With the fifth pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers selected point guard Darius Garland out of Vanderbilt University. With the pick, the Cavs tapped Garland as their point guard of the future. This is despite Collin Sexton’s stellar rookie campaign and the fact the Cavs view Sexton more as a shooting guard going forward.
Sure, there is a lot of positional overlap between Garland and Sexton — both required the ball in their hands in order to be successful. But, Garland has strengths, mostly in playmaking, to mask some of Sexton’s deficiencies. Defensively, the tandem is a mess but defense is for losers and offense gets you going home with the prom queen. Regardless, with their backcourt of the future now set, Cleveland looked ahead to the 2019-20 season to see the dynamic duo known as SexLand (shoutout to former Fear the Sword writers Justin Rowan and Carter Rodriguez) in action,
Last season for Garland
Garland’s season is hard to put an exact pin on due to his inability to stay consistently healthy. But, his rookie season wasn’t an abject failure as a whole. There were plenty of flashes of potential there — like when he put up 21 points, connected on 5 of 7 shooting from the perimeter, and handed out six dimes against the Milwaukee Bucks:
But, quality games like that for Garland were few and far between. For every promising game, there were a handful of duds as well.
Garland acknowledges this too and has shared with the media that his rookie season wasn’t the best. But, he didn’t let it deter him. Garland was able to use the nine months away from competitive basketball in order to get his body right and how to properly maintain and prioritize his health. During training camp, Garland shared he cut out all candy and fast food and hired a private chef in order to stick to his newly found commitment. He also shared that he’s still a kid and is starting to grow into his body, adding about 17 pounds from last season.
Garland’s role this season
That’s why heading into the 2020-21 season is crucial for Garland’s future with the Cavaliers. If he looks like he did and is unable to stay healthy like he did during his rookie campaign, the bust whispers about Garland start to become shouts. But, it seems like that may not happen for the former Commodore. All reports on Cleveland’s side of things, whether it’s from coaches or teammates, confirm that Garland has been the best player during both the Cavs’ bubble minicamp and preseason training camp. According to sources, Garland has been even dunking on teammates. He also has been learning to play offball more as well, further unlocking Cleveland’s offensive potential and making the SexLand tandem more palatable to consume on a nightly basis.
Garland will serve as the maestro of J.B. Bickerstaff’s offense for Cleveland. Other than Dante Exum, Garland is the only true natural playmaker on Cleveland’s roster, so the reigns are in his hands whether he likes it or not. Garland has to step up and accept that role, and also showcase his offensive gifts to have gravity on the court. If he does that, it makes things infinitely easier for the Cavs and will only make the team better as a whole.
Key stats to watch
What to watch for Garland this season are his three-point percentage and his assist-to-turnover ratio. As mentioned above, Garland needs to have gravity on the court and shooting at a reliable clip makes that happen. He only made 35.5% of his five attempts for game last season, so, look for that to hopefully improve.
Listen, shooting is great but it doesn’t matter if Garland is turning over the ball when he isn’t the option on offense. He averaged 2.6 turnovers per game last season, and his assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.52 — meaning Garland was careless with the ball at times last season. For a rookie guard, that’s fine. But, it’s something Garland needs to improve upon if he is to live up to the label of point guard of the future for the Cavs.
As Peter Griffin once said, “A boat’s a boat, but a mystery box could be anything. It could even be a boat.” The same can be said about Garland. He’s one of Cleveland’s more mercurial players based on tangible data from last season but, upon deeper inspection he becomes less of a mystery box and more of a boat. Is it a speed boat? Or a pontoon? That remains to be seen. But, if the reports out of Cleveland’s workouts are true, then we should expect a much improved Garland heading into the 2020-21 season. If that’s the case, then the Cavs found their point guard of the future and the true heir apparent to Kyrie Irving. If not, and Garland looks the same as his rookie season after a few weeks into the year, we have legitimate reasons to be concerned.