2021 Draft Watch: First Look at Usman Garuba

August 12th, 2020

By Alan Lu

I set out to watch Real Madrid’s 6-8, 2002-born forward Usman Garuba play in a Spanish ACB League game that took place on November 17th, 2019 against Bilbao Basket, as I was able to see this with thanks to YouTube via brdbasket.  They split it up into two halves, so I saw the first half, and then the second half of that game.  Garuba is a very athletic, high-motor combination forward that has played well in some of the toughest leagues in international basketball, which is very impressive considering that he is only 18 years old competing in leagues against grown men.  He is a very talented player that could potentially get picked in the lottery, so I set out to watch him play to assess his strengths and weaknesses.  Here are my thoughts on how he fared, as well as how his game may stack up in the NBA.

Real Madrid’s 6-8 forward, Usman Garuba is a very athletic, high-motor player that could be a likely lottery pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.
EFE/RTVE, via Óscar López Canencia’s article at rtve.es)

Usman Garuba is a solid defender that excels at getting stops in the paint.  He does a good job of blocking shots, as he possesses solid length, leaping ability, and timing to swat shots in the post, and he will actively look to try to keep it inbounds to help his team get rebounds afterwards.  He also does a good job of contesting shots to force misses.  He also managed to poke a ball away to get a steal, and he will also deflect passes to make it difficult for his opponents to get their passes through.  He did a good job of not biting on a pump fake prior to getting a stop when defending in the post, and he will actively close out on three-point shooters to get stops for his team.

However, there was one play where he got caught ball watching, as he didn’t follow his man to the post, which led his team to allow an opponent to score on an open jump hook.  Other times, he may give up too much space or end up being late on his rotations, which can lead him to allow opponents to get scores off the dribble.

He also is a very good rebounder.  Garuba will actively crash the glass on both ends of the floor, and he possesses great athleticism, motor, and instincts to do so.  He was able to run in to tip an offensive rebound to himself before passing it out once, and he will aggressively leap up to get defensive rebounds.  Sometimes he will bring the ball up the floor, and he can handle the ball a bit if there is not much ball pressure around him.

On offense, Garuba is a very efficient scorer, but he doesn’t shoot very often, as he doesn’t take a whole lot of chances on that side of the ball.  Garuba is a solid inside scorer that excels at scoring on hustle plays as well as in the post.  He was able to score on a tip-in off of an offensive rebound.  Plus, he also managed to slip a screen to score on a roll while getting an extra free throw on another possession.

He also is a fairly good low post scorer.  Garuba can score on strong drop step moves, and he can take on the contact to score and get extra free throws to help his team.  He did miss once, as he tried to barrel through to score in traffic, but he ended up missing on an off-balanced shot that time.  Garuba was very efficient in scoring in the paint, but he didn’t look to score away from it, and he would often pump fake or pass out of a shot when he would get the ball out on the perimeter or when he would get stopped midway when driving from out there.

He also displayed adequate playmaking skills in this game.  Garuba is an unselfish player that can pass off the dribble as well as in the post to set up scoring chances for his teammates, and he will look to find the open man on offense.  He also will set plenty of screens for his teammates, as he can help get them open shots.  Sometimes, he can be prone to setting moving screens, which can lead him to commit offensive fouls and turnovers.

In summary, Usman Garuba is an interesting prospect, as he has very productive, especially for a player his age, but unlike most players that are typically picked at the top of the draft, he doesn’t actually look to score very often nor calls for the ball that much on offense.  Right now, his defense may be ahead of his offense, even though he is also an efficient scorer in international basketball.   Garuba attacks the boards with a vivid ferocity, and he is a rangy defender that has the capacity to excel at guarding players both out on the perimeter as well as in the post.  Right now, he will need to improve his face-up game and be a more aggressive player on offense, and over time, he will have to extend his shooting range. 

Still, Garuba could be a very good value pick for an NBA team in the mid first round range in 2021, and he could potentially be a worthwhile selection for a team in the back half of the lottery.  He is a very athletic, high-motor player that could project to be an elite defensive specialist at the next level, and he could end up being a solid player in the mold of former All-Star, Gerald Wallace in the NBA.

Other Notes:

Real Madrid’s 6-6, 2001-born swingman, Marko Nakic from Serbia also played in this game.  He is a mobile, energetic player that showed the willingness to leap up to get tough boards in traffic.  He didn’t play much, but he showed the ability to throw timely passes, and the willingness to take outside shots.  He didn’t score in this game though, and he also made a bad gamble defensively as he rotated to go for a steal, but ended up allowing his man to score on a baseline drive.  Overall, Nakic didn’t play much against Bilbao Basket, but he could be a player to watch down the road.  If he ends up playing well in the Spanish ACB League years from now, he could perhaps one day project to be a 3 and D type of role player in the NBA.

Bilbao Basket’s 6-6 swingman, Axel Bouteille played very well in his team’s narrow win over Real Madrid.  He was scouted back in 2017 as he was a productive role player in the French League and in EuroCup.  After having gone undrafted, he has since continued to thrive overseas.  He played really well this season in Spain, and he especially excelled in this game.  He consistently excelled as a shooter and scorer on the floor, and he made big shots down the stretch to help propel his team to get the victory.

Bouteille is an athletic sharpshooter that has a really good mid-range game, as he would often dribble right to score on pull-up jumpers, sometimes over bigger players, and he also showed the knack for drawing extra free throws on those plays.  He also would dribble left off of screens to make pull-up threes from well beyond the arc.  Early on, he showed off impressive athletic gifts moving off the ball to get the ball in the high post, and Bouteille drove in to score on a thunderous dunk in traffic. 

Bouteille played very well, as he scored 22 points in his team’s win over Real Madrid.  He ended up being transferred to Unicaja Malaga late in the season before it ended up being suspended due to the coronavirus.  Bouteille is a skilled scorer that can make shots from all over the floor.  He has the talent to make it to the NBA, and he could provide an NBA team with some scoring punch if he does end up there, whether if that will be next season or sometime down the road.

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