With only a little over a minute of time left in regulation and his team up two on the road, Darius Garland casually strolls past half-court with the ball — and the fate of a game— in his hands.
The slight 6’3” guard from Gary, Indiana, cooly rocks his initial defender to sleep with an in-rhythm between the legs dribble, before deciding it’s time to make his move. Rejecting his teammate’s high ball screen with an airtight crossover, Garland sweeps by his first obstacle before being met by his next in the form of the Trojans’ 6’11” center, Nick Rakocevic.
Instead of pulling up for a jumper (which he aptly is able to when needed) after creating space, the 19-year-old wisely uses his innate craft and handle to chop the lumbering big down to size. With a staggering hesitation move, the Trojan’s knees buckle as the Vanderbilt guard swiftly blows by him — and his last ditched effort of a contest — to ice the game.
This was November of last year. Just ten minutes (depending on Los Angeles traffic) away from Staples Center, where multiple media outlets’ mock drafts have begun slotting his new home to be once he lands in the NBA this upcoming season.
Dazzling in-game instances like this one against USC have helped Garland maintain his lottery status despite a minuscule collegiate sample (after playing in only five games, Garland would miss the rest of his freshman season due to a torn meniscus) and several question marks regarding his viability at the professional level.
But, within his inability to provide a year’s worth of film and data, Garland’s draft stock has not been hampered as there now lies a significant level of mystique created through the potential he flashed in those few games and in the weighted scouting reports that labeled him as a five-star-recruit and the best point guard in the nation coming out of high school.
One does not have to look too far to see why the Lakers would have interest in the dynamic scorer if they decide to keep the No. 4 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Beside the rumored promise given by the team, his Klutch Sports ties and recently working out with LeBron James, Garland also represents a severely lacking ingredient the Lakers have been devoid of in recent memory, and has an essential skillset that many teams around the league covet.
With a tremendous ability to shoot absolutely anywhere on the floor, and in a variety of ways — both off-the-catch and with his prodigious self-creation skills. Couple those talents with a slick handle and a deceptive live dribble, and it’s easy to see why Garland conjures up salivating visions of the league’s upper echelon guards at times.
Garland’s superb shooting, which is likely the crown jewel of his game, is also the easiest aspect of his skillset to envision him contributing right off the bat with for the Lakers, as they are coming fresh off what was a woeful season from behind the arc (the team ranked 18th in 3-point frequency, and had the second-worst efficiency from deep according to Cleaning the Glass).
There is a unique level of dynamism in Garland’s shooting ability that not only is seen in his efficiency (small sample, but he scored a ridiculous 1.44 points per jump shot in the half-court according to Synergy, which was in the 99th percentile in college basketball) but arguably more enticing is the level of diversity in his scoring skills.
Due to his injury, the limited totals are definitely worth mentioning here, but of Garland’s 23 3-point attempts this past season, 17 were easily registered as coming from NBA distance. Of those attempts, he converted at an eye-popping 47 percent clip.
Simply put, Garland already appears to be a viable threat to pull up from anywhere, at anytime. That’s an immensely valuable trait to have for a guard in the modern NBA because of how it would allow him to establish the necessary gravity to pull defenders towards him and create space for his teammates to operate.
Another key layer to the onion that is Garland’s shot making prowess is his ability to pull up out of the pick and roll. As shown in this year’s playoffs, players — namely guards — who possess the keen ability to pull up from both midrange and from three off a live dribble/screen continue to prove tremendously helpful when transition offense stalls and spacing gets clogged down. And despite not being able to provide a full season’s worth of evidence, Garland showed impressive glimpses of possessing this coveted skillset.
Through his tight handle and impressive deceleration while going downhill off a screen, Garland leverages his ability to create separation to free up his stunning jumper in concerto-like sequences. Garland’s mid-range game is a perfectly cued x, square and circle combo in his tool bag to unlock a cheat code in real time, against real competition.
As the pick and roll ball handler at Vanderbilt, Garland’s derived offense averaged one point per possession, which ranked in the 92nd percentile in the nation. When he took an aforementioned jumper out of the pick and roll, the crafty guard scored a bonkers 1.35 points per sequence (95th percentile). Again, small sample size, but those are impressive numbers.
Garland’s pick and roll offense would also be a welcome and complimentary addition to the Lakers’ backcourt, and beside Lonzo Ball specifically.
Ball, often misperceived as a high usage and on-ball dependent player, could reap the benefits of playing beside a complimentary guard who could fill in the gaps of his game, such as scoring directly out of the pick and roll and helping break down a defense.
On the flip side, Ball would also be a theoretical ideal backcourt mate for Garland, as he could assist in covering for what are expected to be real concerns with the former Commodores guard at the next level.
For all that oozing upside Garland possesses, his slight frame and so-so defense coupled with his questionable decision making (2.6 assists compared to three turnovers per contest as a freshman) raises some cautionary signs when it comes to competing against bigger, and better competition.
Working off Ball’s playmaking/defense — and the gravity created from that guy who wears No. 23 — could alleviate some of the expected growing pains Garland will likely experience as a rookie. But, as the playoffs have also proved, teams will always pinpoint and target weak links on defense, and Garland at this stage seems like a prime candidate.
Ultimately, every team is looking for the next Steph, Dame or Kyrie. That beacon of offense in a guard’s body that can not only be relied upon in critical situations, but built around for years to come. Unfortunately, even with years of scouting information and data driven reports readily made available, finding a player of such ilk is nearly impossible, because stars of that level are rare.
Maybe more apt though, is to identify, target and unearth the tools of that potential next player who could one day come close to duplicating their scheme breaking abilities. And maybe, just maybe, they too can reach a similar plateau.
Like all the prospects set to walk across the stage and shake Adam Silver’s hand in a few weeks, Garland’s future and potential is impossible to predict at this point in time. But at the very least, he has flashed enough of the aforementioned tools of the marquee names for front offices around the league to take serious note. The Lakers’ braintrust is likely among them.
The ability to dribble, pass and shoot the basketball has ballooned with importance and become not only a preferred skillset scouts and general managers scrounge for in prospect evaluation, but also a necessary combination for survival in the modern NBA. Garland may have those key abilities, and that makes him worth taking a long look at, even if he’s not fully developed just yet.
All stats and video per NBA.com, the NCAA and Sports-Reference unless otherwise noted. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts.