NBA Rookie Watch: Darius Garland Is Flashing Signs

After a long stretch of futility, the Cleveland Cavaliers have righted the ship in recent days. John Beilein’s team has won four out of the last five games and, even with an ugly overall record of 10-22, there are at least tangential signs of life for the Cavaliers. One source of relative optimism is the recent play of Darius Garland, after Cleveland’s top draft pick in 2019 stumbled out of the gate in his rookie campaign.

In his first 14 games, Garland shot just 34 percent from the floor and 30 percent from three-point range, struggling mightily to find an efficient baseline. Since then, the former Vanderbilt guard has converted 44 percent of his shots, including a robust 41 percent from three, in the last 18 contests, averaging 12.9 points per game over that run.

“I’m starting to get a lot more comfortable,” Garland told Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com earlier in December. “Coaches and my teammates are adapting to me, getting more confident in me. It’s getting me more hyped up because they’ve started believing in me now.”

It is important to note that, over the full body of the season, advanced metrics are not kind to Garland, shedding light on his defensive issues and his issues in creating for others. In fact, the Cavs are still approximately six points worse (per 100 possessions) with Garland on the floor. Most of that can be traced to an unsightly -12.1 net rating (per Cleaning the Glass) when Garland is asked to play with Collin Sexton.

There have been many words assigned to the structure of that pairing and, so far, it just isn’t working. That is an issue for another day but, when Garland plays without Sexton, the Cavs have been fairly effective. Cleaning the Glass notes a -2.2 net rating with Garland on the floor and Sexton off the floor, which is far better than the Cleveland’s overall team numbers.

As with most rookies at this juncture, the jury is still firmly out on Garland, with real red flags and some encouraging signs. If nothing else, though, the top-five pick is flashing the on-ball scoring and shooting ability that Cleveland seemingly targeted when selecting him in the draft. If Garland can continue at his recent pace (or something close to it), the whispers about his struggles should quiet in the coming weeks and months.

Where does Garland rank when compared to his fellow rookies? Let’s take a look.

Honorable Mentions

  • RJ Barrett – In December, Barrett has scored 17 points or more on four occasions. Unfortunately, he is shooting 35 percent from the floor and there are more poor nights than good ones.
  • Darius Garland – To sum up everything from above in one sentence, it will be very, very interesting to see how the rest of this season plays out.
  • De’Andre Hunter – The No. 4 overall pick had a rough week and the Hawks are really struggling right now. His body of work is still better than a lot of rookies, but Hunter isn’t standing out at the moment.

10) Jaxson Hayes

Getty Image

With Derrick Favors back in the lineup, Hayes’ role is diminished, which was always going to happen. If things continue on the recent path, with Hayes averaging 13.9 minutes per game in the last six, he won’t be in the top-10 for long. The No. 8 overall pick does have highly impressive efficiency numbers, though, and they help to buoy his profile.

9) Kevin Porter Jr.

We touched on Porter’s surge a couple weeks ago, but he’s been better since then. In December, the former USC standout is averaging 11.4 points per game in appearances. More impressively, he is shooting 49.5 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three. In the last week, Porter reached double figures three straight times and there is real promise on the horizon.

8) Terence Davis

Since we chronicled Davis in early December, he isn’t playing quite as much and there haven’t been a ton of “wow” moments. What he is doing is providing strong, steady play for a team that is competing at the highest levels in Toronto. Davis doesn’t have the counting stats of other contenders but, with an effective field goal percentage of 58 percent and a true shooting percentage of 61 percent, it is easy to see why he’d be treated well here.

7) Rui Hachimura

Hachimura hasn’t played since Dec. 16 with a groin injury and he might miss another week or more. That is unfortunate, so we’ll just wish him a speedy return.

6) Eric Paschall

For a few weeks, it seemed like Paschall was a legitimate ROY contender. That ship has probably sailed now after the last few weeks. In the first four games of December, he averaged 17.5 points and six rebounds on 34.7 minutes per game. Since then, Paschall has played in only six games and he is averaging only 14.2 minutes per contest with unsightly numbers. He’ll likely return to prominence at some point, but Golden State’s current roster is just better than what it was in November.

5) Tyler Herro

Getty Image

Herro’s overall efficiency is down as 2019 comes to a close. He is shooting less than 40 percent from two-point range in December and, even with solid three-point numbers, that is going to be a problem. The former Kentucky has still been productive and helpful to a playoff-bound team, however, and Herro sits in a tie with Hachimura for fourth in scoring among first-year players.

4) P.J. Washington

After missing five straight games with injury, Washington returned this week and played well. His defense hasn’t always been outstanding this season but Washington ranks in the top-5 in rebounding, top-10 in scoring, and is among the leaders in almost every advanced metric among rookies. It helps to post 58 percent true shooting in a debut season.

3) Kendrick Nunn

The Miami Heat guard has scored in double-figures in 11 straight games. During that stretch, Nunn is averaging 17.5 points per game and doing it on solid shooting, making 46.3 percent of his field goals and 34.9 percent of his threes. As we’ve said throughout the campaign, Nunn doesn’t bring much else to the table but, as the calendar flips to 2020, he keeps scoring and helping a quality team.

2) Brandon Clarke

If ROY was determined purely on a per-minute basis, Clarke would have a real case. Obviously, he is overshadowed by a prominent teammate but, in 21.5 minutes per game, Clarke is lighting up the stat sheet. He is producing 13 points, 5.5 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game in his supporting role, with the former Gonzaga standout shooting 64.7 percent (!) from the floor and 45.7 percent on a small sample of three-point attempts. Clarke easily leads all rookies in PER and win shares, with a No. 2 perch in rebounding on a per-game basis.

1) Ja Morant

Morant is actually in the middle of a cold spell. Over the last six games, the No. 2 pick is averaging just 12 points and 6.2 assists per game while shooting 42 percent from the floor and 2-for-11 from three. If that somehow continues, Morant wouldn’t stay at the top for that much longer but it doesn’t seem likely to continue. He’s still leading the class in points (17.4) and assists (6.5), and doing so on quality efficiency.