NBA Draft Combine's Biggest Mystery: How Good Is Darius Garland?

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMay 18, 2019

Vanderbilt guard Darius Garland plays against Alcorn State in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

CHICAGO — Vanderbilt's Darius Garland’s name is trending in NBA circles at the combine despite leaving before the event really got started. 

He wasn't expected to play, coming off a torn meniscus and a preseason lottery projection, but departing early Wednesday, per The Athletic's Shams Charania, has led to speculation about a promise. 

One NBA executive told Bleacher Report that rivals believed the Phoenix Suns (drafting sixth overall) to be the franchise giving Garland assurance, though nobody has ruled out the Los Angeles Lakers as a suitor at No. 4. Coincidentally, Garland is represented by LeBron James' agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports. Suns general manager James Jones also has ties to Klutch, through James, and given the gaping hole at point guard in Phoenix's lineup, signs are now pointing to Garland's draft floor at No. 6 overall. 

It's an interesting development, considering the freshman played just four full college games before injuring his knee and missing the remainder of the season. His rise within the draft conversation has been met with raised eyebrows.

"I'm always surprised when an injured guy like Garland is projected high despite not playing much," said one rival scout. "Being young and having potential go a long way."

"He's overrated", said another scout, an opinion echoed by various evaluators B/R spoke with. 

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However, all it takes is one team, and it appears as if Garland will find his soon after Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett are off the board. 

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 11:  Darius Garland #10 of the Vanderbilt Commodores looks on against the USC Trojans during a game at The Galen Center on November 11, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Cassy Athena/Getty Images)
Cassy Athena/Getty Images

Garland entered the season rising up recruiting rankings and mock draft boards, particularly after his 2018 Nike Hoop Summit performance when he scored 16 points on four made threes. He then went on to average 19.8 points against Winthrop, USC, Alcorn State and Liberty before going down, shooting 52.8 percent from the field, 47.8 from three and continuing to strengthen his credibility as a scorer and shooter. 

Garland, who was listed 6'2" at Vanderbilt and didn't measure or test in Chicago, demonstrates persuasive skill. His shot-making is particularly impressive, both off the catch (six-of-nine) and the dribble (13-of-23) using decisive pull-ups and step-backs. 

He's a sharp ball-handler, able to change speed and direction to shake free and create separation.

But he also finished with more turnovers (15) than assists (13), raising questions as to whether he possesses the makeup of a franchise point guard.

In 35 games we found box scores from since 2017, between NCAA, AAU, high school All-Star events and Eurocamp, Garland averaged 3.9 assists to 2.4 turnovers, not quite convincing facilitating numbers despite different settings over a two-year period. 

Given the lack of film to scout, it's difficult to hold a firm, confident take on whether his passing numbers are worthy of concern or overblown for a 19-year-old. Is he the player coaches will want running their offense and making the majority of the decisions? Does he have enough size to play and defend as a 2-guard? How much will his floor game improve based on his mentality and current identity?

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 11:  Darius Garland #10 of the Vanderbilt Commodores looks on against the USC Trojans during a game at The Galen Center on November 11, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Cassy Athena/Getty Images)
Cassy Athena/Getty Images

In what's perceived as a weak, albeit top-heavy draft, the question marks aren't setting off any alarms. Garland appears to be capitalizing on the intrigue he created from a small sample size of flashes. The injury may wind up actually benefiting his draft stock, after it eliminated opponents' chances to expose his weaknesses as a floor general and defender.

However, it does seem fairly obvious that Garland has translatable, coveted skills with his off-the-bounce creativity and lethal jump shot. And both the Lakers and Suns, respectively ranked No. 29 and No 30 in three-point shooting, have questions to answer regarding their backcourts.

With Williamson, Morant and Barrett presumably locked into the top three, teams had been looking for a fourth player to emerge. Virginia's De'Andre Hunter and Texas Tech's Jarrett Culver have come off as safe but unsexy top-five options, with Hunter turning 22 and lacking a signature offensive skill, and Culver, who's average athletically, taking a step backward this season as a shooter.

It may be an excuse or reason for teams to give Garland a pass and harder look. Drafting him early wouldn't mean having to pass on any can't-miss prospect. An optimistic organization could force itself to envision a Damian Lillard type—a lead guard valued for his scoring over distributing. 

Either way, it sounds as if teams that may have been hoping Garland would slip after the injury should start making other plans. He's projected sixth in our post-lottery mock draft, and that's now a worst-case projection.

NBA draft expert Jonathan Wasserman joins Howard Beck on The Full 48 podcast to discuss the draft lottery results and the impending fallout, on-site at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.

Advanced stats via Synergy Sports 

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