Injuries cost Usman Garuba most of his rookie season and summer league. Now fully healthy, he’s helping Spain make a run at Eurobasket.
When the Houston Rockets drafted Usman Garuba with the 23rd pick in the 2022 NBA draft, they had high hopes for him. Garuba was routinely seen as one of the best defensive prospects in the draft and drew Draymond Green comparisons.
Unfortunately, Garuba spent more time in the G-League than hoped and fractured his left wrist while on assignment. All told, he saw 239 minutes of NBA action in his rookie season.
Following a truncated rookie season, Garuba was expected to participate in the summer league, but yet again, an injury derailed those plans. A left ankle sprain kept him out of the summer league. Although not serious, it was another disappointing injury for the young Spaniard.
Eurobasket came at the right time for Usman Garuba
FIBA’s Eurobasket came at the right time for Usman Garuba. Eurobasket is the highest quality international competition outside of the Olympics. Europe is home to the best basketball players in the world outside of the United States, and their dispersion throughout the continent means the majority of teams have NBA talent.
Spain is one of the best international teams in the world, and Garuba has been able to carve out a role as a defensive specialist. He’s second on the team in rebounds per game and first in blocked shots in only 16.9 minutes per game. However, the most surprising development has been Garuba’s playmaking. He’s second on the team in assists per game and flashed some serious passing chops in the semi-final against the host nation Germany.
Spain needed everything from Garuba, and he was a big reason they advanced to the final. Spain entered the four-quarter down six points but turned it around and won by five. The 11-point swing wouldn’t have been possible without Garuba’s five fourth-quarter dimes.
Entering the Final, Spain may need to lean into Garuba’s defense and playmaking even more as they face off against France and Rudy Gobert.
Usman Garuba could be the key against France
France has one of the most talented rosters in Eurobasket, and the key to their dominance is Rudy Gobert. The Stifle Tower is a defensive force, and France has outscored their opponents by +11.4 with him on the court. Gobert’s ability to wall off the paint and finish efficiently at the rim has made him a four-time All-NBA selection, but Usman Garuba could be the key to Spain neutralizing his strengths.
The best way to beat an elite rim protector is to draw them outside of the paint. In the NBA playoffs, teams have given Gobert’s teams fits by playing five out and forcing Gobert to defend the perimeter. Gobert isn’t a poor perimeter defender for a center, but it does prevent him from doing what he does best.
Garuba isn’t a stretch-five, but his passing and mobility out of the high post could give Spain an edge.
In this clip, Garuba receives the ball behind the 3-point line and dribbles to the free throw line. Daniel Theis, Germany’s center, is forced out of the paint and has two options. Completely abandon Garuba or vacate the paint. Instead, he gets caught between two minds and gives space to Garuba and around the rim.
Utilizing Garuba in this fashion could force Gobert into a no-win situation. Either he gives Garuba all the time in the world to get an open look or spray it to an open shooter, or he presses up on Garuba and gives Spain their pick of backdoor cuts.
Usman Garuba had an unfortunate rookie season, but his play at Eurobasket has reignited hopes that he could still become a core member of the Rockets. His defense should be excellent, but he’ll need to carve out an offensive role to cut it in the NBA. If the passing he has shown at Eurobasket can translate to the NBA, he could be in store for a vital role as the Rockets' backup center.
Spain take on France at 2:30 eastern for the Eurobasket title.