NBA

NBA: Usman Garuba finding no room at the Rockets

The former Real Madrid player, who went to the Houston Rockets as the 23rd pick in the 2021 NBA draft, is struggling to work his way into Stephen Silas' rotation.

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NBA: Usman Garuba finding no room at the Rockets
Neville E. Guard USA TODAY Sports

Amid the struggles endured by Spain’s representatives in the NBA this season, with the exception of Ricky Rubio at the Cleveland Cavaliers, there is one player whose situation is particularly concerning: the Houston Rockets’ Usman Garuba.

We’ll have to see how Serge Ibaka progresses at the Los Angeles Clippers after his latest injury, while the Hernangómez brothers, Juancho and Willy, both have experience in the NBA, and the latter recently signed a new, three-year contract with the New Orleans Pelicans. As for Santi Aldama, he still needs to develop physically to meet the demands of the NBA, so his difficulties in getting minutes were wholly predictable.

Rockets seemed like ideal destination for Garuba...

There is nothing positive to say about Garuba’s predicament, however. The Spain player, who made his senior international debut in the Tokyo Olympics and is a youngster with true star potential, isn’t offering the kind of return on the reputation he had before his arrival in the US. At least at the moment, there’s no room at the Rockets for the 19-year-old.

Although he threw himself into his NBA adventure with great excitement, Garuba admitted in an interview with Spanish basketball journalist Sergio Vegas that he “had expected to be much higher” in the 2021 draft, which saw him selected by the Rockets as 23rd overall pick. The former Real Madrid player sees a disconnect between his CV up to his arrival in America, and the general assessment of his abilities in the NBA.

Given that Houston are team on the up but in the midst of a rebuild, it seemed the ideal scenario for Garuba. Ample court time seemed all but assured for a player like him in a team like this. But it hasn’t turned out that way. Christian Wood is a player eager to prove a point and press home his All-Star credentials, and Daniel Theis has been as influential for the Rockets as he was at the Boston Celtics - but the Rockets' other European rookie, Alperen Sengun, is also ahead of the Spaniard.

That’s despite Sengun making much less of an impact before crossing the Atlantic. The Turk had racked up good numbers for Besiktas, but had made much less progress on the international stage. Garuba is on the absolute periphery of Houston head coach Stephen Silas’ plans; in a team among the worst in the NBA defensively, he has been unable to demonstrate his ability to protect his team’s basket.

Garuba looking ever likelier to drop to G League

Silas wants a rotation of around 10 or 11 players, dipping some, such as D.J. Augustin and Josh Christopher, in and out, and making it clear that his priority is finding the right balance between his players and not handing out opportunities willy-nilly. Garuba simply doesn’t figure. Silas says he’s keeping a close eye on the few practice sessions the players have all together to run the rule over the teenager, but as things stand he doesn’t seem to fit.

Garuba has played in five of the Rockets’ 12 games so far this season, and his appearances have been brief and forgettable. Each of his appearances have come in games lost by 10 or more points. His longest run-out, which lasted a total of 10 minutes, was in a 31-point loss to the Utah Jazz. He has averaged 6.1 minutes and 1.4 points per game.

The option of dropping down to the G League, at least for a short period to maintain his fitness, is becoming a likelier and likelier alternative. In the summer, such a move was already being mulled over at Houston, a franchise known for leaning heavily on its development team to help its young players grow.