How do you evaluate a guy who only played 5 games in school?
Well, it’s not as hard as you may think. Even though there’s only 5 NCAA games, Darius Garland has had eyeballs on him for a long time. He was the 3-time winner of Mr. Basketball in Tennessee. He played 4 seasons at Brentwood Academy and won the title all 4 times. He’s initially from Gary, Indiana – not far from a basketball hotbed of the world. He was, of course, a massive recruit who got offers from all the traditional powerhouses after being a McDonald’s All-American. And his father is Winston Garland, a former 2nd round pick who played with 5 NBA franchises from 1987-95.
Garland is the best recruit to ever sign with Vanderbilt, playing for Bryce Drew, who had a pretty solid NBA career himself. In other words, Darius Garland has been on the radar for quite some time. Teams see the McDonald’s game, obviously. They find a way to watch some film or see some of the top high school players in person. They have connects who have seen the kids play AAU, do summer workouts, compete against other top players, etc.
Darius Garland Scouting Report
NBA Draft Combine Tests
Teams leave no stone unturned digging into the ‘mental’ side of a player. At the Draft Combine, they’ll grill players in a private room with 20-some questions, ranging from basic ‘get to know you’ smalltalk to wild hypotheticals like ‘how many tennis balls do you think could fit in this room?’ They want to see your ability to think on your feet, how you keep your composure, your respect for authority and your willingness to challenge it on occasion.
They administer psychological tests. I believe at this point there’s at least one league-wide test that is given and has the results disseminated to every team. With the Wizards, we gave guys a 150-or-so question personality/psychology test, aimed at really assessing a player’s intrinsic motivation, independence, drive. The test would ultimately compare their results to other players who’d taken the test years prior in the draft, aimed at getting a reasonable picture of how likely that player is to succeed or bust in the NBA. I was in the Video Room when Scoop Jardine took about two hours to finish the test, in large part because he was too distracted by the silent SportsCenter that was on on office TV’s and couldn’t stop watching the Top 10. That wasn’t a good sign for his discipline.
Medically, any team considering Garland likely has all they need to know. Medical records are willingly given out and shared by player agents to any team strongly considering drafting that player – generally unless there is really something they’re looking to hide or the player has received a promise from another team. Garland’s torn meniscus seemed to be a fluke injury, not a commonality for his career and I doubt it’s a big factor on anyone’s board. But I’ve personally witnessed a bunch of top prospects being medically ‘red-flagged’; oftentimes meaning the team wouldn’t draft the player under any circumstances. Kevon Looney I believe had this happen to him by quite a few teams, causing his fall in the draft.
NBA Team Workouts
Finally, you may wonder about the ‘workouts’ teams have at their facility with guys. Garland had a last-minute visit with the Knicks, for example. It’s unlikely they learned much about him from a basketball standpoint – there’s only so much you can glean from spot-up shooting, or even light 3-on-3 scrimmaging within a couple hours. But it’s a great opportunity to get a feel for the person. How do they respond to coaching? How do they treat everyone in the organization, from the front office interns to the equipment guys? Are they dedicated and professional, or indifferent and lazy? Do they need their hand held every step of the way? Can they find their way to the lobby on time, be where they’re supposed to be, and be thankful and respectful?
In DC, we made a huge mistake trading for Glen Rice Jr. in the 2nd round without ever having him in our facility for a workout. We’d learn after that at least one team had X’d him from their board entirely based on how he treated the equipment guys at his pre-draft workout. That should have been a reason to not even consider drafting him. Sure enough, Glen Rice Jr. was unequivocally the worst guy I was ever around in my 7 years in the NBA. Uncoachable, unreachable, unprofessional, and just made life miserable for everyone he was around.
They talk to every player who’s ever coached the kid. Student managers. Teachers. People around campus. Teammates. They will turn over every. single. rock. looking to find anything concerning, anything troubling or not authentic. Drinking problem? Weed? Too many girls? Not a good practice guy? Thinks he’s too big-time? You can bet they’ll find it.
What’s the Garland Verdict
In Darius Garland’s case, I don’t know how he fares in all this intel. But you can bet the teams considering him do. From my gut feel, I would think the verdict is pretty good. I enjoyed this Sam Vecenie breakdown of all the pros that Garland studies and takes bits and pieces of their games. I enjoyed the quotes from Bradley Beal, a guy I was around for a long time, raving about Garland from playing on his AAU team.
I enjoyed this quote from Garland’s father (“Practice habits were huge with him…I hope I instilled that with him. If you put out blood, sweat, tears in practice, I instilled that the game would be easy.”) from this profile of Garland. I enjoyed hearing that he had his own keys to the gym, and often was getting shots up at 1 or 2 in the morning.
Garland’s film passes the eye test, and he has a tremendous amount of talent. Remember how many guys were drafted straight from high school and with little to no film on them whatsoever. Remember the skepticism about Giannis because of the limited film in low-quality leagues? He’s not the first player to be injured during a one-and-done season, and he won’t be the last. He has true lead guard potential in the NBA, and that kind of ability is worthy of a top 5 pick. From there? It’s up to him, and I like betting on guys who had parents who have been professionals and instilled the mindset in their kid. I’d bet on a guy like Darius Garland.
Speaking of guys injured in their one college season, Garland reminds me of a certain star who had the same thing: Kyrie Irving. Garland has a phenomenal handle, and he’s a really quick-twitch, advanced ballhandler who can get his shot off and create his own space at any time. Damian Lillard absolutely comes to mind, as do D’Angelo Russell and Trae Young. With today’s handchecking rules, it’s hard to imagine anyone being able to stop Garland on the perimeter. He’s not a super-advanced passer – a bit like Kyrie and Dame, actually – but he sees the floor well enough to be a lead ballhandler. He’s definitely score-first, but I think we’re also underrating his passing and he’s a crafty playmaker. 4 games was way too small of a sample size to determine that he can’t do that. I’ve seen some say that you have to hide him defensively, but I don’t really see that. I think he stays low in a really good stance and has active hands and pursuit, and is a very aware weakside defender with a high B-Ball IQ. He would fit right in with any team that needs a PG.