Fill-in the blank: Usman Garuba is going to become a _____ player? Maybe a solid rotation piece? A diamond in the rough? A potential, dare I say, All-Star?! Or does he not make it past his rookie contract?
I don't know! I wish I had the answer. I’m sure the rest of the Houston Rockets’ fanbase wishes they too possessed the powers of Nostradamus.
The truth is that we haven’t seen enough of him to get an idea on if he will be here well into the future of this rebuild. Certainly the Rockets knew he’d be a long-term project when they took him 23rd in the 2021 draft, but a rookie campaign marred by injury limited his potential to make an impact in his first year.
Thankfully, it appears he’s good to go these days as he’s been getting some run with Spain in international play after missing NBA Summer League with a bum ankle.
If he can remain healthy, which is the biggest factor for any player in sports, he figures to compete in training camp for the backup center minutes against some combination of Boban Marjanović, Marquese Chriss, Bruno Fernando and Willie Cauley-Stein. Among those names, I project either Marjanović or WCS to make the roster as the third big along with Garuba and Alperen Şengün.
For Garuba to stake his claim for second string minutes, I think he’ll have to focus on these three aspects:
It’s pretty obvious. The best ability is availability. *ba-dum-tssshhh*
Much of Garuba’s upside as a prospect was predicated on his defensive potential. While he isn’t the biggest guy out there, his wingspan makes him much more of a versatile threat on that side of the ball. He can carve out an important role for himself if he continues to play with a high motor (Bismack Biyombo is still getting paid).
He’ll be at a disadvantage guarding colossal bigs such as Joel Embiid, but who isn’t? However, I’m confident he’ll be able to hold his own against the majority of post players because of his great natural instincts as you can see below.
Usman Garuba is the only player who can contain Alperen Şengün on Spain’s team..— Bradeaux (@BradeauxNBA) September 7, 2022
Excellent defense on these 3 possessions. pic.twitter.com/4yFIPne8hm
This is what will determine how dedicated Houston will remain to developing Garuba. It’s imperative that he finishes at a respectable rate around the rim. This team should never require him to go and get buckets, but in order for his minutes to truly matter, he has to be able to capitalize when he gets easy opportunities on the offensive end.
I can’t stress enough how frustrating it was watching Joel Anthony fumble beautiful passes from the likes of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James as part of those Miami Heat championship runs. That would be my biggest nightmare.
There’s undeniably a lack of fluidness to Garuba’s offensive skills, and that essentially pigeonholes him into the center spot. However, the Rockets may have more lineup flexibility if he proves to not be a total liability on offense. Getting involved in the pick-and-roll, running the break and putbacks will help keep him involved as he expands his skillset.
I’m still not sure how high my expectations for the 20-year-old should be going into year two, but I hope that he does get the bulk of the backup five minutes this season. With a gluttony of future picks and only so many roster spots, the organization should take advantage of this evaluation period to see if they are solid in the frontcourt.
Who are the biggest enigmas in the league?
Garuba ranks at the top of the list for the Rockets, at least in my eyes. There are still questions to be answered surrounding the other players on the team, but it’s safe to say we know they are “something”.
I didn’t include rookies while I searched for the answer to this question, as they are all mysteries until proven otherwise. Well, I did consider including one... Portland Trail Blazers’ Shaedon Sharpe. It took until his brief stint in Summer League for me to verify he’s an actual human and even still, I’m unsure that he exists. I also won't factor in players that are established such as a Ben Simmons, because we’ve seen them display supreme talent before.
Presenting my top four unknowns:
He is undoubtedly talented, yet another guy that has struggled with health. It’s still to be seen if he’ll click with the Golden State Warriors’ system or if they’re better off suited with someone like Kevon Looney. If he does integrate into the defending champs, it could get scary, again.
He certainly thinks he’s “HIM”, and while I think the talent is in there, the lack of consistency (from Reddish and the two organizations he’s played for) hasn’t given me the slightest inkling on how good he can be. Maybe a trade to a new environment will prove that the third time is the charm?
For the life of me I won’t give up on Fultz. He was the clear cut choice to be the first overall pick in his draft and I’m not sure we got the full explanation for his shoulder injury. He started to look like he was putting it together and *poof* went his ACL. I’m still trusting the process.
This is absolutely Houstonian bias in comparison to the rest of the league’s concern. After seeing what the other three rookies were able to do last year, I’m invested in seeing if Rafael Stone can steal the Wendy’s model and go four-for-four in his first draft class as the GM.
I’m curious to hear what other players you’re excited to learn more about this season, so be sure to holler at me in the comments!