Usman Garuba

Why Usman Garuba is worth Warriors' gamble as two-way player

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If Usman Garuba is speaking it into existence on social media, the Warriors once again have added a two-way player worth more than his title.

The Warriors on Monday announced the signing of Garuba to a two-way contract, filling their second of the allotted three two-way deals. The news comes a few weeks after he initially agreed to terms with Golden State.

Shooting guard Lester Quinones, the G League’s Most Improved Player last season, took the first slot in late July following summer league.

Quinones has spent a season in the Warriors’ system, both with Golden State and its Santa Cruz G League affiliate. But who is Garuba and what does he bring to the Warriors?

Garuba is a 21-year-old, 6-foot-8 power forward/center who was taken No. 23 overall out of Spain (Real Madrid) by the Houston Rockets in the 2021 NBA Draft. Overseas he modeled his game after Warriors versatile star forward Draymond Green and has continued to do so in the NBA.

Garuba in a Q&A with HoopsHype published in May 2022 said he has saved “a ton” of Green clips to his iPad and studies how Draymond plays defense and sets screens, as well as his leadership and communication on the court.

“He makes everything easier for the Warriors,” Garuba told HoopsHype, already speaking like a future Warrior himself.

Though he only has two seasons and 99 NBA games to his experience, Garuba isn’t new to top-tier competition. He became the youngest starter in Real Madrid history at 17 years old in 2019 after making his debut for the first-tier Real Madrid team at 16, and was a main rotation player in the Liga ACB for two full seasons prior to being drafted in 2021. The high-energy, defense-first big man is a full two years younger than Trayce Jackson-Davis, the Warriors' second-round draft pick from this past June.

Defense is Garuba’s first ticket to more opportunities. His first sport growing up in Spain was soccer, which has translated to his hustle and lateral quickness. Garuba as a small-ball center knows how to use his strength at 230 pounds and his length (7-foot-2 wingspan) to be a defensive disruptor, despite not being an elite athlete or jumper.

Watch him frustrate NBA MVP Joel Embiid last season, a game where Garuba had five points, two steals and two offensive rebounds in nine minutes.

The two steals and evidence where Garuba can fit the Warriors’ rotating defense stick out. They aren’t seen in the clip above, but so should Garuba’s two offensive rebounds. That is his elite trait. Garuba only averaged 12.9 minutes per game for the Rockets last season and grabbed multiple offensive rebounds in the 34 of the 75 games he played.

Garuba is at the top of the grading scale in multiple offensive rebounding categories, ranking in the 98th percentile of offensive rebounding talent, per BBall Index.

The Warriors last season were in the middle of the pack, 14th overall, averaging 10.5 offensive rebounds per game. Garuba through his first two seasons has averaged 7.4 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes.

Offense and scoring remain secondary as seen by Garuba’s lowly 63.0 percent clip from the free-throw line so far in the NBA, but he did shoot 40.7 percent (24 of 59) on 3-pointers last season.

Steve Kerr shouldn’t have to rely on his two-way players as much as he did last season when Anthony Lamb and Ty Jerome were consistent parts of the rotation. But Quinones and Garuba should give the Warriors two players who can continue to develop and shouldn’t shy from the moment when Kerr calls their number. But like Lamb and Jerome last season, late changes can’t be completely ignored before the regular season begins.

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Between his time in Houston and being traded to Oklahoma City this summer, Garuba found himself climbing an uphill battle of a numbers game at positions that are loaded for those two teams. The Thunder decided they didn’t have room and waived Garuba on Aug. 21. He took to X, formerly Twitter, that same day and sent a seven-word message the Warriors wish to come true.

“I’ll prove everyone wrong. Mark my words.”

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