HOUSTON ROCKETS

NBA: What Garuba can expect at the Houston Rockets - the good and the bad

Real Madrid power forward Usman Garuba has been drafted by the Houston Rockets, a team that has been in a slump since James Harden's exit.

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NBA: What awaits Garuba at the Houston Rockets - the good and the bad
Jesús Rubio DIARIO AS

Usman Garuba’s arrival at the Houston Rockets will be a done deal if the player gives his thumbs-up to the move. It’s a situation Real Madrid have been in before, and which on that previous occasion ended up with a thumbs-down. Garuba, 19, would have to make the opposite decision to that of his club-mate Sergio Llull, who rejected the chance to go the NBA in exchange for staying in Europe with one of the best contracts possible. For Garuba, it would be the fulfilment of a dream he has entertained since he was a young kid. In terms of what he would encounter in Houston were he to go, there are good and bad points.

Garuba would arrive with much more international experience than some of his possible new team-mates, including players older than him. His exploits in the EuroLeague, particularly last season, which saw him deliver historic performances against Anadolu Efes, and his displays in the Liga ACB, where his impact has grown and grown since his arrival in the Madrid first team, make him a safe bet to perform, despite his youth. Unsurprisingly, the Rockets are particularly attracted by his defensive abilities, but he needs to improve his shooting - something he has been working hard on for the last year and a half - if he wants to take the next step as a power forward.

Rockets endured poor 2020/21 season as Westbrook, Harden exits took toll

The Rockets have been in a slump since Russell Westbrook was traded and, shortly afterwards, a deal was reached over the departure of James Harden, the franchise’s star man for eight years and a player who lifted the Rockets up to the top places in the Western Conference. They were one of the three teams with the worst 2020/21 regular-season records and, because of that, were among those with the best chance of winning the NBA draft lottery. They finally went second in the draft, picking Jalen Green.

As the only out-and-out power forward, Garuba would get plenty of court time

Garuba will find that the Rockets’ main man on the inside is Christian Wood. The franchise placed their faith in the center last summer, handing him a $13.6m contract that was a display of their belief in him. He is destined to be a starter - unless Houston opt to play small ball - and his performances have been positive, taking him close to All-Star selection despite his team’s defeats. He has been joined by Alperen Sengun, who, assuming he settles quickly, looks good as his understudy. Kelly Olynyk, who ended the season very well, is a free agent. Two restricted free agents are all that’s left on the inside, the potentially usable DJ Wilson, and Cameron Oliver. The only out-and-out power forward is Garuba, which is good news for him. He should get plenty of minutes and become a cornerstone of the new culture that Rafael Stone, the Houston general manager, wants to instil in the franchise.

As a group, the Rockets face a real test, following a season that brought a 17-55 record and a miserable time of things after January, with a host of players whose thoughts were elsewhere. All those who were definitely staying had to focus on was this coming season, one in which the Rockets look like being reinvigorated by youth. John Wall, Avery Bradley and DJ Augustin are veterans who bring quality to the outside positions, Eric Gordon is a class act, Kevin Porter has the odd 50-point game under his belt, Danuel House contributes at both ends of the court and Jae’Sean Tate showed himself to be a defender to look out for in his rookie season. Their fitness, and their ability to gel with the new arrivals, will determine whether the Rockets can shoot back up the tougher of the two conferences.

On the bench is Stephen Silas, who struggled for control in his first year as head coach. He’ll be eager to welcome the new recruits. He’s a measured coach with experience who wants to change the very identifiable style Houston have had in recent years, when they came close to beating the Golden State Warriors at their peak. The Rockets won’t be so focused on threes, which will help the adaptation of a Garuba who in 2020/21 averaged 31.5% on three-point shots in Spain and in Europe. If he does go to Houston, he’ll fit in.