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Luka Garza will go from myth to mere mortal

Garza grew a cult following in Summer League, but there will be plenty of growing pains during his rookie season

Photo by Rick Osentoski/Getty Images

I’m not sure how often a second-round pick achieves cult status after a handful of Summer League games, but it certainly happened with Detroit Pistons fans and Luka Garza. The myth of Garza is a witch’s brew of being one of the most dominant players in college for several years, Garza losing a bunch of weight and possessing an intriguing set of skills that combine the strengths of old-school back-to-the-basket bigs and more modern stretch centers with range out to the perimeter.

Oh yeah, and it didn’t hurt that his father pretty expertly used social media to bang the Garza drum.

I’d caution Pistons fans to pump the breaks a bit. Garza showed promise in Summer League, but he wasn’t dominating in a way that should serve as a precursor to quality NBA play (if such a thing even exists).

And things are about to get a whole lot tougher for Garza, the opponents will be much better and we’ll quickly learn that Garza has a long way to go before he’s entrenched in an NBA rotation.

The good news is as the third-string center, Garza’s year is more about development and continuing to transform his body and mobility than it is about contributing in a meaningful way on the court.

A team needs a center and Garza can hopefully capably play that role if pressed into action due to injury or a player following out. Otherwise, he’ll see most of his on-court production will be courtesy of the Motor City Cruise.

Know Your Role

The Detroit Pistons are going to have rebounding issues this season, and if Garza is going to be asked to do anything, it’s going to be to spend his limited minutes shoring up Detroit’s weaknesses by doing a few Big Man Things (tm). The good news is that Garza was an extremely capable rebounder on the offensive end last season. Of the players drafted last season, Garza had the fifth-best offensive rebound percentage among NCAA draftees.

The bad news is, Garza’s defensive rebounding was relatively pedestrian. He ranked 18th in the class despite being one of the top big men. To put that in context, Garza’s defensive rebounding ranking was one spot above 6-foot-4 point guard Jalen Suggs and three spots above teammate Isaiah Livers.

The hope is that some of the 40 pounds Garza lost between the end of the college season and the height of his workouts for NBA teams will not only help him keep up on the perimeter but could also allow him a little more agility in navigating through bodies toward the ball in the paint. Maybe he can jump a little higher a little sooner and a little more effectively.

Another area I think Garza could separate himself from others on the roster is as a big man screener. The Pistons are going to miss a lot of things Mason Plumlee brought to the table last season, but nothing more so than his ability to set quality screens for teammates and open up the offense.

Garza is similarly built like a tank, and assuming he finds some run on the second unit, I think he can help create some offensive flow as a screen setter. Opponents will not abe able to go through any screens the 240-pound big man can set, so as long as he displays solid technique, it’ll be something the Pistons will be eager to employ. Especially because after the screen, Garza can serve as both a spacer and a roll man.

Speaking of the offensive end, Garza is going to be asked to fill the role that Jahlil Okafor was asked to fill last year. Okafor wasn’t up to the task and he was offloaded. Garza will be in his comfort zone offensively near the basket where he can use his big body and soft hands to convert easy looks close to the basket (similar to Okafor) while also proving to be a legitimate threat from the perimeter (something Okafor was hoping to add to his game but proved ineffective).

Garza shot an eye-popping 44% from deep his senior year at Iowa on more than four attempts per game. He also shot 58% from 2-point range. That’s ... uhhhh ... good (#analysis). The question has always been how his college game would translate to the pros. Many were skeptical, and that’s how you find yourself available at the 52nd pick.

The hope is that shedding those pounds and working within an NBA strength and conditioning program can help him not just survive to have an NBA career, but thrive as a high-efficiency big man off the bench.

Again, regardless of how excited Pistons fans are about Garza as a player and a prospect, he’s likely going to struggle in his first year against NBA competition. But he should get plenty of time during the Cruise’s inaugural season to shuttle back and forth between Wayne State’s campus, Detroit’s practice facility and Little Caesars Arena.

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