Diante Garrett flashes NBA-caliber talent in rookie season

Opportunity knocked on Diante Garrett’s door, and now it’s only a matter of whether it was a pseudo-investment by the Phoenix Suns in terms of their own future, that is. Garrett joined Luke Zeller as the two final pieces to the 2012-13 roster as Phoenix went with an inexpensive, developmentally-based mindset, but how the new front office reloads or doesn’t reload that developmental staff could help or hurt Garrett’s chances in sticking with the team.

If the Suns or any other NBA squad listened to interim coach Lindsey Hunter or the those with Bakersfield Jam, there’s little doubt the 12th-man did himself some good to build himself into an NBA-caliber player in his rookie season.

Like P.J. Tucker, Garrett was never a serious thought to be anything but a Summer League roster fill-in. By summertime, he might’ve carved out a spot in the NBA by his performances this season, and the averages of 2.1 points and 1.6 assists per game with the Suns are far from important to understanding Garrett’s potential.

Stuck behind Goran Dragic and fellow rookie Kendall Marshall, Garrett acted as a hybrid guard who projects as a potential NBA backup once he develops his body strength. The Suns envisioned his length as helping him to become an elite defender at point guard and capable enough to slide to the 2-guard slot. The numbers back that thought in his 19 NBA contests played and 149 minutes of time on the court.

Though it was mostly in garbage minutes, Garrett averaged 2.4 steals per 36 minutes, or 13th in the league considering players regardless of minutes, according to HoopData.com.

It’s raw around the edges, but there are things to like.

At 6-foot-4, 190 pounds there are physical boundaries keeping Garrett from earning himself a career in the league. His lack of strength saw him get pushed around by larger guards. In terms of offense, his ability to take hits around the rim and finish through contact appealed to be a struggle despite his craftiness in getting into the teeth of defenses and getting floaters over NBA big men.

Overall, the former Iowa State Cyclone showed that he had a very natural feel for the game. Garrett’s handle is above average, but his ability to use that along with his body and footwork are unique. Like Marshall, Garrett has no trouble keeping his dribble alive, but his restricted gait and light strikes of his feet on the ground enhances a shiftiness about him. His poking and prodding of defenses especially off pick-and-rolls are something to build upon, and his creativeness in earning open shots and getting them off in traffic are underrated to boot.

Turnovers turned out to be the negative result of his abilities. Garrett plays as if he’s on the playground, but against NBA-level defenses or even those in the D-League he was penalized for trying to do too much. Garrett averaged 2.9 turnovers per game in 32.6 minutes per game during eight regular season D-League contests. With the Suns he turned it over 3.9 times per 36 minutes.

On the positive side of things, Garrett was a playmaker for his teammates when he didn’t lose the ball. He was especially dangerous in the open court. Again that’s where his creativeness and ability to use herky-jerky ballhandling came in handy. Garrett averaged 7.3 assists per game in his eight Bakersfield assignments during the regular season and seven during two postseason losses. And with the Suns, his 7.5 assists per 36 minutes was above Marshall’s 7.3 per 36 and only behind Dragic’s 7.9.

His assist to turnover ratio of 1.94 leaves little to be desired.

Garrett’s jump-shooting is also a work in progress. As poor as it was in the NBA game (32.7 percent overall and 20 percent from three-point range), he found his perimeter accuracy to be a much less concerning part of his game in the D-League. Garrett shot 49.1 percent overall, 61.9 percent from three-point range and 81 percent from the foul stripe with the Jam. He averaged 17.3 points per game with Bakersfield in the regular season.

Sticking in the NBA comes down to Phoenix’s outlook and their roster situation once it becomes a little more obvious in direction this offseason. At this point, it’s hard to see the Suns moving either Dragic or Marshall, and even though they could be willing to join the trend of NBA teams that play with a duel-point-guard look, Garrett may not have a future in Phoenix.

The Suns will look to add a go-to perimeter scorer in either or both of the draft or free agency, making the point guard spot a logjam should Garrett return. But you never know. The Jam, as they showed by bringing him on for two disappointing postseason games, would likely be happy to bring Garrett back. And that’s if better opportunities don’t arise elsewhere.

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