Wolves forward Garza balances life as NBA/G League player

Luka Garza's phone rang in Dallas last March.

The night before, he had 23 points and 13 rebounds playing 39 minutes for the Iowa Wolves against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the G League affiliate of the Houston Rockets. Now, he was being told he'd been called up to the NBA for a road game in Atlanta the next day.

Garza had to fly immediately back to Des Moines and pack what he could. The former University of Iowa All-America woke up around 3 a.m., flew to Atlanta, met with his teammates at the pregame shootaround and took a short nap at the hotel. Hours later, Garza scored 14 points in a 136-115 Timberwolves win over the Hawks.

This is the life of a two-way player, someone who signs a specific contract that allows them to be transferred between an NBA team and its developmental partner team. It's a stressful process to not know when you're going to be promoted or reassigned between the NBA and its lower companion league, but Garza and any G Leaguer looking to make it to the next level has to adapt.

"That's just kind of your reality," said the 6-10 power forward, who will play in the G League's Up Next Game in Indianapolis on Feb. 18 before the NBA All-Star Game. "You're always ready for the next thing. I've done four games in four days. I've done a lot of different stuff, and once you have that kind of experience and get used to it, it becomes a new normal."

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Since being taken in the second round of the 2021 NBA draft by the Pistons, Garza has played in 25 games in the G League and 71 in the NBA between Detroit and Minnesota. He's played in only three contests for the Iowa Wolves and 11 for the Timberwolves this season, but his transition between the teams over the past two years has been instrumental to his development and progression toward full-time NBA player.

"We do a really incredible job here with the Timberwolves organization by going back and going between [here and Iowa]," said Garza, who is from Reston, Va., and has played for the Bosnia and Herzegovina national team. "You get down there, you get to have some reps, get some confidence and work on your game, work on things that you're going to apply when you get up here when you get a chance.

"Last year, I spent a lot more time down there and really was able to find my confidence, my rhythm, my game, and when I got called up in the middle of the year when [Karl-Anthony Towns] got hurt and I started receiving a lot of opportunity with the Timberwolves, I was ready and prepared because of the work I was doing in Iowa."

Garza said he believes the different experiences have shaped his game in distinct ways. There are fewer resources in Des Moines, he said, but it's the in-game experience that matters. In Minneapolis, Garza is able to work with coaches such as director of player development Joe Boylan as well as the strength and conditioning staff to continue growing as a player, even when he doesn't get as much playing time.

He's also able to watch and learn from the players he's behind on the depth chart — Towns, Rudy Gobert and Naz Reid.

With Gobert, it's his defensive prowess and timing. With Towns, it's his ability to stretch the floor and shoot both inside and outside. Reid, who started as a two-way player himself in 2019 before permanently earning a roster spot in the NBA, serves as a blueprint for Garza and "one of the great success stories" of the G League.

Garza's success story is still being written. The opportunities the 25-year-old has remaining might be limited, as this is the final season he's eligible for a two-way contract. But he says he's determined, as Reid was, to not let those chances pass him by.