The Houston Rockets, after nearly a decade of not making the first round of the NBA draft, had four first-round picks last year. First, of course, Jalen Green was the second overall pick who started off slow but set the league on fire in the final weeks of the year. Then you had a surprise pick at 16 when the Rockets traded the spot to select Alperen Sengun. The Rockets also selected Josh Christopher with the 24th overall pick.
Each of the three previously mentioned players has had an impact throughout the year for the Rockets. Everyone has had nights where you saw the potential of these players on full display. But unfortunately, one name missing from this list is Usman Garuba, the 23rd pick overall.
Garuba’s season has been spotty to say the least, as the big man has bounced from the G-League to the Rockets and back all year. Injuries between the pair have also stalled much of Garuba’s progress. However, even with the short season, Garuba had some highlights throughout the year, mostly with the Vipers in the five games he played for the Rockets’ G-League affiliate. The offseason and training camp will be huge for Garuba as the Rockets are set to bring another front-row player into the draft, maybe even two.
Garuba will need to improve in several areas this year to not get lost in the big man shuffle. Here are three ways Garuba can take his game to the next level next season.
Play consistent minutes for the Vipers
Last year, the plan for the Rockets was to play Garuba 30 minutes per game last season for the Vipers, especially to start the year with the Rockets already having Christian Wood and Sengun in the frontcourt. Garuba, as mentioned earlier, played five games for the Vipers averaging 9 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks. Even though it was a short time, Garuba had some highlights. However, a right thigh bruise shortened his time for the Vipers, and later a hand injury meant he would spend most of his time with the Rockets’ coaching staff.
Garuba had moments with the Vipers that showed his potential. For example, in a game against Ciudad De Mexico Capitanes, Garuba had 18 points, 17 rebounds, and the savegame block on the Capitanes’ last-second layup attempt.
With the Rockets adding even more talent in the frontcourt this draft, Garuba needs more time in the G-League to take the next step. More time on the court, more reps, which means more playing experience. As I covered the Vipers last year, Garuba’s skill set is evident, from his defensive skills to even his slaying abilities. pass.
Work on your defensive positioning in defense
When Garuba was drafted, his elite defense was his biggest selling point going into the draft. He showed it by playing abroad and even during the Olympics when Spain took on the United States. At times last season you saw how his ability to recover quickly and as a weak side defender could be a huge advantage.
The #Rockets got torn down last night, we all know that, but I always like to go back and watch as many games as possible because that’s how you rate players. This play by Usman Garuba shows how great Garuba’s defensive instincts do a great job on the Switch. pic.twitter.com/6sV5fsPnfG
— Lachard Binkley (@BinkleyHoops) December 16, 2021
Garuba, at times, can be out of position which can cause him some early foul issues. Additionally, he has a tendency to reach and fall short of the correct defensive position, allowing players to outrun him on the perimeter. Garuba has excellent recovery speed which helps him cover mistakes, but he needs to be in a better position to stay on the court. Also, don’t make silly fouls like on the backstroke or be overly aggressive on the fences.
The problems Garuba had in defense can be solved with more playing time. Garuba suffered two major injuries last season, with the hand injury costing him 25 games. If Garuba stays healthy and gets rep in the game, he’ll show how much his defensive abilities can impact a game.
Keep improving on the attacking side of the pitch
Right off the bat, the Rockets knew Garuba was going to be a project on the offensive side of the field. So that was the scouting report for Garuba entering the NBA Draft Room Draft.
He’s a very energetic guy (think Kenneth Fareid) who runs hard on the ground, puts up good screens and brings a lot of energy to defense. He’s a smart defender who knows when to get off his feet and how to play from the right position. He plays with a good conscience and is a good assist defender and weak side shot blocker.
His current offensive game is mostly made up of dunks, lay-ups and back-to-the-basket moves, but he shows promise of shooting from mid-range and outside.
He does a good job in the pick-and-roll and cuts hard towards the basket, using his raw power, strength and agility to reach the basket. His length is a big factor in the lane, making him a dangerous offensive rebounder.
The rest of his attacking game is young, but he shows flashes of ball handling, passing and perimeter shooting.
It’s almost unanimous across the board when looking at other scouting sites and reading expert reports on Garuba in the draft. It played out for most of the season, and we saw Garuba show off his ability to play over the edge and run hard to the basket with pick-and-rolls. However, we also saw Garuba struggle at times when he needed to make a counter move once the defenders had stopped the initial roll.
One development I noticed in Garuba was his passing. Something that was not mentioned in these reconnaissance reports. I saw a player ready to pass and make good reads to find open teammates. If Garuba can continue to improve his passing, it will go a long way to giving him more playing time for the Rockets.
He will need to improve on his three-point shooting, which was just 11 percent in the G-League and 25 percent for the Rockets in 24 limited games. If he can continue to improve his outside shooting, it will make a big difference because his defense is already at NBA level.
Garuba didn’t have the rookie season, I’m sure he hoped. From injuries to lack of playing time, he hasn’t been able to show what he can do. Therefore, this off-season and training camp will play an important role in Garuba’s development. He will have to arrive at the camp focused and ready to take the next step to no longer be buried on the bench next season.