Being an NBA point guard is easily one of the toughest jobs in all of sports.
From running the offense to generating their own scoring, the life of an NBA lead guard becomes doubly harder when the franchise expectations are placed on their shoulders. That they go up against the likes of Stephen Curry, Trae Young, Luka Doncic, Chris Paul, and Damian Lillard, players they are at times compared to, only adds to the gruelling demands of the job.
As the fifth pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Darius Garland entered the league with expectations tempered by the state of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team that selected him, and the fact that he was coming off a meniscus injury in his left knee that limited the 2018 McDonald’s All-American to only five games in college.
Three seasons into his NBA career, however, the expectations placed on the former Vanderbilt Commodore have slowly but surely turned into a reality. Garland has gotten better each year and it shows in his current averages of 19.3 points (on .466/.390/.879 shooting splits), 2.9 rebounds, 7.3 assists, and 1.2 steals. He recently also had a couple of games where he finished with at least 30 points against the Washington Wizards and the Utah Jazz.
Part of Garland’s increased production could be attributed to the absence of Collin Sexton, who will miss the remainder of the season after he underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. The added workload has increased the 21-year old’s usage to a career-high 25.6 percent, but Garland’s success this season can be attributed to more than just having the added touches.
Garland’s shooting percentages across various distances have all seen improvements, but the jump in his percentages from 10 feet to before the 3-point line have allowed him to expand his game. From the high 30s, his mid-range percentages improved to the high 50s, which would be enough for defenses to respect his short jumpers and floaters.
The three-time Tennessee Mr. Basketball’s nuanced offensive game also allowed him to be more of a dual threat, one that can drive in space to score and pass. Having Jarrett Allen and rookie Evan Mobley to play with only made things much better for him.
However, there remains room to grow.
The increased touches invite more chances to turn the ball over and Garland’s career-high 4.0 turnovers this season show that his decision-making has at times been costly. Moreover, his defense still leaves a lot to be desired as he gets blown by on certain drives despite his defensive potential due to his quickness and nose for the ball.
These shortcomings were all on display in Cleveland’s 112-104 loss to the defending champs, the Milwaukee Bucks, where Garland tried to get his teammates involved early in the game, dishing out five assists by halftime. Most of his early points also came from the free throw line, with his first field goal coming with 6:03 left in the second quarter. Part of this could be attributed to Jrue Holiday’s defense as Garland missed his first three shot attempts.
Overall, Garland finished with 10 points, nine assists, and four turnovers, numbers that reflected the tough outing for the Cavaliers that saw only Jarrett Allen (team-high 25 points) and Lamar Stevens shoot above 50 percent. Cleveland did their best to keep the game competitive even during the fourth quarter, but the Bucks and birthday boy Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored a game-high 27 points (on his 27th birthday no less) would not be denied the victory. It also didn’t help that Holiday, who at times was defended by Garland, finished with 20 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
The Cavaliers will face Milwaukee again on December 19, but the rest of their schedule remains manageable as it is composed of teams missing a key piece (Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat), searching for consistency (Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, and the Toronto Raptors), or those hovering in the lottery (New Orleans Pelicans, Houston Rockets, and Sacramento Kings). Nevertheless, the games matter for Cleveland as at 13-12, they remain a game from both the fourth seed and being out of the play-in.
The learning curve for an NBA point guard is much steeper than other players not dubbed as generational talents and Darius Garland has bided his time and developed into one of the better young guards. Many have taken notice of the strides the USA Select Team member has made and it’s safe to say that this won’t be his final form when it’s all said and done.