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The Mavericks should go after Usman Garuba

The defensive forward fits with what Dallas is trying to do

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

According to Mike Scotto of HoopsHype and USA TODAY, the Oklahoma City Thunder waived forward Usman Garuba. Garuba, a 21-year-old from Spain, is entering his third NBA season and looks to be a victim of Oklahoma City’s roster crunch. He spent the last two seasons with the Houston Rockets.

Garuba has had a whirlwind of a summer from a transaction standpoint. On July 8, he was traded with TyTy Washington to the Atlanta Hawks, a salary dump maneuverer for Houston to clear all the necessary space to sign Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks. Four days later, he and Washington were re-routed to Oklahoma City in a cost-cutting move for the Hawks. The Thunder, in their endless pursuit of draft picks, acquired a second rounder in the deal.

So, Garuba found himself on his third team of the summer. And he’s about to find a fourth. The Thunder, who have spent the last few seasons stockpiling draft picks and talented young players, simply have too many guys on their roster. Some tough cuts had to be made. And thus, Usman Garuba, two years removed from being selected in the first round, is available. The Dallas Mavericks should look to bring him into the fold.

Garuba made a name for himself at Real Madrid, where he was teammates with Luka Doncic. In 2021, he was named a EuroLeague Rising Star and decided to declare for the NBA draft. He was drafted 23rd overall by the Rockets and didn’t play much during his rookie year. Last season saw him appear in 75 games, averaging three points and four rebounds in 12.9 minutes per contest.

Clearly, the numbers don’t pop off the page here. A glance at the stats and it’s no wonder why Garuba is on waivers after being traded twice this offseason. But his story requires more context. The Rockets were a mess, a roster with a ton of young players vying for minutes and no direction to make sense of things. The Hawks were in cap hell and wanted to shed salary. And the Thunder had too many cooks in the kitchen. While it appears that these teams either gave up on or had no interest in Garuba, the reality is that he’s victim of circumstance.

Garuba is a defensive monster at the four/five spot who can guard every position and make plays. He moves incredibly well and has an extremely high basketball IQ. Here he is in a game from last season against the Mavericks, making life miserable for Luka Doncic:

Here he is clamping down on reigning MVP Joel Embiid, poking the ball away and igniting a fastbreak the other way:

As you can see, Garuba provides versatility and defensive playmaking. He’s strong and has good size at 6’8, with the footspeed to keep up with quicker perimeter players. Simply put, he is a disruptor on that end of the floor.

The offensive end leaves a lot to be desired. Garuba has no bag to speak of. He’s not going to be handling the basketball and creating a shot for himself or others. As a shooter, he has a ways to go. But he did shoot 40.7% from three last year (albeit on a very small sample of 59 attempts) and there is hope that he can follow the Josh Green trajectory in that area. The one part of his offensive game that I’ve been impressed with is his passing. He has genuinely great feel and makes some really great reads.

In a lot of ways, Garuba reminds me of a F/C version of Josh Green: raw, great defender, great passer, high motor, and a work in progress offensively. But he’s the type of defensive talent that this Mavericks team needs more of. He fits with the theme of an offseason that has seen Dallas get younger, more athletic, and better defensively.

Garuba needs to clear waivers, and there’s no guarantee he does so, especially since he’s still on his rookie deal. There could be interested teams with worse 2022-2023 records than Dallas, giving them waiver priority. But the Mavericks should still do their due diligence. It’s been reported ad nauseam that the Mavericks will not go into training camp with JaVale McGee on the roster. With Garuba suddenly on the market, it would behoove Dallas to go ahead and waive McGee and sign Garuba if he clears waivers. The more talented young players you acquire, the better chance you have at developing some of them into valuable rotation pieces. Garuba represents an excellent opportunity for Dallas to do just that.