The Detroit Pistons used two draft picks. One was obvious, with the first overall pick used on National Freshman of the Year Cade Cunningham. Fifty-one picks later, the AP Player of the Year was selected — Luka Garza. The big man dominated the post at Iowa, using his size and touch to punish teams down low. However, his NBA role is likely to be completely different from his time at Iowa this past season. He fell to 52 for a reason, as his strengths are not those that are often seen at a high level in the NBA. Still, he has a few translatable skills and some upside in his quest to fill a role in the NBA.
24.1 PPG, 1.7 APG, 8.7 RPG, 62% TS, 32.3% USG, 5.24% BLK%
With a cursory glance at Luka’s stat line, one would assume there are a lot of translatable skills and a high-usage role for Garza to fill early in his career, but that’s not necessarily the case. His immediate role in the NBA is very similar to what he can be in his prime, but the skills required for him to truly hit his ceiling will be evident early on in his career. We will likely know what Garza is as an NBA player by the end of his second year in the league.
The main skill Garza brings early on is his shooting. Garza is already Twitter famous for the videos posted by his father of him doing shooting drills, but it is a legitimate skill for Garza. He pops with incredible comfortability, and he is also a great trail shooter when running behind the break. He has even flashed some potential as a big movement shooter, but the athletic concerns call into question if that is something he can pull off in the NBA. Still, he is a big man who can shoot at his elite level from the perimeter with some versatility on the shot. If he can shoot above 36% on good volume, he’d immediately be one of the best true center shooters in the NBA. Paired with downhill players who can attack a drop, Garza could potentially be an elite pick-and-pop player with some transition equity as a trail shooter.
Garza’s immediate role will be as a drop killer with that shooting. Drop killers can be very valuable in the regular season if they are playing with good guards, as they can hurt defensive schemes and make defenses adapt to their presence on the court. This is vital for Garza because he is a sieve on defense right now and his value will come entirely as an offensive ceiling raiser. The hope for Garza is that a drop killer could be a good complement next to players like Killian Hayes and Cade Cunningham.
Luka Garza will not have a huge role change if these skills develop, but these skills will likely be the hook on which he can hang his NBA career. If he does not possess these traits at a sufficient level, he likely won’t stick in the league.
The first skill Garza needs to develop is his short-roll passing. Garza almost never got to operate in the short-roll at Iowa because he was generally posted up down low. He flashed moments as a passer when he popped in the pick-and-roll and as a trailer in transition, but he also had moments of tunnel vision where he saw nothing but the net. Learning to distribute will go a long way to making Garza a viable player in the NBA. Cade Cunningham, if he pans out, is the type of player who could get blitzed and doubled at the point of attack, and if Garza could play well off of those advantaged situations, he could begin to fill out a more well-rounded offensive game.
And the Deep Roll
The second skill Luka will need to develop is his ability to score in deep rolls. Garza will never be a lob threat, but if he can turn his touch and post-ability into quick hitters off switches and filling space intelligently, he could be a solid roll-man. Players with athletic deficiencies can be elite rollers if they win at all the margins. Someone like Jonas Valanciunas is an incredible roll-man because he punishes switches quickly, fills spots intelligently, can get timely offensive rebounds, and because his touch is incredible. Garza could do well watching some tape on roll-men like Valanciunas to try and figure out the role he could fill in the NBA.
Luka’s role will still be a drop killer at his prime, but these skills developing will make him a better overall roll-man. Garza’s defensive deficiencies are basically impossible to overcome. No matter what he does, he will not suddenly be athletic enough to be a good defensive big. That means that Garza will have to be an incredible offensive center and becoming a very well-rounded roll-man is the clearest path to that offensive success for Luka. He already has outlier shooting for a big and the post-game is nice, but he will never live off of post usage because of the spacing concerns post-ups cause in the NBA. What could make Garza a special offensive center is becoming a great overall roll-man who can score off of elite playmakers in various ways.