Collin Sexton’s rookie season started out extremely rough, but he showed significant improvement after the All-Star break. Sexton clearly has potential, but his performance should not prevent the Cavaliers from drafting another point guard. Ja Morant is the best point guard in the class, but he’ll likely go second overall to the Memphis Grizzlies. However, there is another point guard who could give Cleveland its own version of Portland’s Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
Darius Garland is receiving quite a bit of buzz just days before he will be selected. ESPN NBA insider Bobby Marks has even stated that Garland is a serious option for Cleveland at pick No. 5. It’s easy to see why.
Despite playing in only five collegiate games, Garland showed he has pretty much everything a team could want in its point guard. He isn’t the most explosive athlete, but Garland is a fantastic finisher at the rim and a devastating sniper from beyond the arc. He can easily create his own shot off the dribble, as well as create for his teammates.
Garland has just five games of college experience due to a torn meniscus, and in his last game he played only two minutes. The injury is a concern, but meniscus injuries aren’t as serious as a torn ACL or torn Achilles. It’s certainly not good that Garland already has a knee injury to his name, but it shouldn’t have serious long-term consequences. Russell Westbrook and Jimmy Butler have had the same injury and have recovered just fine.
Because he played in so few games, Garland is a difficult player to scout because his sample size is so small. Not counting his final game, here are his career stats.
34.3 minutes, 19.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 3.8 turnovers, 53% FG, 48% 3PT.
It’s going to take a lot of projection to decide where Garland should be picked, but that’s what general manager Koby Altman and the scouting department get paid to do. Unless Garland is the second coming of Steph Curry, it’s unlikely he’ll shoot 45% from three-point range in the NBA. However, because of his sweet shooting stroke and short-area quickness, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect him to shoot 38-40%, which would be fantastic. His shots didn’t just come from the college three-point line either; his range is perfectly adequate for the NBA.
Garland is no Kyrie Irving when it comes to handling the ball, but he might have the best handles in the class, and would certainly be an upgrade over Sexton in that regard. Because he’s able to move around with the ball so well, you’d like his assist numbers to be higher. But then again, small sample size. Perhaps he would have had more assists as he grew more comfortable in the offense and developed more chemistry with his teammates. Sexton averaged 3.6 assists per game during his one year at Alabama, and was only able to put up 3.0 during his rookie year, so distributing the ball must be a priority. Hopefully, John Beilein’s two-guard offensive system will help with that.
Turnovers are also a concern for Garland. Nearly four per game is just too many. Again, perhaps this is something that would have improved with time. But making better decisions with the ball is crucial for someone who is touching it more than any other player. This has more to do with him forcing passes than losing control of the ball. Experience solves plenty of issues, and this is likely one of them.
Even though he isn’t the most athletic player, Garland is very quick and fluid in his movements. He’s not going to explode through the defense for a dunk like Morant, but he can maneuver his way to the rim, and is great at drawing fouls. He shot only 75% from the charity stripe in college, but once again, small sample size. He shot closer to 85% while in high school so this is probably not an issue.
Garland stands 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds with a 6’5″ wingspan, so his defensive potential is limited. He needs to put on more muscle in order to avoid being a liability on defense, but also to improve his scoring ability when driving to the basket. Sexton is the same height, but listed as 15 pounds heavier. An NBA training regimen should help, but Garland just has a naturally thin frame.
When comparing Garland with Morant, the latter has the advantage in terms of athleticism and passing. But Garland is the better shooter by a fairly significant margin. That certainly counts for something, and even though Garland may be considered the worse prospect, he’s still arguably a top-five player in the class.
Would the Cavs really spend two consecutive top-five picks on point guards? Yes, absolutely. There is nothing stopping Garland and Sexton from playing together, and Beilein’s system requires two guards who can facilitate the offense as well as score off the dribble. Sexton would be moved to shooting guard, where he may be a better fit anyway. A player comparison for Garland is a smaller, better shooting version of the Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray. That would not be a bad return at all for the fifth pick.
Offensively, Garland and Sexton would be very dangerous, provided Sexton continues his improvement from last season. The issue would be on defense. Sexton was a good defender in college, but his height and inexperience made him a net negative on defense in 2018-2019. Garland didn’t have the chance to prove himself of the defensive end, but his limited play wasn’t the most encouraging.
Jarrett Culver has been the favorite for pick No. 5 since the beginning of the pre-Draft process, but reports are that the New Orleans Pelicans could very well take him with their newly acquired fourth overall selection. Whether this makes sense with Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday already on the roster is a discussion for another day, but if Culver is taken by New Orleans, Garland would be sitting on the board for Cleveland.
It seems as if there’s a much better chance Garland is taken by the Cavs with the hiring of Beilein. Garland could end up having one of the biggest rookie impacts in the class, and could combine with Sexton to form a great backcourt tandem for the next decade.