The Cleveland Cavaliers are a defense first team. Their offensive success comes from their All-Star guards. The team’s philosophy is also to play slow with a measured pace so that they can force opponent’s into facing their halfcourt defense with Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen as much as possible.
The offense will go as far as Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell’s shot-making will take them. Mitchell has been phenomenal recently, but Garland’s confidence seems to have simultaneously regressed prior to Monday’s outing against the Utah Jazz.
It’s been a weird year for the former All-Star. He got off to a slow start due to missing time with an eye injury. Garland had a tough time settling into a role after his return, but took a step forward following his 51-point outing against the Minnesota Timberwolves without Mitchell and seemed to ride that wave for the next handful of games. Unfortunately that confidence seems to have waned again.
In his last nine games, Garland is averaging 17.1 points on .397/.306/.939 shooting splits with 8.1 assists and 3 turnovers. The Cavs have been held to 100 points or less three times in those games while posting a 111.0 offensive rating during that stretch which is good for 23rd in the league. It’s unfair to blame the decline on one player going through a shooting slump. But it does illustrate just how important Garland’s offense is to the Cavs’ success.
The Garland and Mitchell pairing has had some rough stretches recently as they’ve resorted more to a your-turn, my-turn style of play. This has worked fine given Mitchell’s current hot streak, but has also resulted in Garland not playing as aggressively as you’d like him to.
The number of three-point shots Garland is attempting is often a good indicator of his confidence. When he is taking off-the-dribble threes, he is playing with aggression and believes in his skills. From the beginning of the season until Dec. 3 he was taking 4.1 off-the-dribble threes and 6.8 threes per game. In the nine games since he’s taking just 3 pull up threes and 5.4 threes per game in total.
The most glaring example of this was in the second quarter against the Indiana Pacers. Garland broke down his defender to generate an open off-the-dribble three. Instead of taking that shot, he passed it to Mobley who was moving away from the basket at the end of the shot clock. A leaning three from Mobley isn’t the shot you want.
Garland has been put in a tough spot this season. Besides getting adjusted to another high usage ball-handler, he’s also dealing with less spacing in the starting lineup. Teams have been ignoring his teammate’s in the corners, which clogs up the lane for him when he’s running high pick-and-rolls.
This is most apparent in his field goal percentage at the rim and in the short midrange, which for him are typically floaters. He’s currently finishing 4.8% less of of his shots at the rim and 1% less of his short mid-range shots when year compared to last season. Allen going from finishing 78.1% of his shots at the rim to only finishing 70.8% further shows how defenders are able to cheat from the corners more aggressively than they were last season.
It speaks to how talented Garland is to even bring up his recent stretch as a slump. He’s still been incredibly impactful offensively as a scorer and distributor as seen in his recent on/off numbers.
Monday’s win showed just how dangerous the team can be when Garland is being aggressive. He consistently pushed the tempo throughout creating easy offense for himself and his teammates resulting in 17 points on 7-11 shooting and 8 assists in just 30 minutes of action. The more aggressive play resulted in 6 turnovers, which is less than ideal, but is something you can live with if the trade off is getting easy, efficient offense like the Cavs were as evidenced by their 74.2 effective field goal percentage in that game.
The best version of this team includes Garland playing free and confident on both ends like he was Monday. Figuring out how to get to and stay at that point alongside Mitchell and the rest of the roster is something he will need to do in order for the Cavs to reach their ceiling this season and for he and Mitchell to maximize their partnership.