Yesterday, Jorge Garbajosa was named the Rookie of the Month for the NBA’s Eastern Conference, and he has been leading NBA.com’s unofficial Rookie of the Year Race for the past month. Garbajosa, however, is not a typical rookie; he doesn’t look like one and he doesn’t play like one.
He just turned 29 years old, making him about seven years older than most of the league’s other leading rooks. Perhaps that is why he never appears to be brimming over with rookie excitement or nerves — in fact, on game days, he usually looks like someone woke him up 15 minutes before tip off and he had no time to shower or shave. He would not look out of place on the set of Clan of the Cave Bear.
Here in North America, the nickname everyone seems to have settled upon is “Garbo,” but in Spain he was known as “El Pornoplayer.” Now, you might think this is because he’s hairier than Ron Jeremy, but the nickname is actually attributed to a quotation about his game: he does everything “obscenely well.” He certainly knows how to win: he and fellow Raptor Jose Calderon (nickname: “The Spanish Fly”), along with the incredibly hairy Pau Gasol, recently led the Spanish National team to the FIBA World Championship. Team USA, including Chris Bosh (decidedly asexual nickname: “CB4”), won bronze. In Europe, Garbajosa led his teams to two Italian League Championships, two Italian Cups, two of Spain’s Cups of the King of Basketball, a Spanish League Championship, a Spanish Junior League Championship and a Junior European Cup.
Even though he’s the currently the league’s leading rookie, Garbo’s stats are only decent, not incredible. He’s getting 9.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.2 steals per game, but only gives up 1.1 turnovers. If he could find his stroke from three point range (where he’s a dismal 16-69) he’d truly look great. Still, it’s fair to point out that he’s probably only the NBA’s leading rookie because this year we had an incredibly weak draft class and even the top guys from that draft have been injured or are underperforming. The game goes beyond stats however and whenever Garbo is on the floor, he’s always doing the right things. Even though he’s undersized for his position, he plays solid defence, he’s good at setting high picks, and he has a high basketball IQ. He looks like a solid veteran, and that’s what he is. He just played his first 11 years in Europe.
One more thing. Garbajosa wears the legendary #15, formerly Vince Carter’s number while in a Raptors uniform. Vince has made no secret about the fact that he believes that number still belongs to him. When Carter’s Nets visited the ACC in December, a number of fans showed up with GARBAJOSA taped over Carter’s name on their old jerseys. Vince had his worst game of the year up to that point. Garbo looked great, and if he keeps playing like he has, we should expect authentic Garbajosa jerseys to start selling pretty well.
Tonight, the Raptors play the virtually unstoppable Phoenix Suns, who are led on the floor by Canada’s golden boy Steve Nash, of course. The last time these two teams played, the Raptors lost in embarrassing fashion, 98-115, and Garbajosa injured his calf and left the game in the second quarter when he tripped over an old couple in court-side seats as he was chasing the ball out of bounds. Garbo’s calf has been nagging him ever since and he probably won’t play in tonight’s game. All-star forward Chris Bosh, however, will be back after missing 12 games.