Thus far this season, it’s been a mixed bag for Cleveland Cavaliers lead guard Darius Garland.
Garland was having issues getting into a rhythm early on, hasn’t quite been able to fully take advantage from three-point range yet and has had problems with turnovers. He’s been among the league leaders in giveaways this year to this point, and there have been games where he’s forced passes into tight windows too often.
With a player of Garland’s talent level, it was only a matter of time before he’d turn things around, though. He's been much more on-point in recent weeks, and early on, part of the reason for his struggles was him coming off dealing with a hamstring injury.
Fortunately, as he’s gotten healthier and more in-rhythm, he and the Cavaliers have picked it up, and his attacking downhill as a scorer and playmaker has paid dividends. Garland has had 20.2 points and 6.3 assists in his last 10 contests, and the Wine and Gold have won seven of their last 10 games in that span.
Additionally, one area where Garland’s play seems to have been underrated, and really for a while, has been his off-ball defensive awareness and playmaking there.
Garland has somewhat silently been racking up steals, and his continual progression off-ball for the Cavs has long been unnoticed.
When it pertains to Garland, what's going to garner most of the attention involving him are his shooting/shot-making, and whether or not he's consistently making plays for his teammates as one of the primary offensive engines. As was aforementioned, he has had his issues with turnovers, but he's starting to hit his stride offensively, and as he gets more comfortable, hopefully he'll keep rounding into form.
On the defensive end, while there are some matchups where Garland is never going to be a complete eraser at the point of attack, he has improved in the past few seasons, and has gotten better with his recognition in trying to get through off-ball screens. Of course, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, among others, help for Garland's play in those aspects, as an aside.
All of that said, his defensive awareness and defensive playmaking have long been parts of his skill set that have been underrated. He's regularly been making plays in passing lanes for the Wine and Gold, and registered four steals in Cleveland's win on Friday night at the Miami Heat, a game where Garland was a plus-20.
Garland has had 1.6 steals per outing in this last 10-game stretch for Cleveland, and has had four games of two or more steals in that time. For this season to this point, he's averaged 1.6 steals in what's amounted to 17 appearances for him, and has had a robust steal rate of 2.3 percent.
As he's gotten more and more experience, Garland has found ways to consistently generate swipes of opposing skip feeds on the weak side, and in some instances, his hustle play and attention to detail has led to him picking pockets of opposing ball handlers. And in turn, it's led to Cleveland having some easy, advantageous opportunities in the transition game as a result.
To reiterate, though he's not known as a stud defender necessarily, Garland's off-ball expertise and his awareness in passing lanes shouldn't go unnoticed. As he gets closer and/or into his prime, hopefully he keeps improving in that area.