Darius Garland’s NBA career was always going to take a time to develop. Expecting more from him would’ve been unfair.
After all, he only logged five games at Vanderbilt before getting hurt. His rookie debut with the Cleveland Cavaliers marked his first regular season game of basketball in a little under a year. As a result, it was safe to assume Garland was going to be a bit tentative out of the gate.
Just about a month into the season, we haven’t seen many hints that’ll be changing anytime soon. Garland still appears gun-shy, still struggles to find any offensive consistency.
It could be a result of his continued on-court apprehension. It may be due to Cleveland struggling to figure out how best to get him scoring opportunities. Either way, Garland’s rookie year is still stuck on the runway, and it’s up to everyone involved to find a way to get it going.
To date, Garland’s strongest performance came during Cleveland’s November 8th match-up against the Washington Wizards. The Cavs rookie was aggressive from the get-go that night, shooting 3-for-4 in the first quarter, finishing the game with 15 points on 54% shooting.
This specific game is significant in that it came a couple days after coach John Beilein noted he was aware of Garland’s issues and was watching film with him to address the hesitation he was seeing in his shot selection.
The win against the Wizards is also significant because Garland hasn’t been that aggressive ever since.
In the five games Cleveland has played since beating Washington, Garland has only once notched more than two shots in the first quarter. In the same sample size, he’s only averaging 4.4 shots in the first half. While there have been a few instances of Garland ramping things up in the third quarter, he’s rarely able to sustain this aggression beyond that.
Basically, whatever the Cavs did to light a fire under him didn’t prove sustainable.
The reasoning for this, and why his aggressive night against Washington didn’t spark any changes, remains a mystery.
For what it’s worth, the Cavs are aware of this issue.
As mentioned, Beilein has made an effort to work with Garland to point out the shots he wants him taking. Kevin Love has also taken the rookie under his wing, sitting with him on flights to coach him up.
To date, though, getting these lessons to land has been quite an endeavor.
Obviously, some of this falls on Garland. His confidence seems to waver here and there, as indicated by how long it takes him to increase his in-game shot frequency. He’s seen proof he can thrive in the pros, such as his eleven-point third quarter flurry against the Miami Heat. However, he’s been unable to maintain any momentum from these occasions.
Likewise, the Cavs have to start thinking outside the box when it comes to creating opportunities for Garland. This isn’t so much suggesting they should just let him hijack the offense. That said, they should be actively seeking ways to increase his comfort level, while constantly encouraging him to be aggressive when looking for his shot.
Per @cleantheglass, Garland has played eight total possessions with Delly. I think if you adjusted the rotation so he's not always on the floor with one of Clarkson and Sexton – and is instead with Delly – it might make him more inclined to look for his shot.
— Chris Manning (@cwmwrites) November 19, 2019
Obviously, making his pairing with Collin Sexton work is one of Cleveland’s biggest goals of the year. Still, it’ll be tough for this to be successful if Garland doesn’t trust himself offensively.
It needs to be repeated that nobody should’ve expected Garland to hit the ground running in his debut season. He also shares the backcourt with a player who suffered similarly shaken confidence during his rookie year.
Essentially, Garland has a long road ahead, and his development will take time considering how raw he is.
That said, the talent is there, as is the scoring touch. It didn’t disappear. We’ve seen flashes of it all season
— Spencer Davies (@SpinDavies) November 19, 2019
For the Cavs, the challenge is ensuring this message gets across to Garland. That nights with painfully slow starts should be avoided. That he doesn’t need to play passively.
There’s still no reason to believe Garland will be unable to meet his potential. For now, though, he’s stuck in the mud. It’s up to both him and the Cavs to come up with a way to get him out.