When the 2019 NBA Draft takes place on June 20 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, former Vanderbilt PG Darius Garland almost certainly won’t be the first player to hear his name called.
No, that honor likely will go to Duke superstar Zion Williamson. Still, Garland will get plenty of attention throughout the pre-draft process, and for good reason.
Despite only appearing in 5 games during his lone year in Nashville before a knee injury ended his season, Garland made quite an impression. He averaged 16.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists, shooting 47.8 percent from 3-point range for good measure.
Yes, that’s an insanely small sample size, but the former 5-star recruit has shown his talent to the NBA world nonetheless. He’ll have the chance to do that again at the NBA Combine, which starts Wednesday in Chicago.
You need only look back to 2011 to find a situation where a point guard with only a handful of college games under his belt went really high in the NBA Draft. That, of course, was Duke’s Kyrie Irving, who ended up being the No. 1 pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Based on that similarity alone, many are making comparisons between Garland and Irving. But, looking even deeper, it’s absolutely an accurate comp for the Nashville native. What makes Irving so successful (in spite of his roller-coaster style of leadership) are his ball-handling skills and his ability to create his own shot.
In Irving’s one year at Duke, he appeared in 11 games, scoring 17.5 points, dishing out 4.3 assists, grabbing 3.5 rebounds and snagging 1.5 steals while shooting 46.2 percent from long range. Those numbers are comparable to Garland’s, and their styles of play are similar, too.
In this highlight video, Garland showcases his NBA range, and in a number of the shots, he uses his dribble to create space to let a 3 fly:
Combing through Darius Garland's tape for his NBA draft scouting video and quickly reminded exactly why he's No. 4 in our Top-100. Such an impressive combination of ball-handling, footwork and off-the-dribble shooting. pic.twitter.com/i0qrAKQhkU
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) April 15, 2019
Though this is probably the play where he injured his knee, Garland showed he’s not just a 3-point shooter. Look at him dribble by his defender and hit an off-balance layup from outside of the lane:
Another look at Darius Garland’s injury from tonight – appeared to happen on this early layup, then freshman tried to play through it on the defensive end pic.twitter.com/5qyRaA5nri
— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) November 24, 2018
Yeah, those sorts of moves look a lot like what Irving does on a nightly basis for the Boston Celtics:
As mentioned, Garland won’t be the top pick even with all the carnage that took place at the lottery selection in Chicago on Tuesday night. However, he could certainly be a top 5 pick.
In fact, that’s where the Irving comparisons kick up a notch. After the lottery picks were finalized (New Orleans won the Zion Sweepstakes), ESPN showed a graphic projecting who each of the top 5 teams would take. As you can see, they think Garland will end up in Los Angeles playing for the Lakers:
If that happens, Garland will team with superstar LeBron James. Yes, the same LeBron James who led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the 2016 NBA title. Who was James’ sidekick, you ask? Why, Kyrie Irving, of course.
Garland has a lot of work to do to live up to the Irving comp, but it’s important to remember that, while Irving did win the Rookie of the Year award in 2012, it took James coming back to Cleveland before Irving appeared in a postseason game.
Will the short-term Vanderbilt star end up in Los Angeles alongside James? I think a better landing spot for him would be Chicago, where the Bulls have the No. 7 overall pick. However, no matter what happens, there’s no denying that Garland looks like he has a skill set that will translate seamlessly to today’s NBA.