, Kentucky’s B.J. Boston, Mobley and Stanford’s Ziaire Williams.
Mobley and Gonzaga freshman Dominick Harris were teammates at Rancho Christian in Temecula, California.
The first nine in the latest mock are freshmen or Ignite players who were prep seniors last year. They’re all 18 or 19 years old until No. 10 Kispert, who will turn 22 next month.