Darius Garland, most improved player in the NBA

Darius Garland’s Leap has the Cleveland Cavaliers on the Verge

Darius Garland coming out of college, was thought of as a highly-skilled guard with range and an advanced handle. 

Garland showed his obvious talent and skillset through his first two seasons, but the numbers and efficiency still had people questioning his ceiling. Those questions are gone now, and Cleveland is excited that Garland is leaping to be the next best point guard. 

After a glowing endorsement from Stephen Curry, Garland has seen a very slight increase in minutes in year three, but a nice bump in his per game and overall advanced numbers. It’s fair to say he’s making the leap and is one of the most improved players in the NBA during the 2021-22 season. 

Garland is currently at 19.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game on 47/39/88 shooting splits. Even better, in his last five games, he’s at 24.6, 4.2 and 8.4 on 55/56/93 shooting splits. His actual shooting percentage has taken a significant leap, and he is on pace for the best season of his young career. 

The Cleveland Cavaliers have become one of the most interesting and unique teams in the NBA. When Collin Sexton went out for the season, many viewed them as an afterthought. Now, with Garland at the helm and a frontcourt anchoring one of the best defenses in basketball, the playoffs feel like a legitimate possibility. 

The two-big lineup

The Cavaliers are an excellent case study this season. They’ve zagged on the rest of the league, building a starting lineup around big men and point guards. 

Garland, Ricky Rubio, Lauri Markkanen, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen are their best lineup. Currently, those five players have a 37.0 NET rating over 37.4 minutes, per NBA.com. With Rubio and Garland running the backcourt, that lineup gets assists on 64 percent of their baskets, and it’s easy to see why. 

Garland is one of the best passers in the league, mainly out of the pick and roll. Much like Trae Young, he’s excellent at manipulating the roll defender with his floater. 

The use of the multi-big man lineup has just given ample opportunity for Garland to attack what he does best. Garland averages eight passes per game on drives when the defense converges on him. He’s been one of the best lob passers in the league and has vertical threats in Allen and Mobley. 

When defenses cut off the passing lanes, Garland’s floater and ability to score around the rim takeover, and he’s converting on shot attempts within three feet at a 63 percent efficiency, over four percent better than the previous season.

This offseason, there were questions about whether the Cavs should’ve paid Allen his $100 million contract along with drafting Mobley. Those have all been put to bed, as the Mobley and Allen frontline can hide any defensive mishaps from Garland on the perimeter (even if he has played better this season, it’s still not great). Garland and Rubio have plenty of playmaking capabilities, and Garland’s skill set seems like it makes sense to play with multiple bigs, especially with the versatility of Mobley. 

It’s almost a catch 22 when defending Garland, like many great point guards. You give him the space, and he’ll score with ease. As Garland continues to improve his efficiency around the rim, he’ll have even more passing lanes to find open teammates.

Garland’s ceiling

Garland’s ceiling was the question before this season. Many knew he could shoot well from the 3-point land, but the creativity numbers and finishing at the rim were not at a high enough level to be an all-star. 

With both of those categories steadily improving, he could enter the conversation with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Ja Morant, LaMelo Ball and Trae Young as the next great point guards in the NBA. The position is as deep and talented as ever before, which will make it difficult to project him as an all-star in the East this season, but Garland is setting himself and the Cavaliers up for long-term success. 

The Cavaliers’ next steps are development and fit. They’ll have to fit the pieces around Garland, Mobley and Allen. Rubio has been a nice fit but is 31-years-old and not a long-term option. Okoro adds defense to the roster, but he lacks the outside shooting currently to make it a perfect match (he’s presently 21.8 percent from beyond the arc).

Then there’s Sexton, who is out for the season. Reports circulated preseason that he was available for trade, but it didn’t seem like many teams had an interest. They could try and integrate him back into the lineup on his return or shop him around for a more conventional three-and-D type of guard. 

However, these are future Cleveland problems because Garland’s rise and the promise of Mobley have the team set up for success in 2021 and years beyond.  

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