When the Los Angeles Lakers are on the clock with the 22nd pick on July 29, the night of the 2021 NBA Draft, they’ll likely use every second they have to decide if they should take a player with the highest upside available, or prioritize a player that has the potential to contribute right away. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to think that hard when it was my turn to pick for the Lakers in the SB Nation NBA Blogger Draft.
Whether it was luck — or complete oversight by my colleagues — former Real Madrid star Usman Garuba fell into my lap at No. 22. Garuba didn’t enjoy the same success with Los Blancos as Luka Doncic did (few players have) but he did make a name for himself on what it considered one of the premier teams outside of the NBA.
In 2018, Garuba became the third-youngest player to ever play for Real Madrid’s senior team in the La Liga ACB at 16 years old. The following year, Garuba became the youngest player in Real Madrid history to be a starter. Doncic previously held the record.
Garuba ended his career at Real Madrid in 2021 with a laundry list of accolades, including a Liga ACB championship (2019), a Supercopa (2020), an ACB Best Young Player Award and a EuroLeague Rising Star award. He’s undoubtedly the most accomplished player in the current draft.
So why did he fall to No. 22? If I had to guess, it’s because Garuba’s position in the NBA isn’t as easy to project as some of his peers, especially when it comes to the offensive side of the floor.
At 6’8, Garuba has the size to play out on the wing, but his 3-point shot is a work in progress and he’s not much of an isolation scorer, so, at the moment, he projects to be a traditional power forward/small-ball center in the NBA, and that’s not an archetype every team can get behind.
The reason Garuba is still projected to be a first-round pick in spite of that, though, is that he’s given scouts every reason to believe he can excel in that small-ball, utility role at the next level. He’s not Draymond Green, but he does have a 7’3 wingspan, crazy impressive defensive instincts and a knack for playmaking. That’s a player worth investing time and resources in, especially when the ethos of your team is defense like the Lakers’ is. If he’s on the clock when the actual team picks next week, he’d be a great choice.