With the news of Oneyka Okongwu’s labrum surgery keeping the former sixth overall pick out six months, the Hawks are in need of a backup center but, most importantly, a defensive force down low. Before the injury, Travis Schlenk had the luxury of selecting any prospect he saw fit as long as he shored up the backup point guard position in free agency. Now, there are multiple holes on the roster. Atlanta needed to get bigger before Big O’s surgery was revealed, which now becomes even more apparent. Enter Usman Garuba.
As one of the younger prospects in the drafts, Garuba played in the Spanish ACB, where the competition level is extremely high. Though he’s young, he defends with the experience of a veteran. Garuba might be the best defender in the draft, and at 6-foot-8 and just 19-years-old, the sky is the limit for him. He doesn’t have the build of a traditional center, but his impressive basketball IQ and 7-foot-2 wingspan make up for it.
The ACB is known for its talent, impressive coaching, and unusual offensive sets, which means Garuba is fully capable of diagnosing offensive actions in the NBA. He excels at defending pick-and-rolls by using incredible angles and footwork, possessing the quickness and length to contest shots or take away the pass. He’s thick and can seal off angles using his length, which is similar to how Big O plays — able to bang with bigs in the paint while long and agile enough to defend guards in space.
Similar to Okongwu, Garuba is a tireless worker, who might not be an offensive threat but is more than capable of improving in every facet of the game. He’s already an effective rebounder, so the transition for him to the NBA should be a rather painless one.
Garuba is a threat to run the floor, and though he didn’t record eye-popping statistics, he has great awareness on the offensive end and is a decent passer for his position. The Hawks need to replace the gritty work that Okongwu provided in the playoffs, and much like Draymond Green, Garuba is a dirty work player with savvy off-ball playmaking skills on both ends of the court.