It’s not often that a player’s draft stock improves following a season-ending injury, but that’s reality for Vanderbilt freshman guard Darius Garland.
Garland, a 6-foot-2 point guard, tore his left meniscus two minutes into the first half against Kent State on November 23. Coming into his fifth game of the season, the five-star point guard and McDonald’s All-American had led Vanderbilt to a perfect 4-0 record and was averaging 19.8 points per game – good for third in the SEC at the time.
The Commodores had built the team for Garland, so adapting to his absence was difficult.
“This team was built for Darius Garland,” said Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew following a 56-47 loss to No. 14 Kentucky. “Our style (with Garland was developed) all of last offseason, all of summer, all of fall, all of the start of the season. We were 4-0. And we’ve had to shift.”
Vanderbilt finished the regular season 9-22, going 5-21 without Garland, losing all 18 SEC games and finishing the regular season on a 19-game losing streak.
Despite being out, Garland’s stock has remained high and may continue to rise due to the inconsistency of other top prospects outside of Duke freshmen forwards Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett and Murray State sophomore guard Ja Morant.
In addition to the inconsistent play of lottery-projected prospects, the point guard depth in the 2019 NBA Draft is severely shallow, especially in the lottery range. Outside of Garland, Morant, and North Carolina’s Coby White, there are not any top-tier floor generals. The Suns, Bulls, Grizzlies, Pelicans, and Heat are looking for their future point guard, and the former Vanderbilt star could suffice.
By drafting Garland, an NBA team would be getting a lean guard who has a natural ability to score the basketball. His combination of shot-making, ball-handling and offensive efficiency will appeal to many franchises in need of a playmaker. Through four games and a two-minute fifth game, Garland averaged 16.2 points per game on 53.7 percent from the field, 47.8 from three-point land and 75 percent from the free-throw line. Efficiency screams off the page, however, we must take his stats with a grain of salt given that he’s only played four full games against less-than-stellar competition.
To get a sense of Garland’s skills, check out his highlights vs. the USC Trojans, the toughest competition that he faced this season.
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- Can score efficiency at all three levels (53.7 percent from the field, 47.8 percent from 3-point line)
- Great shooter off the bounce (99th percentile) and has NBA range
- Excels as a scorer in the pick and roll (1.00 points per possession, 91st percentile)
- Smooth, fluid handle, able to change speed and direction with ease, and excellent body control
- Natural leader and controls the pace of the game
- Skinny frame and short wingspan
- Relied heavily on screens to break down defenses, and struggled to pick apart defenders in isolation
- Might struggle to finish around the rim at next level
- Poor assist-turnover ratio (0.87)
- Lack of size and aggression limits his defensive effectiveness (1.2 steals and blocks combined per game)
Though Garland only played four full games at Vanderbilt, his multi-facet offensive attack was on full display. He scored efficiently at all three levels, averaging 1.01 points per possession (PPP) as an overall scorer (83rd percentile). Garland’s efficiency is directly related to his ability to carve up a defense using the pick and roll. He handled the ball in the pick and roll for more than half of his offensive possessions (53 percent) and scored very effectively (1.00 PPP, 91st percentile). He also did very well on handoffs (2.00 PPP), shooting off screens (2.25 PPP) and scoring in spot-up situations (1.57 PPP), but he struggled on his limited isolation possessions (0.29 PPP). Given that much of his success was derived from using screens, his ability to be effective in one-on-one situations at the next level is somewhat of a question mark heading into the draft.
Garland’s jump shot is his bread and butter, especially shooting off the bounce. This season, 68 percent of his jumpers were off the dribble, and he averaged an outstanding 1.35 points per possession on those plays (99th percentile). He found so much success due to his incredible body control in the air and a variety of pro-like moves, such as a side step pull-up jumper off the screen – something he’s taken from Portland’s star guard Damian Lillard.
“His side step is crazy,” said Garland referring to Lillard’s move. “He gets so much space on it.”
Garland, like Lillard, is a score-first guard. His ability to carve up defenses is likely the best facet of his game. That said, however, he doesn’t do a great job creating for his teammates. He is not an overly creative playmaker, and he tends to force passes. His pick-and-roll offense dipped tremendously when combining scoring and assisting (.84 points per possession, 48th percentile). This also included a high turnover percentage of 21.3 percent. Overall, his turnover percentage was slightly worse (21.8 percent, 16th percentile).
Due to his small and lean frame, Garland shied away from contact and precisely picked when to drive to the hoop – he took more than twice as many jumpers than shots around the basket at Vanderbilt. By being selective, combined with his body control and his ability to finish with either hand, he was able to average 1.4 points per possession (90th percentile) around the basket. Take those numbers with a grain of salt, though, since Garland’s lack of size and length is a concern at the next level, and his preference to shoot from the outside is likely to continue in the pros. In order to be successful as a driver in the NBA, he will have to refine his floater game, a skill that he did not feature at Vanderbilt.
Four games is a small sample size, but with the eye test, Garland’s defensive outlook is poor. He did, however, grade very well according to Synergy, as he ranked at the 96th percentile as an overall defender and at the 97th percentile defending the pick and roll. These numbers, though, don’t tell the whole story.
Garland stayed attached to his man and was an active defender, but his 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame doesn’t bode well for him. He often got caught on screens and had to hustle back to recover. He also struggled to contest shots on the perimeter due to his lack of length. He ranked at the 34th percentile when defending spot-ups because opponents were able to rise up and shoot over the small guard.
Garland also lacked a sense of urgency and aggression on the defensive end. He found himself reaching on drives rather than sliding his feet to properly help. Through his short-lived collegiate career, Garland racked up only four steals and two blocks, which combined per game is a lowly 1.2. In addition, he only fouled seven times – good for 1.4 per game. It’s good to limit fouling, but 1.4 when playing nearly 28 minutes per game indicates a lack of defensive aggression.
As a guard at the next level, it’s concerning that Garland shied away from contact on both ends of the floor, especially on defense. Matching up with the likes of Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving will be a living nightmare for Garland.
Intangibles and Miscellaneous
With Williamson and Barrett leading the charge during the preseason, it was hard for Garland to garner much national attention. He did, however, come into the year as the No. 1 ranked freshman point guard in the nation.
Vanderbilt was primed for a breakout year, with Garland leading the pack. As mentioned earlier, Coach Drew developed Vanderbilt’s style of basketball around Garland. That had to be changed following his unfortunate injury.
NBA teams may also formulate their offense around Garland similar to how the Hawks gave the reins to rookie point guard Trae Young. At Vanderbilt, Garland quickly took control and was a natural leader on the court with his teammates. He’s always talking, whether it be about a good play or a poor execution.
Garland will be drafted for his offensive talent, plain and simple. His ability to shoot off the dribble and finesse his way around screens is impressive and will be valued heavily come draft night. He also possesses NBA range and had a great three-point percentage (47.8 percent) at Vanderbilt. He has the potential to be a dangerous pick-and-roll player, especially if he’s drafted by a team with a solid big such as the Heat (Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo), the Pelicans (Julius Randle), the Suns (DeAndre Ayton) or the Bulls (Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.).
Defensively, Garland will be a liability. Out of the gates, he will need to get stronger, smarter, more aggressive and more aware. These are fixable issues in his defensive game, but he will never be able to fix being 6-foot-2 and having a short wingspan.
Barring any major setbacks, Garland seems to be a lock for the lottery despite only playing four full collegiate games. He is projected to go ninth in our latest mock draft and ranks ninth on our draft board. He will likely be the second point guard off the board on draft night, but the aforementioned White has a chance to improve his stock, with the NCAA Tournament right around the corner. Due to his injury, it is uncertain that Garland will have an opportunity to put his offensive prowess on full display at the NBA Combine and at individual team workouts in hopes to bolster his draft stock even further. Ultimately, he could fall anywhere between 4-20, but the chances of him falling out of the lottery are slim.
Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements: Stats used in our scouting reports mainly come from Synergy Sports and RealGM, and occasionally from Hoop-Math.com and Sports Reference. The photo is courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics.