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Draft Radar Part Two: Darius Garland

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Examining the strengths, weaknesses, and fit of the Vanderbilt product

NCAA Basketball: SEC Basketball Tipoff Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Since the last time we logged into the draft radar nine games ago, the Timberwolves have been a carbon copy of their entire season. They have sandwiched hearty home wins between calamitous away losses, with Karl-Anthony Towns’ dominance remaining the only bulwark against a complete collapse.

It’s been a middling season and as it stands Minnesota are sitting uncomfortably in the 10th seed. They look pretty much locked in to entering draft night with a pick somewhere in the 9-13 range. With that in mind, we take a look at what youngsters could potentially help turn fortunes around in the Twin Cities.

This time around it’s Vanderbilt freshman point guard Darius Garland. The five-star recruit had his Commodore career cut short, as he tore his left meniscus just four games and two minutes into the season. However, he remains a certain lottery pick and someone Glen Taylor and his front office brain trust should be taking a long look at.

Profile

Position: Point Guard

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 175 lbs

Wingspan: 6-foot-5

College Stats: 27.8 MIN, 16.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.6 APG, 53.7% FG, 47.8% 3PT

Per 36 Minutes: 21 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 3.4 APG, 53.7% FG, 47.8% 3PT

Strengths

  • Shooting and Shot Creation

With the ball on a string, a silky looking jump shot, and an innate ability to get to his spots consistently, Darius Garland’s shot-creating ability is the most tantalizing thing about his game. When you combine that with the fact he hit 11 of his 23 3-point attempts in his short college career, you can see why there is a ton of potential for the 19-year-old to become an elite scorer.

Before tickling the twine with a gorgeous looking jumper, Garland uses a herky-jerky style to create space and find open looks. From the limited film available on him, it seems that he is very fond of using the step-back and side-step to inject rhythm into his shot process. Judging on his red-hot percentages, it seems to work.

As far as his hot spots go, the Vanderbilt guard enjoys snaking out of pick-and-rolls and pulling up in the mid-range area, which might not be the highest quality shot. However, he also has an appetite for splashing treys from well beyond the NBA 3-point line. Hopefully in the big leagues he can hone his shot selection to match the way of the NBA, which is predominantly 3-pointers and high-percentage shots at the rim.

Over the past few years, high-volume scorers in the lottery have become valuable commodities. Players like Trae Young, Donovan Mitchell, and Buddy Hield have all blossomed into young stars with bright futures. If Garland can harness his scoring potential, he will quickly place himself in that tier.

  • Attacking the Rim

Aside from an impressive knack for creating and finishing scoring opportunities from the perimeter, Garland rounds out his mouth-watering offensive arsenal by being a handy finisher at the rim.

Despite generously measuring in at 6-foot-3 and weighing a featherweight 175 lbs, the former Commodore has a deep bag of crafty finishes. When he decides to holster his machine gun jumper, he can weave through traffic and finish around the tall trees with flair and creativity.

He does so with a nifty handle and a penchant to contort his body in order to bend around interior defenders. In short, it’s easy to get excited about Garland’s finishing ability. However, it remains to be seen whether he can translate that into the NBA when bigger and more experienced defenders are forming the roadblock.

If he does manage to convey his impressive college attributes around the rim, he will quickly become an unstoppable scorer at the next level.

Weaknesses

  • Defending

Unlike his expertise on the offensive end, Darius Garland struggles to standout on the defensive side of the ball. It’s hard (especially with limited film) to pinpoint exactly where it goes wrong, but a mixture of his underwhelming size and wavering effort levels are a decent bet.

With that in mind, Garland’s defensive potential remains fairly low. In his 5 games at Vanderbilt, his defensive win shares per 40 minutes (.029), defensive rating (105.9), and defensive box plus/minus (0.1) were all well below average, per Tankathon. Good offense often trumps good defense in the NBA, but it’s still a red flag that the 19-year-old fails to make a splash defensively.

The most worrying part about his defensive shortcomings are how much harder things are going to get once he takes the leap to the highest level. Opposing point guards are going to hammer Garland in pick-and-roll and off-ball actions, and he will quickly be exposed if he doesn’t make some stark improvements.

  • Passing and Floor Generalship

These days the best point guards in the NBA are often better scorers than assist-givers, but being able to set others up is what can truly swell a lead guard’s offensive ceiling. Alas, Garland will need to prove more than he has in his short collegiate career if he wants to hit that tier.

As a player with the ball in his hands a lot of the time (27.6% usage rate), one would expect Garland to dish out more than 2.6 assists per night. Even when you stretch his numbers out to the per-36 format, he still only registers 3.4 helpers a game — well below par for such a highly-rated point guard.

In his defense, Garland was asked to do a ton of scoring in his five Vanderbilt outings. He was rarely tasked with setting the table, and was often the only serious bucket-getting threat on the Commodore’s roster. Even with their five-star recruit missing half the season, Vandy only had three other players average double-digits in scoring — none of which averaged over 13 points per game.

A tunnel vision mentality was instilled in Garland’s game from the moment he arrived at a lower-quality team like Vanderbilt. When he did get a chance to show his passing chops, he wasn’t a complete disaster.

Plays like the one below are encouraging signs for his ability to create opportunities for his teammates out of the pick-and-roll. He waits for his big man to dive out of the screen and hits him in stride with a perfect one-handed whip pass. In the big leagues, it will be pivotal that he can consistently make this dish.

Flashing positives will give hope that he can develop into at least a semi-reliable playmaker, but as a lottery guard, whoever drafts him will be hoping for more. Unfortunately he isn’t quite big enough to play as a shooting guard/combo guard consistently, even if it may be the role most suited to him. So he better improve his floor general capability quick-smart.

Fit With Minnesota

With the Timberwolves’ most likely draft position currently sitting at 11th, they might be watching from the war room as Darius Garland is snatched away from them. However, with his injury history already providing a looming dark cloud, there is always a chance he falls into their lap.

If he does, the front office brass should scoop him up immediately. His ability to score off the bench would take pressure of Tyus Jones and his inability to score consistently, and would replace Derrick Rose’s scoring punch, as Rose is likely to chase bigger money than Minnesota can provide this summer.

On top of that, the young guard and his butter-smooth stroke would provide a boost in 3-point shooting. In the 36 games since 2019 kicked off, only Karl-Anthony Towns (44.2%) and Dario Saric (40%) have been able to convert the long ball at over 37 percent. It’s been encouraging to watch the Wolves shoot more triples this season, but it’s fruitless if they can’t consistently connect on said shots. Garland could definitely add another high-percentage shooter without having to pay big money.

Most importantly, with a bit of fine tuning Garland could be the high-quality second fiddle to Karl-Anthony Towns. The type that fans and are crying out for. The type that may just keep Towns in the Twin Cities for the bulk of his career.

A hand-in-glove fit with potential to help pull Minnesota out of the doldrums? Sign me up.