I’m going to start this by listing off a bunch of reasons why Darius Garland has been overlooked this season, not explain them, and then give you a bunch of his highlight reels because this piece is about Garland.
- Collin Sexton
- The incredible Sex-Land nickname
- Evan Mobley, Rookie of the Year
- His team’s surprise success
- Cleveland being Cleveland
- Injuries to him and his teammates
- LeBron James trying to use All-Star Weekend in Cleveland to gain leverage over the Lakers
- Ja Morant’s permanent berserker mode of a season
Here’s Garland going for a career-high 41 points, including 21 in the fourth quarter, with 13 assists to beat the Pacers on Tuesday.
The Cavs lost to Philly last week, but Garland exposed the chink in the 76ers’ armor, getting into the lane at will and hitting bigs with drop-offs and lobs, finishing with a career-high 19 assists. He also led the team in scoring with 26 points.
If you were looking for defense, an insane Cleveland sports’ fans has hand-selected a clip of him locking up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. (The tweeter failed to mention SGA got 29, 9, and 6 that night, but the Cavs won and only allowed 87 points, playing the stellar defense they’ve leaned on all season, so I’ll allow it.)
Since getting the backcourt to himself Nov. 10, the third-year guard out of Vanderbilt has averaged 22 points, 8.5 assists, and 3.6 rebounds per game (via StatMuse). For the season, his shooting splits are 48-38-91, tantalizingly close to the distinguished 50-40-90 club. He even earned an All-Star bid, and received a massive applause during pre-game intros, one of my favorite highlights of the festivities.
If you didn’t watch the highlights above, his game doesn’t feature high-flying acrobatics or borderline out-of-control sprints to the rim — even though as of late he has been sporting the Ja top-head dread ponytail look. Seven of his nearly 17 shots per game come from behind the arc, but he’s a three-level scorer, finishing 63 percent of his attempts within 3 feet of the rim, and shooting better than 50 percent from midrange (per BasketballReference).
Everything he does is smooth, and he’s a pure point, always in command of the offense. No one benefits more from a guard keeping his head up and eyes open than big men who know how to roll, seal their man, cut off-ball, and convert alley-oops. Jarrett Allen fractured his finger Sunday and is out indefinitely, but he’s second in the NBA in dunks (164), and front-court partner Mobley is ninth (113). Obviously, kudos to them for being in the right spots at the right time, but also shout out to Garland for providing them with the incentive — the ball — to constantly be in the correct place at the correct moment.
The biggest concern with him is health. He has missed 14 games this season, 18 last season, only five his rookie year, but played that many games during his one season of college. The mystery surrounding him going into the draft and the subsequent two years banished to the NBA’s cellar in Cleveland allowed him to develop in anonymity, but it seems like you need jaw-dropping highlights, transcendent stats, or an off-the-court storyline to go along with your on-court performance to standout in the current NBA.
Unless he starts yamming on guys’ heads that first one is out of play. The numbers could get there, but he’s shown a propensity for getting teammates involved over getting numbers, and he’s sharing the court with a ton of talented players, one of which has the legit potential to be a less-talkative Kevin Garnett. As far as non-basketball-related nonsense goes, I hope the only time Garland’s name comes up on First Take is for Cleveland’s success as a team.
For as much bad luck he’s had getting the credit he rightfully deserves, he’s had some good luck, too. Playing on a good team, with a good coach, in a city full of diehard sports fans is a blessing. Sexton going down for the season was a bad break for Sexton but a spot of good luck for Garland because he’s THE point guard now.
When Garland is averaging 25 and 10 next year and has a hopefully healthy Cavs team squarely in the top four in the East, maybe then he’ll get the love that comes with being one the league’s next great point guards.
Until that time, he’ll have to settle for little-known sportswriters screaming “DARIUS GARLAND IS A FUCKING PROBLEM!” into the abyss.