Cavs’ Garland rebounding in crunch time is key to watch from here

Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers. Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers. Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Darius Garland was productive again last season. The Cleveland Cavaliers took another step forward, and Garland’s play was one of the reasons for that.

He did not have All-Star accolades this last year, as compared to 2021-22, but Garland had similar numbers to that season with 21.6 points and 7.8 assists per contest. He shot 41.0 percent from three, a career-best, and was one of nine NBA players to have 20-plus points and seven assists per game.

Garland had some early bumps in the road, largely because of an eye injury he suffered in the first game of last season, but he was playing high-quality ball for much of 2022-23. There were some instances where he was finding his footing in playing off of Donovan Mitchell, sure; still, he had another very successful campaign.

Garland’s playmaking, pick-and-roll play as a scorer and distributor, and multi-faceted scorer on-ball was all on display. He shot 39.1 percent on pull-up three-point shot attempts last regular season, per’s shot tracking data, and with his spacial awareness and movement shooting capability, Garland could be a movement shooter to watch from here, too.

All of that said, while it wasn’t necessarily all on him, and some recalibration had to do with some of his inconsistencies then, one area where he can improve next year is in crunch time.

Garland improving his crunch time play for the Cavs is a key to watch in 2023-24.

He is still a player who is 23, and he was in his fourth season, in a year where Mitchell was first inserted the fold for Cleveland, so he deserved some slack in this area. But, Garland did have some trouble in crunch time situations, objectively.

He did shoot 40.2 percent from three in the fourth quarter of games last season, however, there were seemingly instances where he was hesitant in close-game situations late, or as a driver, appeared rushed or out of sorts. There were some problems for him in dealing with pressure in those situations at times as well, and going forward, he’ll need to get plenty used to that attention, for those scenarios and in the playoffs.

While he did have some big shots still at times, and led some near-comebacks, such as early last season when he had a 51-point-game versus the Minnesota Timberwolves, overall, he could be better late. Also, Garland availing himself off the ball in those stretches could make a big difference for rounding out Cleveland’s offense in those scenarios. Of course, the Cavaliers will have to find ways to diversify their sets for him and Mitchell late, too, in working off of Max Strus and Evan Mobley, for example.

In clutch situations, which pertain to games within five points or fewer, in the last five minutes of contests, Garland had 60 points last season, and unfortunately hit only 23.5 percent of his 21 three-point shot attempts in those instances. His field goal hit rate in those games was 33.9 percent overall, and Cleveland’s record in those 36 games was 17-19; Garland had a plus-minus of plus-25 in those minutes, but from here, he will have to rebound and be more consistent with his play in those tight-game stretches.

This isn’t to be nitpicky toward Garland, who still played really well for the Wine and Gold last season, and he should continue to round out his game looking onward, with more experience and as he becomes more comfortable with his teammates. Garland is a star-level player, and is not even 24 years old yet.

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Part of his development from this point on, though, is staying steady throughout games, and playing at his best in late-game sequences. If he improves there during the upcoming regular season, and Cleveland as an overall group does, that will be a positive trend going toward the playoffs.