NBA Draft Prospects: Darius Garland

We were robbed of Darius Garland's freshman year at Vanderbilt due to a knee injury, but that won't affect his draft stock. Garland's offensive prowess could make him the best point guard in this draft.

Casual fans might be unfamiliar with Darius Garland because he only played five games last season due to a knee injury. A quick synopsis of how good Garland is contains the fact that he was the top point guard recruit last year out of high school, he was the 16th ranked recruit, and Vanderbilt went 0-18 in conference play without him… yikes.

Even though we have a very limited sample size of Garland at the college level, what he showed is more than enough for him to be an early lottery pick. Garland fits the mold of modern NBA point guards. He is a skilled ball handler and prolific scorer. With a fully recovered knee, teams looking for a point guard in the early lottery will struggle to pass on him.

Main Selling Point

Garland’s main selling point is his scoring proficiency. His elite ball handling creates scoring opportunities at any level of the floor. He is shifty at getting to the rim and creates a ton of space to utilize his jumper. His scoring ability stretches to well past the three-point line as he can shoot off the dribble, off the catch, off dribble handoffs, or while running off screens. The ease that Garland creates scoring opportunities is a rare and highly coveted skill.

Shot Creation

Analyzing what Garland did at Vanderbilt is tricky because we only have a sample size of five games, but what he did show us was a continuation of what we saw while he was in high school. Like so many point guards now, Garland is a great shot creator. Despite lacking explosive athleticism, Garland changes pace and utilizes his elite ball handling to get to and finish at the rim consistently.

When Garland was around the basket, he scored 1.4 points per possession (91st percentile), per Synergy. His lack of athleticism limits these opportunities, but he is an extremely smart and creative ball handler which opens numerous chances. Garland’s dribbling ingenuity really shines when he is running the pick-and-roll.

Garland consistently flummoxes defenders when they are forced to guard him in the pick-and-roll. He does a great job of confusing the defender once the screen arrives but is at his best when he dribbles off the screen and attacks the rim. In these situations, Garland scored a stunning 1.375 points per possession.

Below we see how Garland can lead the defender exactly where he wants him to go despite the screener doing minimal work. Garland starts his attack from half-court and sets the defender up as if he is going to drive right. Instead, Garland utilizes a quick in-and-out dribble that causes the defender to lose his footwork. As Garland comes off the screen, the screener's man switches on to him while Garland’s initial defender recovers. Garland uses a perfectly timed hesitation dribble to dispatch both defenders and score a relatively uncontested layup.

 

Here we see Garland score using his speed instead of his patience. The screener’s defender decides to hedge the screen but instead of going isolation to attack the mismatch, Garland uses a quick crossover to split the defenders and attack the rim. As Garland attacks the rim, the bigger weakside defender rotates over to block his shot, but Garland negates any chance of this by jumping into the defender and finishing through contact. Small things like this are how Garland can consistently finish at the rim despite his lack of explosiveness.

 

Garland is just as much of a threat as a shooter as he is when he drives. On all jump shots this season, Garland scored a preposterous 1.441 points per possession (99th percentile). While Garland did score 2 points per possession on catch-and-shoot opportunities, the more impressive number was his 1.348 points per possession from jumpers off the dribble (99th percentile). Since Garland is such a prominent ball handler and a score-first point guard, his shooting ability off the dribble is a positive sign for his future development.

Below we can see how deadly Garland is when shooting off the dribble. Garland fakes his drive and creates a ton of space with a jab step and a step back. We also get a great side view of Garland’s shooting form. He has a high, quick release with fluid mechanics. This shooting form paired with Garland’s ability to create space makes him a constant threat to score.

 

As good as Garland is at scoring around the rim and shooting off the dribble, issues arise when he can’t create space against longer defenders. Garland is great at creating out of the pick-and-roll but when he is in isolation situations he can really struggle. We had very limited isolation situations with Garland last season, but he only scored .286 points per possession in these.

Below we see how Garland struggles when he is facing a bigger, more athletic defender. Garland’s drive gets cut off, but instead of dribbling or passing out of it, he picks up his dribble and forces a heavily contested, off-balance jumper. Garland’s lack of explosiveness really hurts him in these situations as he is unable to continue his drive to the rim. If he would have continued his drive, it would likely result in an easy block whereas more explosive players can at least elevate and try to draw a more obvious foul or finish through the defender.

 

Garland can also be really affected by opponent's length at the rim. We see another example of him creating a beautiful driving lane, but the result is much different once he gets to the rim. Since Garland lacks great leaping ability, he can’t use his momentum to explode to the rim. This makes the shot blocking potential from the rotating defender at the top of the screen more dangerous. This forces Garland to change his shot and get blocked by the smaller defender.

 

Playmaking

While Garland’s scoring ability has been solidified, his playmaking is still more potential based. Garland sees the floor well and his creativity when he tries to score carries over to his passing as well. We’ve seen flashes of Garland being a great passer like the clip below. Garland’s driving ability captivates the defenses attention. Instead of forcing a drive into multiple defenders, Garland whips a crosscourt pass to an open shooter.

 

Its plays like this that make Garland such an enticing playmaker. It is evident that he can see the floor and pass at a high level. The problem is that this isn’t always the result. Far too often Garland is reckless with the ball. Last season Garland averaged 3 turnovers to his 2.6 assists per game. For a player that has the ball so often, this ratio is unacceptable.

Garland’s lack of passing consistency is concerning. He is late on making the pass, has poor touch on lob attempts, and tries to force it instead of making the easy play. Garland needs the ball in his hand, but if he can’t improve the consistent errors we see below, it will be hard for a team to hand him the reigns.

 

Defense

Plain and simple, Garland is a bad defender. He isn’t a big player which hurts his switch-ability and his lack of explosiveness hurts his ability to recover on his mistakes. A lot of solid defenders make up for their lack of athleticism with great instincts, unfortunately, that isn’t the case with Garland.

Below Garland shows his disinterest on the defensive end. Garland’s opponent blows past him because Garland is slow to turn his hips and crosses his feet. Then Garland caps it all off by keeping his hands down as his opponent goes up for the layup.

 

Here we see another glaring example of Garland’s poor defense. This situation requires Garland to do very little, but he finds a way to do essentially nothing. He never gets down into a defensive stance which leads to his slow feet. Garland gives up a wide-open driving lane and ends up lazily swiping at the ball which resulted in a foul.

 

Garland has a very long way to go in order to be passable on defense. Opponents will hunt him and take advantage of him. His offensive ability will keep him on the floor, but his defense will tempt coaching staffs into not playing him.

Going Forward

Darius Garland was a highly sought-after recruit, but a knee injury robbed him of a full year. If he was healthy, he could easily be considered as a top prospect in this draft. He is one of the most creative offensive players in this draft and will show his skills from day one, where he will be relied upon as a team’s primary ball handler and offensive initiator.

Garland has a very high variance on where his career could end up. His scoring ability should at least ensure a long career. He is a creative and versatile scorer and he doesn’t rely on athleticism. This should allow his scoring game to age nicely. If he wants to be more than just a scorer, though, he will need to put a lot of work into his defensive effort and passing ability. If Garland can improve in those areas, he has the foundation to be a franchise point guard.  

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