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2021 NBA Draft Prospect Profiles: Usman Garuba

An interesting international prospect

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NBA: Playoffs-Utah Jazz at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next month, GBB will be profiling various players the Memphis Grizzlies May target in the 2021 NBA Draft. This year we will be breaking it up into three sections- five to likely trade up for, five potentially available right around pick #17 where Memphis is slotted to pick, and five that surely will be there or perhaps the Grizzlies could even trade back & still select.

USMAN GARUBA, FORWARD, REAL MADRID (SPAIN)

•6’8, 229lbs, (7’2” wingspan), 18 years old, Madrid, Spain

•Two seasons full time with Real Madrid’s Senior Team 17.2 minutes per game (86 games) 4.7 points per game 47.1% field goal percentage, 31.6% on threes, 65.9% Free Throw percentage, 4.6 rebounds per game, 0.8 assists per game, 0.7 steals per game

•STATS OF STRENGTH: Steals 1.4 per 36 minutes 40.7% three point attempt rate

•STATS TO IMPROVE: 9.8 points per game per 36 minutes, 47.1% field goal percentage, 1.1 blocks per game, 55.2% True Shooting percentage, 25.1% Free Throw Attempt Rate, 4.0 Player Fouls per game per 36 minutes

•ACCOLADES: Youngest ever starter for Real Madrid (eclipsing Luka Doncic), Youngest player with a double double or 10 rebounds in ACB history (Doncic previously held both records) Second youngest player to post an efficiency rating of 24 in ACB (behind only Ricky Rubio), 2x ACB ALL-YOUNG PLAYERS TEAM selection, 2020 ACB Best Young Player Award Winner, 2021 EuroLeague Rising Star award winner

•CURRENT BIG BOARD PLACEMENTS: 23rd overall (Tankathon) 12th overall (The Ringer) 15th overall (ESPN) 19th overall (CBS Sports) 21st overall (Bleacher Report)

As long as small ball is going strong, there will be a premium on highly intelligent switchable defenders capable of putting the clamps on at least three positions on the floor. At the very least it will be placed on those able to stick anybody defensively.

Usman Garuba is a young teenager in age, yet is already a professional on paper and on court accomplishments. Usman has incredible feel for the game defensively and especially at such a young age. His 7’2 inch wingspan gives him the reach to disrupt passing lanes and provide the plus player he has been in the steals department. At the size of an NFL vertical threat possession tight end, Garuba is a serious threat defensively anywhere on the court and almost any type of player.

WHAT HE DOES WELL

In Spain, he became a double-double threat and multi-positional defender. He routinely posed nightmares for the opposing team’s best offensive threat including out on the perimeter. His ability to seal off angles using his wingspan and reading the offense is seriously advanced for his age. His bulky frame and plus six wingspan allows for him to bang with bigs in the paint and yet he has the agility to step out and defend guards very well in space.

Garuba is a very good rebounder, who uses his solid frame to his advantage sealing off would-be rebounders & locating the ball with his 7’2” wingspan. He has vastly improved his ability to rebound and push the ball up court in transition which will make him that much more of a threat to create fast break scoring if nothing else offensively right away.

His feel for the game gives him the awareness to identify his open teammates and immediately get them the ball. Garuba is a very good passer for his position and age. Most of Usman’s current value can’t be measured in the box score aside from rebounding & steals. However he is ideal in situations that can use a dirty work player & savvy off-ball playmaker on both ends. Much like Draymond Green, who is one of his closets comparisons in terms of potential ceiling, he can be a potential 16-game player.

His break starter badge should be at least Bronze from day one as he is known for quickly firing the break-starter pass to the open man after securing defensive rebounds, much like Draymond again.

He is never accused of a lack of effort as he hustles his way into opportunities and on defense that effort yields successful stands and highlight defensive plays. Garuba covers the court like a defensive superhero at times. Usman uses his athleticism to block shots on weak side help and chase downs. He disrupts passing lanes and will put the absolute clamps on offensive attacks leaving people stunned at his defensive playmaking ability and versatility.

Usman is a tireless worker, who will execute the few strengths he has on offense until he seemingly can’t move anymore. Despite being so limited offensively, Usman has shown the ability to be highly productive when given the opportunity to excel in his strengths such as rim running and he is a capable shooter - though it’s certainly not his strength yet. That said, he will use his few strengths offensively to run up a double double or a big scoring game if he can stay on the floor that long without being a liability.

One impressive thing about Usman’s shooting already is his confidence and willingness to shoot from deep despite the room for developing. His attempt rate is fairly high for a guy shooting 31.6%, which says he wants to get better and he possesses the right mentality and work ethic to get there as well so I expect him to become a reliable set shooter over time. This is where he gives shades of OG Anunoby.

One unspoken for aspect of Garuba’s game is his surprisingly solid with ball handling. He can certainly execute the dribble hand off, as well as push the ball full court after securing defensive rebounds. His decision making with the ball in his hands is also vet savvy as he doesn’t seem to get besides himself & think he’s Magic Johnson, but he can make the smart play on & off ball. He again shows glimpses of Draymond Green in that regard as well as many other facets of his game for better or worst.

WHERE HE CAN IMPROVE

Offensively Usman Garuba has a very long ways to go. He has very little to zero shot creation. He doesn’t have scoring moves in his tool box, and he certainly doesn’t have the height to make up for it around the rim. To Garuba’s defense Real Madrid didn’t call plays for him at all, and they didn’t look his way for scoring. However he doesn’t currently give them much reason either.

He’s far from a skilled finisher so he scores his buckets off of dunks, put backs, fast break situations and just hustle plays in general. If he didn’t kill it, he didn’t eat it in Spain. This is where he separates himself from another one of his player comparisons in Memphis Grizzlies own’ Brandon Clarke, whom is a very similar player to Garuba. However, “BC” is a far better finisher near and around the rim.

Garuba has to continue showing improvement as a shooter or he will be invisible on the court in the NBA when left outside. When you’re a struggling shooter outside, teams will leave you home alone like Kevin McCallister. This allows them to clog the lanes and help out on better offensive threats which makes you an offensive liability in the current NBA climate. His form isn’t too bad so it’s more about continuous repetition and developing a more reliable reputation form distance.

Usman is a solid ball handler for his size but needs to improve his dribble to breakdown defenders off the dribble to get him closer to the rim for more efficient scoring & to also gravitate defenders towards him freeing up his teammates to be recipients of more easily fed assisted scoring.

THE FIT WITH THE GRIZZLIES

Usman Garuba in concept fits well with what Memphis could use. However he is far to similar to Brandon Clarke in concept as a 6’8 undersized forward yet versatile defender and rim runner. Usman can run the floor in fast pace lineups & use his length & athleticism to receive easy feeds at the rim from the likes of Ja Morant & Tyus Jones. I can also see him eventually securing defensive rebounds & displaying flashes of one man fast break potential as well, due to his own sound ball handling & decision making. He can certainly help the Grizzlies lack of defensive discipline ,especially against cutters & spit up shooters, as he has already evolved into a defensive leader when he’s on the court leading by example.

Jaren Jackson Jr, Brandon Clarke, Kyle Anderson and even the prospects like Killian Tillie (RFA) and Jontay Porter are all fighting for ticks at the same position Usman plays which is Power Forward. Minutes will come at a premium unless there is a big shake up on the roster at the forward spots. If Memphis drafted Usman it would almost be a wasted pick in the short term at least. There is absolutely no room for him to play on the roster as is. Which is why if Garuba ends up in Memphis he will certainly be getting his reps in Southaven with the Memphis Hustle.

All that said he is possibly a great value play if still available at 17 but certainly a value play if the Grizzlies end up drafting further down the board which is always a possibility with GM “King” Zach Kleiman.

THE VERDICT

Usman Garuba has shades of Brandon Clarke. They share very similar builds with the exception of Garuba’s superior girth and wingspan. Both guys are similarly versatility. Usman however may already be a better defender than Brandon Clarke in terms of perimeter checks, and inside presence with Garuba having a plus six wingspan advantage on Clarke. As I stated earlier Clarke however is the better offensive player right now, particularly finishing around the rim.

Usman has shades of Draymond in terms of his frame, ball handling, passing potential and awareness/IQ. Usman already shows the ability to rebound and push the ball as a big freeing up the scorers and shooters for easier opportunities. Usman isn’t nearly Draymond in terms of passing and running an offense but he can get closer to that.

One player Usman shows shades of that is different from Draymond Green & Brandon Clarke particularly in terms of shooting is OG Anunoby. Usman already has a more promising shot from distance than that of BC and Dray. Usman is a willing shooter already even if not yet that good at it. As he improves he will become a threat that forces defenses to remain honest, keeping the court spaced out and lanes open for more offensive efficient opportunities near the rim for the entire team. If Usman improves on his 31.6% shooting percentage from three, he will make himself much harder to keep off the floor for his coaches which in turn will vastly increase his production in the box score.

It will also unlock new levels of potential for his career and put himself in the Paul Milsap mold of forwards which is a star player in terms of savvy “three and D” players who effect the game in many ways.

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