How Cavs’ Darius Garland went from an uneven rookie to a max player

Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Jason Miller/NBAE via Getty Images
Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Jason Miller/NBAE via Getty Images /
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Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers and Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner. Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images /

That first full offseason post-LeBron was the most important one, and the Cavs made the right call in drafting Garland

The Cavs took Sexton a year earlier 8th and there were a number of draft pundits who felt that Cavs after taking Sexton a year prior, should’ve taken someone like a Jarrett Culver. Some draft pundits felt at the time Culver offered more size and was more of a traditional fit. The Cavs went with the player that had the most potential to be a superstar-caliber player,  and took Garland. This is arguably the biggest moment in the rebuild.

I think when you’re that early in a rebuild without a clear centerpiece, you take the guy with the highest upside. If the Cavs would’ve taken Culver it completely changes the direction of the rebuild in the wrong way.

As a rookie Garland averaged 12.3 ppg, 3.9 ast, and 0.7 steals, while shooting 40.1 from the field and 35.5 from three. Garland really struggled as a rookie. You saw some shades of the shooting upside/shot creation and playmaking, but it was a struggle for him and the rest of his game left a lot to be desired.

That shouldn’t have been surprising and in plenty of ways you had to dismiss his rookie year. Most of the previous offseason instead of working out and working on his game, Garland had to rehab the torn meniscus in his knee after playing only 5 games. Garland was never really right physically as a rookie.

Going into his second year Garland had an offseason to get stronger and get right physically. He came back his second year and looked much better and like a true lead guard. Garland averaged 17.4 ppg, 6.1 ast, and 1.2 steals, while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from deep. In particular, post-All-Star break you started to see more big games, more wow plays and more of the upside the Cavaliers envisioned when they drafted him fifth overall.

The next offseason things started to come together for the Cavs. They got some luck in the lottery and in the draft with Evan Mobley falling to them at number 3, adding an elite-caliber talent. The Cavs added another important piece getting Jarrett Allen from the Nets during the season prior and signed him long-term for the next several years, while also making a key trade in acquiring Ricky Rubio from the Minnesota Timberwolves.

By Year 3 it wasn’t all about potential or upside anymore, it was a reality. Garland showed why everyone thought he had so much upside and put it all together then, becoming a star. In his third year, Garland averaged 21.7 ppg, 8.6 ast, and 1.3 steals, while shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three, while leading the Cavs to their first winning season since 2017-18 and their first winning season without LeBron since 1997-98.

We always knew Garland was a superb ball-handler, crafty as a shot creator and the shooting was top notch, but Garland leveled up quite a bit as a playmaker last year. He added a lethal floater game near the rim too, is able to effectively break down a defense in getting to the rim and made a huge leap with his in-between game. Most surprisingly he went from a bad defender to someone that is decent on that end of the floor, with what Cleveland asked him to do. The one complaint is he needs to get to the free throw line more, but post-All-Star break he was doing a much better job of getting to the line.

It’s impressive what the Cavs and Garland were able to do as a young team finishing with a 44-38 record. The season wasn’t an ideal set of circumstances either. The Cavs as a young team were shredded by injuries; they still had a solid showing, for the most part, though.