How Darius Garland will fit into Cleveland Cavaliers' new-look offense upon return

Atlanta Hawks v Cleveland Cavaliers
Atlanta Hawks v Cleveland Cavaliers / Jason Miller/GettyImages

After suffering a fractured jaw in a collision with Boston Celtics big man Kristaps Porizingis in mid-December, Cleveland Cavaliers star point guard Darius Garland is nearing his return to the hardwood as the Cavs are amid a rise to the top in the East.

While the Cavaliers attempted the league's sixth-worst three-pointers last season with 31.6 per game, Cleveland has averaged a league-leading 43.9 long-range attempts over the past 13 games without Garland or Evan Mobley. With a heavier reliance on depth and a next-man-up mentality, the Cavs have not only improved their standings in the Eastern Conference, they have found a new-look offensive playstyle that made it happen.

The ball has moved around the court drastically more often over the past 13 games, achieving the league's sixth-most assists at an average of 29.4 per game versus 24.9 in the 25 games prior to Garland's downfall. Additionally, Cleveland's latest team-oriented play has led to an astounding 2.26 assist-to-turnover ratio in that same stretch, ranking fifth in the Association.

With an elite shooting and playmaking guard on the brink of return, everything should be improved. Instead, there is a general uneasiness around Garland's arrival, not because of his skill, but because of his style. Will the new system fit Garland, or better yet, will Garland fit into the new system? If the Cavs want to keep pushing toward a greater playoff standing, they cannot afford to ditch their team-oriented agenda.

How Darius Garland improves the Cavaliers' new-look offense

Upon return, Garland may start with a minutes restriction to work him back into his flow. After an early injury to begin the season, DG fell into an inefficient slump, averaging career lows with 34.6 percent from deep and 3.8 turnovers per game. His unfortunate fracture happened shortly after Garland had finally found his rhythm, leaving him with a need to recalibrate to the team's offensive system again over his first few matches.

Once Garland returns to form, though, he will likely elevate Cleveland's offense rather than harm it. The Cavaliers' system depends heavily on off-ball movement and screens, moving the ball until an upon shooter or lane manifests from a defensive lapse. As much as Garland thrives as an on-ball playmaker, he has evolved into a premier off-ball shooter since Donovan Mitchell arrived in the Land.

Last season, Garland connected on 44.1 percent of his 2.5 catch-and-shoot three-point attempts per game. Additionally, Cavs All-Star center Jarrett Allen is taking up a larger facilitator role from the elbow, similar to Mobley's recent growth this season. With an increase in handoff actions, Garland will have a plethora of open looks from both Mobley and Allen once everybody is healthy. In 2022-23, Garland had an overall 54.3 efficient field goal percentage in handoff actions.

Garland achieved these statistics with low volume due to the lack of focus on the three-point shot the Cavaliers displayed last year. With the Cavs finally unlocking their best offensive approach since Garland's draft night, it creates an opportunity to discover another level of Darius Garland's game.

In terms of Cleveland's overall backcourt, Garland's playmaking will unlock Donovan Mitchell's chances to decimate defenses from deep on his catch-and-shoot attempts. With 3.6 catch-and-shoot three-point attempts last season, Mitchell shot 37.6 percent. With Garland's offensive gravity pulling multiple defenders to him on a drive, a moving Mitchell will quickly discover more opportunities to score in drove without expending his energy every possession.

Mitchell has filled the Cavs' starting point guard role considerably well without Garland, but alleviating his responsibilities on offense will allow the superstar guard to retain his best for the final stretch in close matchups. While the Cavaliers have the Association's tenth-best overall plus-minus at 2.3, it drops to a hardly positive 0.6 in the fourth quarter. Cleveland has only scored 27.3 points in the final period on average, ranking at sixth-worst in the NBA this season.

The Cavaliers' growth will also help navigate their trade deadline decisions, reportedly leading to a focus on adding another 3-and-D forward to the roster to perfect the new system. These kinds of improvements can roll into the postseason, as well, as the Cavs are no longer as imbalanced in their defensive and offensive efficiencies as they were in last year's playoffs. A versatile and deep offense could easily catapult the Cavaliers into title contention once Garland is fully integrated into the system.

Ever since Darius Garland came to the forefront of the Cleveland Cavaliers in his breakout 2021-22 All-Star season, he continually helped reshape the team's identity into an entirely new realm of potential. While the latest developments will be a new experience for Garland, it will almost certainly promote Garland's strengths better than ever.

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