After his prolific four-year career at Iowa came to an end in March, Luka Garza immediately turned his sights to the NBA.
Specifically, he narrowed down what he needed to lose to maximize his chances of making an NBA roster: 30 pounds of weight. He hired a chef and dietician and changed his diet, eliminating carbs and incorporating more lean meats, such as chicken and fish. He also wore a waist trainer, and joked that that aspect of his regime was similar to that of a Kardashian sister.
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He weighed around 268 pounds at Iowa last season, Garza said Wednesday. That increased to about 272 pounds after he took a couple of weeks off following the season, but his efforts dropped him to 242 pounds. After reintroducing carbs to his diet to boost his energy, he’s at 246. And he feels great.
“I feel more comfortable moving, I’m moving better in general,” Garza said. “It’s not only just moving weight, but just all the work I’ve done through this process of working on my lateral movement and quickness and stuff like that. I’m still not a world-beater, but I’m getting better and better. And that’s what I can do, is just continue to try to maximize my potential as an athlete.”
Few will question that Garza, the consensus 2020-21 national college player of the year, is a talented basketball player. The 6-foot-11 center averaged 24.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.6 blocks per game as a senior and shot 44% from 3. He’s a gifted low-post scorer and emerged as a strong outside shooter by the end of his career.
But his lack of defensive mobility stood out in college, and was a massive question after he declared for the draft. It was the primary reason why such a talented offensive player unsurprisingly fell to No. 52 overall and the Pistons.
Improving his foot speed was his biggest priority after graduating. Garza has only been an NBA player for a week, but the early returns on his weight loss have been positive. The Pistons have been practicing this week in preparation for Summer League, and Dwane Casey praised his effort Wednesday.
“He has had no issues,” Casey said. “He’s kicked guys’ butts getting to the offensive boards and getting rebounds and getting back in transition. … His body looks good. Just a good pick-up by our scouting department with Troy (Weaver). For a guy like that to be player of the year and for us to have an opportunity getting where we did is, I don’t know if it’s luck or from a strategic play, but it’s a good play.”
Garza ran the lane agility drill at the NBA combine in 11.9 seconds, 47th of 55 players. It’s not outstanding, but he was faster than three power forwards, two centers, two small forwards and a shooting guard.
He understands that he’ll have to prove he can defend at an NBA level. Casey said the Pistons can employ certain defensive schemes, such as drop coverage, while Garza is on the floor to help hide his lack of mobility. Otherwise, Garza is aware of that weakness in his game and is working to improve it.
Garza is also aware of his strengths and is confident he can make a positive impact regardless. He said he hoped he would fall to the Pistons after a positive pre-draft experience with the organization. And he’s ready to get to work.
“I obviously don’t have the lateral movement of a lot of guys in the NBA, but if I’m talking, if I’m early, I’m using my basketball IQ on the defensive end, that can make up for a lot,” he said. “So that has also helped me and working on all of these different coverages and stuff like that, I feel a lot more comfortable. Like you said, my ability to score the ball. Obviously I can shoot from the perimeter, I can score in the paint. I feel like I’m very confident when I get the ball, and if I’m in a good position I can score.
“I understand my role,” he continued. “I’m not a guy who’s going to shoot 100 times a game but I’m going to make sure that I find the best shot for the team. If it’s me, it’s me. If it’s swinging or setting a great screen for somebody, I’m going to be able to do that. And getting the rebound, kicking it out. I’m going to do whatever it takes to help the team win.”
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