This is the start of a new series here on Empire Sports Media, where I’ll look at sixteen potential New York Knicks draftees. This will include first and second round prospects, ahead of the 2019 NBA Draft on June 20th.
Here’s Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland:
Darius Garland came into this year as a highly-touted recruit, who, along with fellow five-star Simi Shittu, was going to turn Vandy basketball around. Fast forward six months and the Commodores didn’t record a single SEC win, and head coach Bryce Drew lost his job.
None of this is Garland’s fault, however. He played in just five games: vs. Winthrop, at USC, vs. Alcorn State, vs. Liberty, and vs. Kent State, the latter of which he registered just two minutes after suffering a knee injury that ended up forcing him to miss the season.
In a weird way, though, Garland’s injury elevated his draft stock. While players such as RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, and even Shittu saw their projected draft positions drop over the course of the season due to performance, Garland was able to remain an unknown, and in a weak draft, his mystique and intriguing potential are the only things to talk about since he only played in four games.
Garland is really small. He was listed at six-foot-two, 175 pounds, and he’s thin as a rail. He’ll need to get stronger because this lack of size really hurts him on defense. He’s fine off the ball and shows flashes of good communication and quick rotations.
The problem is, he’s similar to Stephen Curry in that he’s going to have to be hidden on defense in the playoffs. His lack of length and consistent lateral movement on the defensive end is something he has to improve on in order to become an All-Star level player.
Garland also is inconsistent as a playmaker. He shows flashes of excellent vision and reads, but so often Garland ends up making a bad decision and turning the ball over, or just simply not seeing the open man.
He has said in the past that he is a “pass-first” point guard, but when you watch those four games, he seems to have a scorers mindset. That’s perfectly fine, but because he is such a good shooter, he often gets doubled out of the pick and roll and is forced to make the entry pass to get the action started, and if he can’t do that on a regular basis, he’ll be relegated to the bench.
Three things come to mind when thinking about Garland’s skill: shooting, ball-handling, and speed.
Garland is far and away from being the best off-the-dribble shooter in the class, and it is probably his most enticing ability. Players like Curry, Kyrie Irving, Dame Lillard, and other quick, shoot-first guards have taken over the league, and it’s easy to see Garland becoming the next in line.
He shot 48% from three (in only four games) at Vandy, and displayed the lightning-quick release that makes him so hard to guard. It’s particularly effective running off of screens, or in the pick and roll, where he can step back and just let it fly.
The other thing about Garland is that ball-handling ability, which is about as good as it gets from a prospect. He keeps the ball low and tight and is able to effectively maneuver through and around defenders with no problem.
His speed is helpful in this department, and he is able to push the ball in transition and get to the rim. While his finishing at the rim leaves a little to be desired, he is solid in that department, and his incredible handle and elite-level shooting make me think he will be effective offensively throughout his career.
New York Knicks – Other Notes:
Garland’s father, Winston, was an NBA player who played for eight teams in his career. He is a high character, high attitude person who checks all the boxes in that area.
The knee injury, a torn meniscus, shouldn’t be a problem at the next level, but it is something to note when taking a holistic look at Garland’s draft profile.
Overall, I think Darius Garland is going to be a very good player at the next level, and in my mind, he is right there with RJ Barrett as a player who the Knicks should be considered at three. If for whatever reason, Scott Perry and Steve Mills are positive they are getting two stars in Free Agency, then Garland should be the pick because he is a better fit than the ball-dominant Barrett.