Darius Garland has been through it all with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
There’s been dark times, most notably in his rookie campaign, which was a frustrating one as he wasn’t yet comfortable coming off a knee injury that cut his lone collegiate season short. He followed up a tough rookie year with a promising second season, when he got better across the board, leading to averages of 17.4 points and 6.1 assists per game.
Then, Garland had his breakout in Year 3 in 2021-22, when he made his All-Star debut, and the Cavaliers as a team had a considerable turnaround, winning 44 games in what was a resurgent year for the group. Cleveland did not end up making the playoffs, but a Play-In Tournament appearance was meaningful for Garland, and for a team many believed could be at or near the Eastern Conference basement then again.
From there, the Wine and Gold made the blockbuster trade in acquiring Donovan Mitchell from the Utah Jazz last offseason, and Cleveland formed quite the star backcourt duo with Garland and Mitchell, to pair with Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen in the frontcourt. Cleveland took things up a notch in the process, winning 51 games in the 2022-23 regular season, and securing the teams’ first playoff berth without LeBron James on the roster since 1997-98.
Unfortunately, the Cavaliers did not have the postseason success they and the fanbase were looking for, as the New York Knicks, the No. 5 seed, handled the Cavs, the higher No. 4 seed in the East, in only five games. It was a disappointing end to what was such an encouraging season for the Wine and Gold, and their stars in the series didn’t play to their best nearly enough.
Now, for Garland himself, his numbers weren’t bad, per se, and he had some great moments, especially in Game 2. His second half in Game 4 was electric as well, in propeling the Cavaliers back before the Knicks made plays late then at home.
That said, Garland was fairly inconsistent, similar to several key Cavaliers in the series, and moving forward, he and others will need to play more to how they’re capable from here in the postseason for Cleveland.
So, as it pertains to Garland, what’s the next step for him next year?
Garland has taken strides forward in each season, but the proverbial “next step” for him is being more on-point in the playoffs and finding more consistency game-to-game.
Garland shouldn’t have drilled the way he was by many in the Cavs fanbase for his playoff performance. His splits were as follows:
- 20.6 points per contest
- 5.0 assists per game
- A 38.7 percent three-point shooting hit rate
Now, the low points are what those fans were alluding to, though, and here’s the gist related to those from Garland’s performance versus New York:
- 3.6 turnovers per game
- A per-game plus-minus of minus-3.6, and a total plus-minus of minus-18 in the five games
- A four-of-21 shooting performance in Game 3, which included him going one-of-seven from three-point land
- A Game 5 where he had four assists to six turnovers, and was a minus-16
There were low moments for Garland in that first-round loss to the Knicks, as displayed above, and one could see that when watching the games. His Game 3 woes were a rough watch, and he, like other Cavs, including Mitchell, was inconsistent. Mobley did not play up to par offensively, either, nor did Allen.
However, it was again the first playoff experience for Garland and Mobley, and one had to take into consideration, at least to some extent. This isn’t absolving them, nor several other Cavs, of their underperformances, but it is worth noting.
Cleveland’s bench incompetence in the series to a large degree didn’t help for stretches, either, and it’s clear that this offseason and going forward, the Cavaliers have to aid their big guns on offense by adding perimeter more shooting. By the looks of it, the Wine and Gold will likely do just that, via trades and/or free agency this summer, too. They’ve been linked to a bunch of wing targets, among others, in that regard as well, which is not the least bit surprising.
Regardless of what transpires in the offseason ahead for the Cavaliers, though, looking onward, they are going to need Garland to be more consistent in the playoffs and at other points in the regular season to keep the group on track, feasibly.
Fortunately, given the player he is and how resilient DG has been over the course of his time with the Wine and Gold, one should expect him to be much better in the playoffs as a reliable performer from here. He was steady for the most part in the regular season in Year 4, in fairness, to his credit, and he responded well from early-season injury woes which had to have affected him to some extent.
But, to reiterate, going forward, he, among others, are going to most likely be judged on their playoff performances with the Cavaliers, and that’s just the truth.
Furthermore, the next step for DG the PG is realistically stepping up more in the playoffs, and if Cleveland can fine-tune their wing/shooting around him, Mitchell and Mobley, that can only help those guys do that. And playing somewhat off that, if the Cavs can weaponize Garland as an off-ball threat more, that’d factor into him having more of a consistent rhythm game-to-game and make the Wine and Gold more versatile in the playoffs, too.