Evaluating Darius Garland’s Rookie Season

When you look towards the future of the Cleveland Cavaliers, you can likely pencil in Colin Sexton and Kevin Porter Jr. as the foundational pieces towards getting back to the postseason.

One player whose future could still be murky would be rookie guard Darius Garland who had a tough start to his NBA career during the 2019-20 season. June 20th is the one year anniversary of Cleveland selecting Garland with the fifth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

The selection was quite the surprise to many Cavaliers fans and the media because the team had selected Sexton a year prior who many thought would be the long-term point guard and that the pairing could potentially create the same rift that affected Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters during their time in Cleveland together.

There was also the uncertainty with Garland as he only played in five games during his one season at Vanderbilt and he missed all of the Summer League while continuing to rehab the foot injury that limited his college career. The questions about his durability were erased as he played in 59 of the team’s 65 games.

The first half of the season was a struggle for Garland as he averaged 12.2 points and 3.8 assists per game prior to the All-Star Break. He shot 39.4% from the field and 35.2% from three-point distance and had a +/- average of -8.8.

Coming out from the All-Star Break which was also when the coaching change was made from John Beilein to J.B. Bickerstaff, Garland’s game seemed to improve as he averaged 13.3 points and 4.2 assists per game. His shooting numbers improved to 46% from the field and 39.1% from three-point distance although it was a small six-game sample before the season was suspended and eventually ended for the Cavaliers.

Diving into the advanced statistics, Garland ranked as the worst NBA player for the 2019-20 season according to ESPN and Cleveland.com

“Garland was last in Win Shares, Value Over Replacement Player and ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus — a player’s estimated on-court impact on team performance, measured in net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions that also takes into account teammates, opponents and other additional factors.

https://www.cleveland.com/cavs/2020/06/darius-garland-was-the-nbas-worst-player-should-he-get-a-pass-for-horrible-rookie-season.html

Now does this mean Garland was a bust and that the pick was a mistake. Absolutely not, the switch at head coach seemed to be something Garland needed. The only thing that hurt was that the season was halted because of the coronavirus pandemic and that Garland won’t be playing in a competitive environment until November when training camp is currently scheduled to begin for the 2020-21 season. There will be no NBA Summer League so that is another step in development that Garland will be without.

The one positive that Garland has is that he’s represented by Klutch Sports, whose client list includes LeBron James, Anthony Davis, John Wall and Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson.

“He will be in LA. I will be in LA. We will be in that weight room getting it in,” Thompson said. “He’s got the shot and the feel for the game. He will be just fine.”

https://www.cleveland.com/cavs/2020/06/darius-garland-was-the-nbas-worst-player-should-he-get-a-pass-for-horrible-rookie-season.html

The same people who want to write off Garland after just one season were the same who wanted to write off Sexton when he struggled throughout his rookie season. Sexton took a step forward in 2019-20 improving in all basic and advanced statistics and averaging over 20 points per game.

It’s too early to write off Darius Garland but it’s still up to him to put in the work and prove the critics wrong if he wants to be part of the Cavaliers future moving forward.

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