*ESPN 30 for 30 voice*: What if I told you… Luka Garza is that domino able to shift the entire 2020 college basketball landscape.
You know his name – Garza’s not new to college hoops fans. He’s been a relevant big man for Iowa since 2017-18, his freshman year. But in the recent 2019-20 season without a conclusion, something changed. With Tyler Cook graduated from Iowa, Garza got more touches and shots in the Hawkeye offense. The result? He became a SUPERSTAR. A true BMOC as Dick Vitale would say. The definition of a PTP-er!
*Quick translation for anyone who doesn’t speak the language of ‘Dickie V’. BMOC = Big Man On Campus. PTP-er = Prime Time Performer.
Iowa Hawkeyes… 2020 March Madness Contenders?!
Garza’s ‘19-’20 season was truly one for the ages. He finished the season with per-game averages of 23.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks. The big man absolutely balled out this past season, and deservingly was a finalist for several National Player of the Year awards. Alas, he fell to Dayton’s Obi Toppin in those awards, but still a great year for the Iowa Hawkeye. Garza’s 2020-21 season could be an even greater one, with him as a possible NPOY and national championship contender with a strong returning core for Iowa.
Right now, the predictions on who wins the Big 10 revolve around Garza’s decision. Should he return, Iowa remains the favorites in the conference, and only behind Villanova in 2021 NCAA basketball tournament champion odds (according to Bovada)… BUT, should he leave for the NBA, suddenly Michigan, Michigan State, and even Wisconsin likely emerge as the Big 10 favorites.
Garza’s NBA Draft Stock
The reputation of Garza is that he’s a classic big man, in a game moving away from the concept. Some might even see him as one of the last of a dying archetype. As the NBA and college game move in a direction of ‘positionless basketball’, more athletic and sharpshooting big-men fit the prototypical 4 or 5. Guys built like Garza have a tougher time finding themselves on the court and getting offensive touches. But I will say, Garza has worked rather well to adapt his game, developing a pretty consistent 3-point shot (35.8% on 3.5 attempts per game) to keep defenders honest. Whether or not that’ll translate to an ability to shoot in the NBA remains to be seen though.
Despite his improvements behind the college 3-point line, NBA scouts and talent evaluators tend to think he’s a 2nd-round pick. Personally, his size, limited mobility, and overall game have most thinking more of the likes of a poor man’s Steven Adams than a poor man’s Kevin Love.
That being said – even as a projected 2nd round pick, with the NCAA season not a certainty to happen, one has to assume Garza is strongly considering making the jump to the pros. This year especially considering it’s a notoriously weak 2020 NBA draft class. Can’t imagine anyone is envying Garza right about now as he weighs an impossibly difficult choice. I don’t know what I would do here, to be honest. But here we have the reigning 2nd best player in the country who has to choose between MAYBE being able to make a run at a national championship, COVID-permitting, or leave for a chance to make the NBA after his best season yet (by a large margin). Is his draft stock the highest it’ll ever be? It certainly might be. Other than winning it all, what more could he have to prove by returning to Iowa in 2020?
And So, We Wait…
As the 2020 college basketball season nears, schools and leagues will have tough decisions to make. Garza’s decision also looms, with a new deadline of August 3rd pushed back by the NCAA. He’ll have to make the choice to either return to Iowa for what should be his senior season, or remain in the 2020 NBA draft pool. Both with major risks especially in a topsy-turvy year like 2020. NBA teams, the rest of the Big 10, and a large 6’11 piece of the 2020 college basketball landscape all patiently await his word.
While it’s not an easy decision to make, Garza essentially has the whole college hoops community hanging in the balance. Best of luck to him as he navigates the uncertain waters of 2020.
-Mike Gilligan (@BigGilli, @VerbalCommitPod and @SmallStateTakes Podcast) – https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/small-state-big-takes/id1432138166 / https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/verbally-committed/id1516871465