We’re kicking off our NBA Draft prospect series with Iowa center Luka Garza. Garza has declared for the draft while maintaining NCAA eligibility. Projected as the #1 returning player if he comes back to college, it’s very possible Garza doesn’t end up turning pro this season, but this feature will assume he does.
Garza is definitely one of the most underrated players in this draft class, as he absolutely dominated the Big 10 this past season, putting up huge numbers on a Hawkeyes’ that lacked an additional standout talent. Despite constantly drawing the opposing teams’ top defender, and often facing double teams, Garza was unstoppable, particularly in the paint.
Garza started his year off with some decent, if not jaw-dropping, numbers, but he broke out in an early December contest against then #4 Michigan. Although Iowa lost the game, Garza dropped 44 points on a stiff Michigan defense, single-handedly keeping the Hawkeyes within striking distance despite the eventual loss.
A few other notable performances from Garza came in ranked wins over #19 Illinois, when he went 4-9 from three-point range and posted 25 points and 10 rebounds, and #16 Penn State, as Garza tortured the Nittany Lions to the tune of 25 points and 17 rebounds. His most impressive calling-card, however, is his consistency, as the Hawkeyes’ center scored at least twenty points in his final sixteen contests, carrying Iowa to a strong Big 10 performance. Despite his team’s struggles on the road – Iowa went 2-5 in true road games in that twenty-game stretch – Garza averaged just a touch under 25 points per game in those contests, actually higher than his season-average of 23.9 points a game. Garza is an absolute beast, and he was undoubtedly the star of a team that lacked elite talent. He repeatedly powered through top defenses, and he rarely had an off-night.
Prospect Grade: 5.9
Despite his impressive collegiate credentials, Garza is currently ranked as the 14th ranked center in the draft class, and many rankings don’t have him even being selected in the two-round draft. Garza’s biggest knock, according to many, is his below average lateral movement, as he sometimes struggled to guard more athletic players. Despite this, Garza is a high-IQ basketball player, with decent playmaking ability, and great finishing ability. Garza could be a solid find at the back end of the second round, or even to sign after the draft, but the money will have to be worth it in order to convince Garza to give up a chance at leading Iowa to the Final Four in his senior season. The prediction below is assuming Garza goes pro, despite the real possibility he heads back to the Hawkeyes for one more ride.
Prediction: Undrafted, signs with New York Knicks
Garza would be an excellent complement for Allen Robinson in New York. Robinson excels defensively, but his offensive contributions are limited to alley-oops and put-back baskets. Garza’s playmaking ability would allow the Knicks to have a more offensive lineup on the floor, while Robinson could be a great defensive option and mentor as Garza adjusts to the pro game.