HOUSTON — Usman Garuba walked around the practice facility of the Houston Rockets Summer League tournament dejected. He did so in a walking booth after sustaining an ankle injury two days before the summer league tournament inside Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
Garuba’s absence was viewed as a missed opportunity, as the injury prevented the second-year prospect from creating separation between himself and the rest of his counterparts lobbying for minutes at his position.
Three months since his unfortunate stint in Las Vegas, Garuba has taken advantage of a new opportunity that arose sooner than expected.
“The thing that stands out [about Garuba] is his energy,” coach Stephen Silas said. “He is a vocal guy when he is out there with his teammates. We did not get a chance to see that much last year. But with him having more of a role this year, he is a guy that can get everyone going.”
Following the injury to Bruno Fernando, Silas inserted Garuba into the starting lineup ahead of their 125-105 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Silas said he decided to implement Garuba into the lineup to assist with the defensive efforts of containing Giannis Antetokounmpo.
There wasn’t much Garuba could do to prevent Antetokounmpo from recording a season-best 44 points against the Rockets. But Garuba’s contributions have helped Houston remain competitive on a nightly basis.
In the three games Garuba played this season, he has averaged 5.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals.
Despite missing nearly all of his rookie campaign and summer league, Garuba said he used the time spent on the sidelines to learn the game on an NBA level from afar. One of the most influential lessons Garuba learned while studying the game from the bench was how to stay ready.
But Garuba gave his most significant credit to the time he spent playing in the 2022 EuroBasket tournament.
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He averaged 4.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists during the European summer tournament while helping Spain win a gold medal during the Berlin-based championship finale on Sept. 18.
Garuba said the most noteworthy benefit he experienced during his time at the EuroBasket tournament was playing the five — a position where he has played 96 percent of his time so far this season.
“I think that experience has helped me a lot,” Garuba said. “After missing summer league and nearly all of last year, it was important for me to get my rhythm. That was my approach this summer, and it was great.”
Garuba began his sophomore campaign with uncertainty. He departed Las Vegas in July without having a chance to prove his worth as a reliable player within Silas’ rotation.
But in the three games Garuba played at the start of the year, he demonstrated why the Rockets continue to view him as a potential building block when healthy and available.
“After missing a lot of time, you get a chance to see a lot of stuff from the bench,” Garuba said. “I’ve learned a lot during that time. It doesn’t matter if you are playing for five minutes or more, if coach sees that you are playing with a lot of intensity, you have to approach every game like it’s your last.”
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Source : Sports Illustrated