Darius Garland: Role
Extremely skilled ball handler
Playmaker who elevates his teammates
Strong, confident jump shooter with NBA+ range
Quick lateral movement
Smart, high-level decision maker
Frame and length limit defensive impact
Struggles to finish through contact
Can coast off-ball defensively
Not a strong rebounder
Will be coming back from knee injury
Offensive role at Vanderbilt
Although his freshman season was cut short after five games, Garland showed a lot of upside for Vanderbilt prior to his knee injury. The team’s primary ball-handler, the 6’2” point guard ran the offense with advanced playmaking skills. With the ball in his hands, Garland had the speed and agility to get past defenders, knifing into the paint to either kick out for a shooter or finish at the rim. Large, strong defenders gave Garland problems as he struggled to finish through contact. Occasionally, Garland got tunnel vision while driving but, most of the time, he flashed high IQ passing. He could pull up from anywhere on the court, showing off a step-back jumper that should translate quickly to the NBA 3-point line. While his off-ball responsibilities at Vanderbilt were limited, he excelled as a catch-and-shoot player when he did play off-ball.
Offensive role projection -
Initiator, off-ball threat
Some point guards are able to use a tight dribble to protect the ball. Others are deft at using screens to keep defenders away. Still others use their body to keep defenders away from the ball. Garland excels at all three, a truly special ball-handler. A savvy manipulator of the pick-and-roll, Garland can use his dribble to get off a high-level shot against all sorts of defenders. He creates space with his dribble and can easily transition into a well-balanced jumper with the newly-created space. His variety of shots include a step back, pulling up on a dime, or breaking for the rim. He can get to the rim easily and finish well with either hand, although his lack of size means he struggles to finish through contact. His floater game is also inconsistent, an area for him to work on. Garland’s skill at creating his own shot should not mask his elite passing ability, although he does at times hunt his own shot.
Defensive role at Vanderbilt
If Garland possesses a high level of offensive upside, his defensive chops leave much to be desired. His greatest strength is his quickness, which allows him to stay in the play when guarding on-ball. This is important because Garland dies on screens and possesses very little defensive anticipation, so he is commonly playing catch-up. His quick hands should speak to more steals, but he did not swipe many passes during his short college career. Because of his size he is a one-position defender, unable to guard anything other than opposing point guards. Off-ball, Garland is able to stick with the player he is guarding but is largely oblivious to team defense needs, again lacking the anticipation to predict where the ball is going and where he will need to be. He is particularly poor at closing out, racing towards his man with poor position and frequently being blown by. One minor strength is going after long defensive rebounds and loose balls, as he often wins against other guards and can gain possession and initiate transition.
Defensive role projection -
At the NBA level, Garland will be solely a defender of point guards, and even then, he will struggle when asked to guard ones who run through a lot of off-ball actions. His presence will almost certainly dictate the defensive scheme, as he would be roasted by larger players on switches. When defending on-ball, Garland has the speed to stay with his man, but he will need to improve his ability to anticipate screens and slither over them. His quickness should allow him to recover well to shooters, but he is both terrible at providing help and at positioning himself on the closeout. As currently constituted, Garland can only guard ball-dominant point guards. Off-ball he will be a liability, just as he will be on switches. Ideally, he will be able to improve from terrible to passable, but that is a projection not a reflection on his production prior to his injury.
Why Garland will earn minutes as a rookie
Garland’s ball handling and playmaking abilities can help any team, either as the primary play initiator or running bench units early in his career. Teams such as Orlando, Chicago, or New York could peg him as their point guard of the future, and that would be a reasonable choice offensively speaking. His shot should translate quickly to the next level, and he would be an offensive positive from day one on most teams. His speed and handling mean he can push the ball well in transition, helping his team score easy points. While he is best deployed initiating the offense on-ball and attacking defenses with both penetration and a strong stepback jumper, Garland also has the shot mechanics to be a solid off-ball shooter. While he is not large enough to adequately guard wing players, he could find minutes guarding point guards alongside a large point guard who can guard 2s. Defense will not be the reason he gets minutes in the NBA.What works in his favor is that, if you have to have one, the best place for a defensive sieve is at the point, so his weaknesses may not kill his opportunity to play at the next level.
Why Garland’s minutes may be limited as a rookie
If Garland joins a team that already has a primary creator at point guard, he could be relegated to backup minutes early on. If a team such as Atlanta drafts him as a value play, for example, he will certainly play behind Trae Young. Because his main offensive skills are on-ball and defensively he offers nothing guarding bigger guards, he will have little flexibility in lineups to gain more minutes. His motor, size, and poor instincts will make him a defensive liability early -- and perhaps always -- which means many coaches won’t trust him on the court. If he ends up on a team seeking to contend, his minutes will be even further curtailed as he will simply hurt a team on defense. Offensively, he needs to gain strength to better score inside against NBA-caliber athletes.