Perhaps the most polarizing draft prospect this season, Darius Garland, put on a show in his five games at Vanderbilt this season. That’s just it though: it was only five games. Truth be told, it was four games as the freshman guard was injured just two minutes into the fifth game against Kent State.
In the other four games, Vanderbilt went 4-0 against non-conference competition, with the key win being an 82-78 victory over USC in which Garland had 19 points and five rebounds.
After Garland was injured, including the game he went down, the Commodores went 5-23 overall and 0-18 in SEC play. I’m not claiming that Vanderbilt would be a tournament team with Garland healthy and on the court, but the season certainly could have gone better.
It’s hard to really look at Garland’s numbers from his freshman season and make any sort of claims or assumptions. He did have a 33 point game against Liberty and a 24 point game in the opener against Winthrop, but put up a measly three points against Alcorn State, a team I had never heard of until doing research for this very article.
Instead, we have to look to video to see how Garland would stack up with other top prospects.
Obvious considering the college setting, Garland spent just 7.7% of his time on the court in transition. He spent most of his time as a pick and roll ball handler with 52.6% of his possessions in that style. He averaged one point per possession in the pick and roll, which is in the 92 percentile for all of college basketball. Overall, he scored 79 points on 78 possessions. That’s good.
On this particular play, Garland uses a weaker screen to his advantage and bumps off of the defender for space as he sinks the midrange shot.
The Lakers ran 17% of their possessions last season in the pick and roll, and their points per possession in the pick and roll was below average for the league at just 0.827. Granted, this was under a different coach and with instability in the frontcourt.
Outside of the pick and roll, the largest sample size of play type by far, it’s a lot of projecting with Garland. His shooting form and conversion of jump shots could allow him to become a good spot-up shooter. Ultimately, Garland’s biggest weakness is the mystery of him, but his high school tape alone makes him a very attractive prospect.
Garland is not a great passer now and it’s unlikely that he’ll ever have the court vision that a player like Lonzo Ball does. However, he can make the extra pass if needed when the defense draws more toward him, but that requires his shooting to translate. He also does not have great defensive potential, but the Lakers have Ball who they can put on the other team’s best guard.
I mention Ball because he and Garland complement each other so well. What Ball lacks, Garland excels at, so long as his game translates into the NBA.
Perhaps his biggest strength, however, is who he is associated with. Garland signed with Klutch Sports on Valentines Day and committed to a sports “romance” with Rich Paul. Notably, Paul is the agent of Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James. James and Garland were sighted working out together and could mean that the two are likely to be paired together, barring any trade that includes the number four pick.
In my opinion, the strengths of Darius Garland far outweigh the question marks. We’re approaching an age of the NBA where players will be able to declare for the NBA Draft straight out of high school again, and high school tape will become more common. College basketball makes it easier for draft analysts to evaluate prospects but numbers and tendencies aren’t the only things that make for a strong case. Sometimes, you just have to let the game talk and Darius Garland’s game has a lot to say.