High School: Maret
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
GIA Nickname That Won't Catch On Anywhere: The Emu
What do you even say about that jump from Luka Garza's sophomore season to last year? The Peacock essentially bumped his minutes by 50 percent, with no decrease in the efficiency stats and a greater than 50 percent increase in the counting stats. Garza should have been the first Hawkeye to win the Naismith Award as the nation's best player on the numbers alone. He won Kenpom Player of the Year. He was among the Big Ten's top 20 players in minutes played, offensive efficiency, possession usage (first), shot usage (first), win shares (first), offensive win shares (first), box plus/minus (first), effective field goal rate (fourth), true shooting percentage (fifth), offensive rebounding rate, defensive rebounding rate, turnover rate, fouls drawn (first), free throw rate, and two-point shooting percentage, to say nothing of scoring (first), rebounding (fourth) and blocks (ninth).
Garza was the Kenpom Game MVP in 20 of the 31 games Iowa played last year, but that somehow understates the case; he was the best player in 14 of Iowa's 20 Big Ten games. He scored 20 or more points in Iowa's last sixteen games. He played Minnesota's Daniel Oturu to a draw in their first meeting, dominated the second. He outplayed Jalen Smith in their one game last season. Ohio State's Kaleb Wesson couldn't stay with him. Garza dropped 77 points in two games against Michigan's Jon Teske. Essentially, he went up against the best group of centers in the nation and outplayed all of them.
In a world where the center position has been marginalized, where the NBA has essentially said that the man in the middle is a replaceable part, Garza has found a way to make the position relevant. Iowa ran a modified version of old post-based offense through much of the season, with Iowa's array of slashers and shooters working around Garza and taking advantage of double-teams focused on him, but Garza also gradually moved toward a true "stretch five." He shot 35 percent from three and became devastating in pick-and-roll. He was a complete player in a 6'11" frame, both a refreshing throwback and an evolution of the position.
He's going to be better.
The last time we saw him, Garza was an evolving center. Anyone who has been following Frank Garza on Twitter knows that Luka's spent the pandemic in the lab with a pen and a pad trying to get that damn label off. He took his shot at the NBA Draft process, looking for a first-round guarantee. It was fairly obvious that, if he found it, he would take it. He didn't, being told instead that he needed a more consistent perimeter game. And so Garza went out and built that game.
This is it for The Peacock, barring an inexplicable decision to exercise his fifth year of pandemic-related eligibility. If his goal was to play in Europe, or to bounce around between the NBA and G-League, he could have done that this year. He likely would have been drafted in the second round, and his talent and family connections to European basketball would have found him a comfortable home. When Garza announced his return to Iowa, he cited his desire for a national championship, but it's also clear that he's gunning for a high draft spot. Those are two big goals, to be sure, but pointing Garza's fabled work ethic at goals that lofty is almost certain to make him better. And the fact that he might be better ought to be terrifying to everyone on Iowa's schedule.
It's National Player of the Year or bust. It's Final Four or bust. It's NBA or bust. The Peacock is all-in. You're all in big, big trouble.