It may not have seemed like it, but Darius Garland had another All-Star-caliber campaign. The 23-year-old shot the three-ball better, drastically reducing his turnovers and maintaining his 46.2 shooting percentage. He managed all this while the Cavs integrated a ball-dominant player like Donovan Mitchell into the starting lineup. The sky remains the limit for Garland, and the fifth-year guard is primed for another step forward.
Name: Darius Garland
Position: Point guard
Weight: 192 pounds
2022-23 stats: 69 games played, 35.5 minutes per game, 21.6 points per game, 2.7 rebounds per game, 7.8 assists per game, 46.2 shooting percentage
There is no denying that the Cleveland Cavaliers have one of the strongest offensive backcourts in the league. Mitchell is the fulcrum with his ability to get to the rim and collapse defenses, but Garland can be equally dangerous as a shooter and playmaker.
The talk all offseason for the Cavs has been that they need to take more threes, especially Garland. Despite drilling a career-high 41% of his threes last season, he shot fewer of them per game than the year prior. If the Cavs are going to push their offensive potential further, Garland (and the rest of the team), will have to find ways to take more threes.
Early indications from the preseason show that the Cavs are going to try and be more dynamic in their offensive approach. No longer should the offense be consistently methodical every night with slow pace and simple high pick-and-rolls. They are going to take more threes, have more movement in half-court sets, and introduce new wrinkles such as Evan Mobley as a hub at the elbow. In their first preseason game against the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland attempted 48 threes — something they did only once last season. The pace is more breakneck, with considerably more movement and shooters flying around screens, which should play to Garland’s strengths. There should not be as many moments where he or Mitchell is handed the ball and asked to make something out of nothing with the shot clock winding down.
The personnel on the floor should make an impact too. Max Strus and Georges Niang are capable shooters on the wing who can really spread the offense out more. In the second preseason game against Orlando, the Cavs ran a set with the floor spaced (Strus in one corner and Niang in the other) for a Garland back cut leading to an open layup.
The gravitational pull of the two shooters in the corner allowed Garland to get a clean look, unlike last year where the paint was packed with defenders because he and Mitchell were the only two shooting threats on the floor. More shooters on the floor should allow Garland to flex his playmaking muscles too. While Mitchell can do some playmaking, Garland is the table setter with good vision and strong passing acumen. Garland had 12.9 potential assists per game (he had 7.8 actual assists per game), right around the Damian Lillard range in both categories. There is good reason to believe that the Cavs are a better team when the offense is flowing through Garland.
Mitchell gets the headlines because of the All-Star pedigree, but there is good reason to believe that Garland is the most important player on the Cavs’ roster this season. Between his passing and shot-making, the offense hums most comfortably when he is firing on all cylinders. Just look at the lone playoff win against the Knicks as an example, where Garland exploded for 32 points and seven assists on 8-17 shooting, six of those makes coming from beyond the arc. Mitchell is perhaps more explosive toward the rim, but Garland can be a two-pronged beast with his shooting and playmaking. After an offseason to continue meshing as a team, coupled with a refined offensive approach and more shooters in the rotation, the sky remains the limit for Garland.