Ah Euro players. They can be so successful and yet in some cases such complete failures. For every Nocioni there is a Skita, and for every Dirk there is a Fredrick Weiss. So when the news broke that Colangelo was looking to bring in a Euro to help stabilize the Raps front court we had to do our diligence. When rumours are he was to get $3-$4 million a year (a price tag that some quality NBA players get) we really had to try and determine what it is that Colangelo was seeing. Sure there has been some press, but nothing that really gave any insight into the kind of player we might be getting. Will he help in the rebounding department? Will he toughen up the front court? Who is this guy? Well here's what we found on the player who abroad is known as "Garba".
Looking back at Garbajosa's career it has been one of great length already. Jorge started playing pro-ball for Tau Ceramica at the same age most of us were thinking about nothing more than getting our driver's license and not having our parents drive us and our girlfriends to the movies...he was 15. That's one of the huge difference between the NBA and Europe - there really is no age minimum. Obviously at that age, getting minutes on what has become one of the dominant teams in Europe is tough to do, but Garba did manage to play in seven games in the 1995/96 season. Playing even two garbage minutes is still an accomplishment when you have to be picked up in order to actually GET TO THE GAME.
His next professional move took place five years later when he signed with Benetton Treviso. Playing for another European powerhouse club, it was there that he really started to develop. Garba's game developed into one of multi-dimensional capabilities as he could stroke the three and shoot it at a respectable percentage (career high 45.7%, 100 shot minimum) while still playing on the inside. Garba was also a decent rebounder always pulling down between 5 and 7 a game. Upon the conclusion of the 2003/04 season he signed a long-term deal with Unicaja, one of the Spanish League's premier clubs who is currently playing in its semi-finals.
After signing long-term with Unicaja, Garba had the following to say during his interview on Euroleague.net:
Interviewer: Your career has had three clear stages: starting with Tau as a teenager, in a group of old pros at Benetton and with Unicaja now as the team leader. How would you describe each phase?
Garba: "I have always looked at everywhere I have gone as a place to be for some time, to get to know the city and the club, and not just be there to play. I went to Tau as a young guy, and grew up there as a player and a person. The club helped me with everything that I could have asked for arriving as a 15-year-old, and I still have some of my best friends in Vitoria. Making the change to Treviso wasn't easy. I knew I had to play well to get chances on such a team as Benetton. And with work and trying to add more to my game, I developed another form of playing, shooting more from outside. But in a club such as Benetton, it was easy to get adjusted and do things well, because of the help and confidence they give you. As we said, coming to Unicaja with an important role has been a challenge I could not reject. And things here are better than I could have imagined. There's a great group of guys, I have everything I need and I look forward to many successful years here."
Is it just me or is one season and then jumping ship "not quite getting to know the city and the club?" That being said, you can't see this as a big deal. Although the NBA is not for everyone, obviously the lure of a big contract (as mentioned it looks to be a lucrative contract) and trying one's hand against the world's best has to be appealing. Seems much like a Sarunas Jasikevicius situation, where after so much success abroad it was time to try the next level. Regardless of him turning his back on Unicaja it's not like Colangelo just went out and traded for Steve "I Hate Vancouver" Francis.
If it is a situation like Jasikevicius, then how much success has Jorge had abroad? In the Spanish league playoffs Garbajosa is averaging 14.3 points per game. In the last game against Adecco Students he had 19 points, 1 board and 5 assists. First thing that jumped out when I saw this stat line is not the 19 points however, no, it's the 1 board in 35 minutes. Of course it is unfair to judge a player on one game and a rebounding performance like this one is not the norm for the Spaniard. His Euroleague average for the 05/06 season is just shy of 7 rebounds per game.
Stats say a lot but accolades say even more. It's damn near impossible to determine how 14.3 points per game would translate into the NBA (hence the risk associated with the signing) but you can't argue with the fact that Garbajosa had a solid year in Europe. In December he managed to win the Euroleague MVP for the month and more importantly achieved one of this past season's primary goals in getting his team to the Top 16 Tournament. At the tournament the team went 3-3 in Group D action and did not manage to qualify for the next round. Unfortunately Garbajosa only managed to play in four of those six games. In the four games he participated in, he averaged 15 points and 8 boards, approximately 21 percent of the team's offence. Garba shot a large number of threes though for his position, taking 23 three point shots and only 19 two point shots. This questionable shot selection is somewhat balanced out by the fact that he took twenty-eight free-throws. All in all his numbers were good enough to get him Top 16 MVP honours for week three of the tournament. His best game - 22 points, 11 boards, 4/5 from beyond the arc and drawing 8 fouls. Perhaps what really sticks out was his ability to get to the line while still taking a high number of three-point shots, something that is fairly unusual.
So against his European brethren and NBA cast-offs Garba is a force, but we all know the European game and the NBA game are very different. How will he match-up with the best in the world? There was only one way to find out, the 2005 Eurobasket Tournament. In this tournament some of the best in the world come to play, i.e. Dirk, Parker, and virtually every European in the NBA. While playing for Spain he averaged 14.5 ppg, and 6.2 rpg. Sounds like a nice contributor to a team with Pau Gasol, the Raptors own Jose Calderon, and Juan Carlos Navarro. What is disconcerting however is that his averages were given a huge boost when against Latvia he had 31 points. In fact, if you look at his numbers for the tournament what you will notice is that against the teams with stronger and NBA experienced front-courts, he did not perform well.
VS Serbia & Montenegro (Milcic, Radmanovic, Rebraca, Kristic) : 5 points, 6 boards
VS Latvia (no-one noteworthy): 31 points, 4 rebounds
VS Israel (no-one noteworthy): 21 points, 9 rebounds
VS Croatia (Mario Kasun, Marco Tomas): 14 points, 6 rebounds
VS Germany (Dirk Nowitzki): 4 points, 6 rebounds
VS France (Pietrus, Diaw): 12 points, 6 rebounds
Perhaps the most worrisome of the bunch here are the games he had against Serbia & Montenegro and even more so against Germany which was in fact the semi-finals. Now at the time I wasn't watching those games to see if Garba was going to be a NBAer, or more importantly a Raptor, so it may be unfair to judge based strictly on the numbers, but it looks like he may have a thing or two to learn in order to be successful in the L. Of course, Garba has been on the mind of a few NBA scouts for the past year or so and Draftexpress has also touched on Garba, in particular after the 2005 King's Cup (Spanish Tournament). During that tournament Garba won MVP and the reviews were solid. Jorge was praised for his basketball IQ and defense despite his lack of size. Oh and even here it was evident that getting "Garba" to play in the same league as "Mamba" was going to be a pricey endeavour.
So as Raptors' fans how do we feel about this potential signing? What can we expect? One thing that comes to mind is that Colangelo is really putting himself out there for criticism, and right off the bat. This is by no means a proverbial "slam-dunk" and it seems like a fairly high-risk move. Of course we all know BC is not shy in terms of making gutsy moves, but to take a flyer on a guy who seems to struggle against NBA competition is worrisome, especially on a team with little roster flexibility to date. On the flip side, another big man that can draw the defence away from the hoop is a positive, and anyone who gets high marks for basketball IQ and defense must get a look. Seems like a great replacement for Hoffa, or even more so Bonner at some point.
There will undoubtedly be a learning curve for Garba, and at 29 it will be a steep one. This is no spring chicken we're talking about, but of course there is no expectation for Garba (or at least there shouldn't be) to get huge minutes. This is simply a play by BC that could help solidify the bench by bringing in a player with a better skill set then what currently resides on that end of the pine.
It's a gutsy move by BC.
Here's hoping for the fans sake it works out better than the Nate Huffman experiment.