Usman Garuba NBA Scouting Report

Contributing Writer: Damon Allred (@IAmDamonAllred)

Usman Garuba is a Spanish combo big for premiere Euroleague and Liga ACB program Real Madrid. He stands 6-foot-8 weighing 229 pounds with a 7-foot-2 wingspan as an 18-year old and turns 19 in March. Garuba is in a rare grouping of players with as many Euroleague minutes at such a young age (the likes of Luka Doncic, another former Real Madrid player), while oftentimes starting for Real Madrid. 

Garuba is a perplexing prospect in ways that most of this draft’s projected lottery isn’t. Almost all of the lottery has good foundations in creation and halfcourt offense areas. That’s the area Garuba lacks most in. He may have never taken a pull-up jumper in his career during a game, which can be a sign of concern with the direction of the modern NBA. If he doesn’t add that to his game, he may be boxed in as a pure center.

On the flipside, his biggest appeals so far while playing for Real Madrid have been his team defense, overall consistency, and lack of mental lapses. Garuba has also shown decent shooting touch for his position, and is capable of making the right reads in a pinch, though neither have come in high volume in Euroleague play. 

Perusing down into lower levels of play can help to show what a larger role for Garuba might look like projecting forward into the NBA.

During the FIBA 2019 U18 European Championship playing for Spain, Garuba averaged 27.7 minutes, tallying 15.6 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 3.7 stocks. He was a man amongst boys during this tournament, frequently grabbing boards he had absolutely no right to. His length helped him to be able to accomplish that, but it was also largely due to the effort exerted on loose balls. One thing I keep coming back to as general philosophy is that you can have all the tools or skills in the world. But it won’t matter if you don’t have the requisite feel and IQ for the game. Garuba has it. 

Even starting as low as Adidas Next Generation Tournament (more or less Summer League for Euroleague teams), Garuba’s offensive output starts to dip. In May 2019’s Real Madrid U18 ANGT championship run, Garuba averaged 15.25 points, 7.25 rebounds, 1.75 assists, and 2.75 stocks in 21.9 minutes per contest. He attempted 10.5 shots per game, with 1 per game coming from distance. 

His shooting numbers continued to not look great for his long-term outlook after he shot 58.3% from the line at ANGT. He only took one 3-point per game in a tournament he should dominate. One look at the mechanics and we begin to see some of the issues with the left hand resting on top of the ball until the last moment.

Garuba’s outlier of a Euroleague showing, and what it could mean for his ceiling.

With all the solidity and promise over Garuba’s illustrious professional career at such a young age, it’s easy to see why most NBA teams could fall head over heels at the idea of adding him to their roster. But his ceiling has always been a question mark and it’s never been clear if he can become a true high-impact player at the highest level. Garuba raised some eyebrows on that front in Real Madrid’s 91-62 win over Alba Berlin on Dec. 22. 

In the win, Garuba totaled his highest minute-count in his Euroleague career yet, playing 28.5 minutes, adding 15 points (Euroleague career-high), 6 rebounds, 3 assists (Euroleague career-high), 3 stocks, and only 2 turnovers with 0 fouls. He shot 6-7 from the field and 3-3 from distance (Euroleague career-high in makes and attempts). So where did this come from?

Good starts help, and Garuba had a rebound, deflection, and good one-on-one defense (albeit on a made shot) all within the first 70 seconds. This led to a wide open catch-and-shoot three for Real Madrid’s second basket with improved mechanics. A block followed his three-point make and he was off and running.

Garuba’s fit within an offense: Involved actions.

Garuba shows flashes of being able to attack the rim from the perimeter, and here we see him do so off of a rejected dribble-handoff. His ball control is quite clunky, especially in this instance, but he’s never been asked to move with the ball much, so it may be something he’s capable of working at and improving upon later on in his career.

It’s really fun to catch glimpses of Garuba being aggressive with the ball in his hands, and we see that demonstrated here. He catches a pass at the nail and almost immediately is into another action, checking for lanes to the wing, which aren’t there so he starts driving at the basket with force and intent. Just before rising up for his own shot, a help defender comes and Garuba delivers the drop off to Tavares for what should be an easy shot. This play from Garuba almost looks like Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis, with the aggression complemented with level-headedness to adjust to what the defense is throwing at him.

Garuba’s fit within an offense: Off-ball actions.

This next clip is a very interesting set from Real Madrid head coach Pablo Laso. It starts off with Garuba moving slowly down into the paint while setting some mild screens to open up lanes for shooters to run to the wing. This contrasting motion is magnified by big man Tavares coming up closer to the elbows for a sort of high-low action between the two bigs. This space opens up room for the shooters to get the ball to Garuba who then gets the ball to Tavares in motion with momentum, ready to score.

More often than not, Real Madrid’s offense places Garuba in the right corner as a spot-up shooter waiting for the ball to come his way. He’s well-equipped to make quick decisions from that spot between shooting, attacking the closeouts, or passing anywhere else. In this game, Alba Berlin was not sending hard closeouts Garuba’s way, and he was able to capitalize with his career-high three-point shooting numbers.

Garuba’s role on defense.

As I mentioned earlier, feel and IQ matter more than anything to me, and pick-and-roll defense is where that can shine the most. Garuba starts this play off in great position, already drifting a bit in to the paint, ready to help. It’s his responsibility to determine whether to help and who to help on, and he makes the tremendously quick decision to get in front of the roll man, rise up, and use his excellent length to block this shot.

Here’s an instance of being more involved in the play on defense, in not being a help defender, but the roll man’s defender. In this case, Garuba is just too deep on the pick, allowing for plenty of room for the ball handler to get off his shot with ease. He needs to trust that the backline defense will have his back the way he had theirs on the previous clip.

Here we see Garuba staying in front of Alba Berlin’s Luke Sikma, a former MVP of multiple European circuits and 31-year old known for playing physically. Despite Garuba’s age, his 230-pound frame aids him in taking the contact before blocking the shot.

Projecting Garuba’s NBA outlook.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Garuba will become an extremely competent NBA player and that it may happen as soon as his rookie season. The place I start having some questions is will he ever provide lottery pick value, especially in a draft with so many players who have high-impact potential. Ideally, Garuba ends up with a smart team with a good coaching staff and system that’s already established and he can just fit like the last puzzle piece or two. I’m thinking of places like Toronto, Boston, Miami, and Dallas. 

The most important aspect for him to develop is probably ball control and handle just because of how many options it could open up for his game, such as cutting to the rim, handling in transition, and maybe eventually a bit of a pull-up game. It would also help to play with more consistent aggression instead of just letting the game come to him. That comparison to Sabonis is not a light one. He can really be that type of offensive hub eventually if he continues to work on his offensive game and always brings 110%, 110% of the time.

BONUS clip:

The following pass could definitely have been executed better if one would like to get nit-picky. But the mere ability to see this lane and the ambition needed to throw this pass is really promising. Pretty gnarly use of his plus-6 wingspan to get the steal in the first place, too.

Editor’s Note: Everyone join me in welcoming Damon to our writing staff. Make sure you drop him a follow on twitter (@IAmDamonAllred) and subscribe to his substack.

Update: Garuba had an impressive performance today posting 12 points, 9 rebounds and 4 steals in 22 minutes during Madrid’s win over Tenerife.

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