It’s hard to know just what to say about Usman Garuba’s rookie season, as the 23rd pick of the 2021 draft barely played, due to a string of significant, but not major, injuries. He played a total of 229 minutes for the Rockets and considerably more for the Rio Grande Vipers, but in neither case was it anything like a full season.
Garuba had some good games for the Vipers, but he mostly looked lost in very limited time with the big club. His defensive instincts were sound, and he seems to be a shot blocker of some skill, even at 19/20 years old. He’s solidly built, yet moves well. That’s mostly what anyone knew of him.
People who follow the Rockets closely (most readers here, I’d guess) had hoped to see more from Usman in the NBA Summer League action, but alas, he was hurt again, and did not play.
Fortunately, we do have some real competitive minutes to analyze, as Garuba did play for his native Spain in the EuroBasket tournament, and played well for the eventual tournament champions.
Having watched some of his minutes in what is a high-level, competitive environment, it was possible to spot some new wrinkles in Garuba’s game, particularly on offense, where most of the concerns about his development lie.
Here’s a summary of what I saw watching highlights, and some EuroBasket games.
Quick attacks off baseline/low post entry passes
Spain seems to have realized that Garuba is a true physical force when in motion, and sped up the tempo of his reactions on offense. He would take an entry pass, and instead of hesitating, would immediately attack the rim of a spin move, or pass out to a shooter, or cutter.
Passing in the short roll/off screens
Garuba seems to have nice touch and vision on his passes in tight space, and a knack for passing out of screen situations.
Still no visible shot
This could be countered somewhat by the initial two skills, but he’ll have to develop a shot that at least draws some attention to succeed in the current Rockets offense.
Overall I think Garuba has a bright future. Who knows what the recent trade for Derrick Favors does for Garuba’s potential minutes, but it’s important to remember that he’ll turn just 21 this season, and he’s got a lot of room to grow, despite playing well for Spain already. The defense is real, and it appears, so is the passing. Draymond Green made a career out of it, perhaps Garuba can build something similar? A shot of any reliability turns him from a valuable role player based on what we’re seeing right now into a valuable starter.
Expectations for Garuba?
This poll is closed
High energy defender/rebounder off the bench.
Defensive stopper 6th man.
Excellent backup 4/5.
Starter level player, limited offense.
He wasn’t traded to OKC, so we’ll at least find out.