Forward Usman Garuba had an up-and-down rookie season with the Rockets but did show glimpses of how important he can become for a rebuilding Houston club with his defensive skills. The 20-year-old Spaniard discussed his ambitious plans for the summer, learning from Draymond Green‘s game, Jalen Green, the 2021 draft class and more with HoopsHype recently.
Check out what Garuba had to say below.
Coming from a winning club like Real Madrid, how tough was this first season in Houston?
Usman Garuba: It’s been a tough change. But you have to understand how things work here, that you are going to a new league… Yes, it’s true that I’ve been always playing on winning teams like Real Madrid and the Spanish National Team, but you can only work even harder now so next year we can do things better.
What was the thing that surprised you the most in your rookie season?
UG: The physical challenge. So many games in a short period of time, you feel more tired than usual. It doesn’t matter if you play for only 10 minutes, you have to give everything on the floor. Then you realize how important is to eat healthily and rest.
Analytics made you look good on the defensive end as expected: deflections, block percentage...
UG: Yes, that’s the area of my game that showed the most, but I don’t think I was at 100 percent. I can do much more and I want to prove that I can become one if not the best defensive players in the league. That’s why I’m going to work hard this summer in Houston to take a huge step forward in that direction. I want to also improve on the offensive end so I can help my teammates with a better outside shot.
Let's talk assistant coaches. Who has helped you to improve your game this season?
UG: I’ve learned from everyone. DeSagana Diop, John Lucas, also Robbie Keck [a member of the player development staff]… Keck is coming to Spain to help me with my game until I come back to Houston to continue training.
You have confirmed that you want to play the Summer League and the Eurobasket.
UG: Yes, of course. What I need now is to play games. After a season where I suffered some injuries, I started to play regularly by the end of March. Just when we played the last game I was like ‘Is that it? I want to play more!’ The Rockets know that if I’m healthy, I want to play for the Spanish team – if they call me – and they’re OK with it.
Speaking of those games, your best one was against the Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes.
UG: I don’t remember a lot from that game, but it was definitely great to battle against him. He had an outstanding season. I mean, talking about the 2021 draft class… I don’t want to say it’s going to be the best ever, but I think will become one the best in many, many years for sure. It’s unbelievable: starting with my teammates Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun and Josh Christopher, then Barnes, Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, then a lot of second-rounders like Herb Jones, and even undrafted players like Jose Alvarado!
Tell us the player you like to study his game the most.
UG: I like to watch Draymond Green a lot. There are tons of clips of him on my iPad. I learn a lot from him – how he plays defense, constantly setting picks… his offensive game, too. Also, the way he communicates with his teammates all the time, and his leadership on the court. He makes everything easier for the Warriors.
What do you think about Jalen Green and his future in the NBA?
UG: The sky’s the limit for him. He’ll be an All-Star for sure. And I think he’s going to be the NBA’s leading scorer in a few years. We have to help him to achieve those goals. He’s by far the player that has surprised me the most this year. We all know how good was Anthony Edwards this season, right? Green will play like him next year, maybe even better.
What's you goal for next season?
UG: I want to be in the team’s rotation. I want to make sure the coach wants me to play every game. The franchise wants to help me develop my game, they know I can contribute to the team, especially with my defense. I know the team will add more talent with draft picks, so this summer is probably the most important one of my life. It’ll likely determine my future in the NBA and I’m very excited to face this challenge.