Garza made Pistons roster decision easy – ‘I’m going to make the most of it,’ he says

By Keith Langlois | August 19, 2021

For as thrilled as the Pistons were to find Luka Garza still available with the 52nd pick, even they weren’t quite sure whether their roster would have room for him as soon as the 2021-22 season.

Then Summer League began and Garza made the choice obvious for them.

Garza played well off the bench in the first two games and then played even better in a starting role with longer stints over the final three games, all Pistons wins. He finished Summer League with averages of 15.0 points and 9.6 rebounds in 21 minutes a game. In the finale against Orlando, Garza went for 21 points and 15 rebounds in 27 minutes as the Pistons won 79-78. When it was over, a media panel voted Garza to the All-Summer League second team – among the 10 best performers from the more than 400 across 30 rosters.

That big performance in the Summer League finale came hours after news of Garza signing a two-way contract, an outcome that keeps him under the Pistons umbrella but allows the 22-year-old the chance to acclimate to the NBA game in the G League.

“It’s exciting,” the reigning national Player of the Year who spent four years at Iowa said of landing the two-way deal. “I’m really excited to be in Detroit. That’s where I wanted to be. I’m glad they drafted me and I’m glad I earned myself a spot at the table. I’m excited to work and get better and help this team in any way I can.”

As it stands today, Garza would be No. 4 on the depth chart at center behind Isaiah Stewart, free-agent addition Kelly Olynyk and veteran Jahlil Okafor. But the Pistons still have some roster maneuvering to do, in all likelihood, to accommodate the return of restricted free agent Hamidou Diallo.

In any case, Garza will be with the Pistons in training camp and free to come and go frequently between Pistons practices and G League games with the Motor City Cruise. The Cruise will debut on the campus of Wayne State this fall and both general manager Troy Weaver and coach Dwane Casey are enthusiastic believers in the value of shuttling young players back and forth to maximize development opportunities.

Garza’s development track will include a few critical components. First is learning the responsibilities of centers defensively at the NBA level and specifically becoming comfortable with pick-and-roll coverages. Questions about how Garza would cope at that end explained why a college player as decorated as he was lasted until the back half of the second round. Second for Garza will be adapting to his recently streamlined physique. He’s playing at about 25 pounds lighter than he finished the season at in March for Iowa.

“I think it definitely improves my ability to move in multiple ways,” Garza said. “But, for me, I’m not comfortable. I want to continue to work on that and get better and better and better. The better I am on that end, the better my career is going to go. I want to continue to work on that, continue to add some strength. I like how I feel. I want to get maybe a little bit stronger.”

To take a big step in securing his future by earning a two-way contract, validating the decision hours later with a double-double and resisting the temptation to allow a self-congratulatory moment fits with what the Pistons thought they were getting in Garza, a player who just squeezed into the top 100 recruits in the high school class of 2017 and left as the all-time leading scorer at a Big Ten program with a long history of success.

“I saw a guy who was resilient on both ends of the floor,” Pistons Summer League coach and Casey assistant J.D. DuBois said. “Always the first one in the gym, last one to leave. Really taking his craft serious and being intentional about his development. Even in the short period of time, you can tell he was really intentional about coming into Summer League and having an impact. The first couple of games, his minutes weren’t as high as he would have liked, but his approach never wavered. It was good to see him progress over the course of the week.”

The Pistons will send players off on their own for the next few weeks to catch their breath before training camp opens in late September, but they probably can guess Garza won’t be found on any beaches.

“Detroit gave me the opportunity and I’m going to make the most of it,” he said before leaving Las Vegas. “That’s who I am. It’s time to get back to work and improve some more before the season starts.”