No. 2: Darius Garland
Part of the path to excellence for the Cleveland Cavaliers was finding the ideal balance between Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. The two stars did an admirable job of sharing the ball last season, with Garland acceding more to Mitchell. This season, as Garland continued to grow as a scorer and playmaker, the balance was expected to be even more level between the two stars.
Injuries, both to Garland and to Mitchell, have largely masked that maturation together. To their credit, lineups with both Mitchell and Garland on the court together have a +11.9 net rating, a solid number, but built more on an elite defense than a sky-high offense. Garland's usage rate is essentially the same as it has been in the last two seasons. The two have only played 600 possessions together, the equivalent of about six games, so the jury is still out.
Looking at Garland individually, however, some issues start to spring up. Garland is averaging 3.9 turnovers per game, a career-worst number, turning it over on 18.5 percent of his possessions. When you then introduce his lowest assist totals since his rookie season, you get a point guard who is having his worst playmaking season in three years, if not ever. Now sprinkle on top the fact that Garland is shooting only 32.5 percent from deep, a season after hitting 41 percent of his long-range shots, and you get an offensive start to the season that is failing to meet expectations.
Garland is already a limited defender, largely due to his size but certainly not boosted by a high-energy aggression on that end. He benefits from being paired with other elite defenders on the Cavaliers, but that is supposed to be a two-way street. If Garland has regressed as a shooter and as a playmaker, the ceiling for the Cavs is significantly lower. The hope is that Garland can turn things around and start elevating this team once again.