One of the most intriguing prospects in Thursday’s NBA draft is the one scouts have seen the least.
Despite playing just five games at Vanderbilt before suffering a torn meniscus in his left knee, Darius Garland has one of the highest upsides in the draft.
He may not have the track record of Murray State’s Ja Morant, but Garland draws comparisons to the last great point guard to go high in a draft after missing most of his freshman year: Kyrie Irving. And it’s not just the injury parallel that makes the comparison easy.
Among other things, Garland has the confidence to know he can be great.
“I humbly say this, I think I'm the best (guard) in the draft,” Garland said on Sunday, via ESPN. “I mean, I think I can do everything that an NBA team wants me to do.”
Like Kyrie Irving, Garland can score with ease
Even forgetting the injury connection, comparisons between Garland and Irving are simple because of their easy scoring ability.
Scouts got just a taste of his abilities at Memorial Gymnasium, but Garland averaged 16.2 points per game on 53.7 percent shooting, including 47.8 percent from beyond the arc. It can be easy to write off numbers in any small sample, but Garland has been known as a strong shooter, going back to when he was a five-star recruit out of high school.
But despite Garland’s upside, most analysts agree that Murray State’s Ja Morant is the top guard prospect in the draft. Having become the first player in college history to ever average 20 points and 10 assists per game, Morant uses his athleticism to score at will and is a much better distributor than Garland.
Where Morant is lacking is in his shooting, he improved from 30.7 percent three-point shooting as a freshman to 36.3 percent as a sophomore but still has a low release, Garland believes that will give him a leg up in a league that doesn’t lean on traditional point guards anymore.
“I think 10 years ago, everything was pass-first point guards, and now it's evolved into more scoring guards,” Garland said. “I also distribute the ball, as well. So, I think I came around at the right time.”
The one other place Garland shares similarities with Irving is on the defensive end, where his slender 6-foot-3 frame and recent injury history leaves him limited. He’ll need to depend upon that scoring power even more.
Where is Garland likely to go in the draft?
The top of the draft seems fairly predictable with the New Orleans Pelicans really bleeping excited to land Zion Williamson and the Memphis Grizzlies reportedly “locked in” on Morant. The New York Knicks seem likely to grab former No. 1 recruit R.J. Barrett at three, but then it gets wide open.
After the Anthony Davis trade, the Pelicans control the No. 4 pick, but they seem unlikely to take Garland with Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball around. However, they’ve been shopping that pick — and even potentially Ball — so he’s not out of the question to go off the board there.
The Cleveland Cavaliers at No. 5 just invested a lottery pick in point guard Collin Sexton and seem more likely to take a wing like Jarrett Culver or DeAndre Hunter. But it’s hard to imagine Garland falling past No. 6, where the Phoenix Suns have long searched for a point guard of the future.
The good news is that Garland should have the tools to succeed no matter where he lands. With a quick trigger and ability to play off the ball, he could be a devastating scorer in any system.
Damian Lillard going bonkers should only strengthen Darius Garland's standing as a top-5 pick. Obviously not identical players but Garland's ability to shoot off the dribble with range in a variety of ways should be more coveted than ever. https://t.co/WxtN4yS8sJ pic.twitter.com/IbVurnS5ZP
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) April 24, 2019
Even if Garland is more Jamal Murray than Kyrie Irving, he can be a versatile scorer who has already demonstrated range from the NBA three. He doesn’t have the volume of tape of Morant or anyone else, but Garland knows he has the tools to come out looking like the steal of the draft.
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