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Rockets 2022-2023 player recaps: Usman Garuba

The Trebuchet

Los Angeles Lakers v Houston Rockets
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Usman Garuba - Mr. Accuracy. That’s right, Garuba was the Rockets three point shooting champion, at 40.7%. Now, he put up .8 three point attempts per game (compared to Jalen Green’s 7.3 to lead the team), but when he did load up the trebuchet, crank it into position, say a prayer to the appropriate saints, and eventually launch a shot towards the basket, it tended to go in at a good rate.

This is a good thing for Garuba’s progress as at least a bench big. Less good is the number of minutes he played - only 13 per game. Part of that was again, injuries stymieing progress when he appeared to make some in establishing his role. Part of it was the somewhat inexplicable rotations sometimes deployed by the Rockets last season, and some of it, unfortunately, was that Usman is a foul machine. Garuba averaged a robust 5 fouls per 36 minutes.

Most young bigs grow out of the foul habit, or the refs start giving them a better whistle, it’s sometimes hard to tell which. Garuba needs that, or he’ll be stuck at between 15-20 minutes a game, no matter how bruising his defense.

There’s still a lot to like about the 23rd pick in the draft that brought the Rockets Green, Sengun, Christopher and Usi. He’s a good rebounder. He might average 5 fouls per 36, but he also grabs nearly 13 boards in that same span. He’s a much (much) better passer than you might suspect. He’s not a great rim protector, but he’s hard to move in the paint, and he can play in a switching scheme, he’s laterally faster than one might assume, with solid footwork. Unfortunately, the Rockets typically eschewed switching, despite having a roster effectively made to do so. Let’s see what the next crew of coaches bring.

On a purely subjective level, I think Garuba is a tough guy to play against. His motor runs high, and even when not fouling, he plays physically, and for whatever this observation is worth, it looks like it simply hurts to play against him. There are men like that, just casually strong, rather than the sculpted product of a weight room, and Usman seems like one of those men to me. Opponents will feel Garuba’d for days after a game, I’d imagine.

Garuba certainly has much room for improvement. He needs to lose the Euro habit of soft shot attempts at the rim, and try to dunk everything. rather than low percentage clever flips. He needs to improve the speed of his three point shot. He needs to set better picks.

But the whole team needs to do that, as all the Rockets tended to move off the pick into the next action before contact, or simply never arrived in the spot to set the pick properly. That must change, but it’s not confined to Garuba. You’d think he’d be a brick wall on a pick, and I think he will be, if the pick actually happens.

He also could honestly initiate passing off a DHO, his passing vision is that good, and his touch is that accurate. There’s a lot of room for a creative coach to exploit what’s good about Garuba, rather than trying to fit a “scheme fit” of player instead.

This season may have made some think Garuba doesn’t have much of an NBA future, but then again, this season might make some think the entire Rockets team didn’t have much of a future. Count me amongst those who disagree with that assessment.

The high end future for Garuba seems to be defensive stopper, top 20% rebounder, with three point range, and ability to initiate offense off a surprisingly good passing game and handle. Probably the best role is that of a bench destroyer, but we’ll see. He’s only just turned 21 years old, and the Rockets have been a development/minutes traffic jam, and an experiment we might never see repeated. In any case, it’s far too soon to cast his fate, and decide what he is.

As long as he grabs boards and hits 3s at 6’8” 230, there’s some NBA role for Usman Garuba. I think it could be a lot more than that.



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