When the Houston Rockets selected Usman Garuba out of Real Madrid Spain with the 23rd pick in this past draft, it was about one word: defense.
It’s something that’s sorely lacking on Houston’s roster these days, and the Garuba pick was designed to give an impressive group of young offensive players a defensive-minded peer with whom they could grow alongside.
Garuba was widely regarded as the best defensive prospect in this year’s draft class, and despite being just 19 years old, had already cultivated an impressive resume, including becoming the youngest-ever starter in Real Madrid history during the 2019-2020 season, a record previously held by Luka Doncic (Hi, Xiane).
But those of you expecting Garuba to come in and make an immediate impact need to temper their expectations. Despite numerous accolades on the way up and on Real Madrid’s B team, he finished the Spanish squad’s main team season with averages of just 5.6 points and 5.3 rebounds in 18.7 minutes per contest over 36 games.
In addition, he got a late start in Summer League, averaging 4 points and 8 boards in three games, and he’s played sparingly in the preseason thus far, getting just 8.3 minutes per night and sporting averages of 2.3 points and 1.7 rebounds. Barring injury, he’s simply not going to play much with the varsity at this stage and is likely to spend a great deal of his time with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
What we’ll be looking for from Garuba in the G-League and on the occasions he gets some big league playing time, will be the development of his offensive game. How can he fit in on offense other than a lob threat and clean-up man? He’s been working on his three-point shot, and it’s been coming along, but at what point does that translate into being a solid threat from deep? If he can’t space the floor, his opportunities are going to be limited.
That’s not to say that their wouldn’t be a place for Garuba. He’s just such a natural defender who knows exactly where to be on the floor at all times. He can impact the game from that side of the court. But how he sharpens his offensive skills is going to tell the tale of how quickly he can get on an NBA floor with any regularity. Remember, he is just 19. And while Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun are also both 19 and going to see plenty of time this season, those guys are exceptions, rather than rules. Garuba is going to need a little seasoning.
But the potential is there, and the front office will be expecting him to eventually grow into one of the main cogs on a rebuilt Rockets squad. Just expect him to do most of that growth, at least this first season, in Rio Grande Valley.