San Antonio Spurs Draft

Spurs NBA Draft: Usman Garuba can be a defensive gamechanger

Usman Garuba
Usman Garuba / Sonia Canada/Getty Images
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San Antonio Spurs
Usman Garuba / Sonia Canada/Getty Images

Strengths Usman Garuba could bring to the San Antonio Spurs

Before delving into Usman Garuba and what value he could bring to the Spurs, it's worth briefly explaining who he currently plays for and what that may mean in terms of what translates to the NBA.

Garuba currently plays with Real Madrid's first team in the Spanish ACB League as well as the EuroLeague, both of which differ from the NBA and even the NCAA in a few important ways. Real Madrid is notably the same team that Luka Doncic played for only a few years ago, and a couple of years ago, he came out and stated with little hesitation that, in the NBA, it's "easier to score compared to Europe."

Generally speaking, European basketball sees much more aggressive defense, does not have a three-second rule like in the NBA, and the court itself is smaller in Europe to the point that an NBA 3-point line is actually slightly farther from the hoop than in Europe.

Both of these leagues also have far fewer regular-season games than in the NBA, giving each game much higher value. Because of this, unlike in the NBA, what are known as "developmental minutes" are usually quite difficult to come by. In other words, if someone isn't playing good basketball, even if it's because they're young and inexperienced, they won't see much of the floor.

This is what makes Garuba's regular minutes in both the ACB and EuroLeague all the more impressive at such a young age. What that also means though is that his playing time over this past season has ranged from three minutes in a game all the way to 33 minutes.

With that in mind, Usman Garuba shows some signs that he could be much better in the NBA than his stats may indicate. Perhaps most importantly, rebounding is something that typically translates well from Europe to the NBA, and considering how packed the paint usually is in the EuroLeague, Garuba is rebounding quite well for a 19-year-old.

In the games this season when Garuba has played at least 20 minutes, he has recorded an average of 6.8 rebounds per game in 32 total games between both the Euroleague and ACB. Among all power forwards in the NBA, that number would be tied for 10th place in the league alongside Royce O'Neale and Tobias Harris.

Along with his rebounding, Garuba has shown that he's a very capable passer. While his passes aren't necessarily flashy, he makes good reads and his passes are usually on target. He makes his best passes off the short roll and after grabbing offensive rebounds, the latter of which being something desperately needed in the Spurs' offense. If he continues to develop this part of his game, this is what could separate Garuba from most others in this draft class.

Lastly, and possibly most importantly, Garuba has shown himself to be an incredibly suffocating and versatile defender in a league full of good defenders. He has some serious mobility for being a 6-8, 230-pound big man, has the speed to keep up with smaller guards on the perimeter, and athleticism to defend the rim in both help defense and pick-and-roll situations. His unique combination of IQ, switchability, and athleticism may very well give him the highest defensive upside of any player in the entire draft.

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