Darius Garland is proving his importance to the Cavaliers and building a Most Improved case

Darius Garland is enjoying a breakout in 2021-22. Photo from Cavaliers Nation.

If you take a look at Darius Garland stats 2021, you can tell that he’s turning out to be as good as advertised. Even if he barely played in college and there were some doubts about his durability, it’s safe to say that he’s got star potential.

The young Cleveland Cavaliers are leaning on Garland this season. They need him and Evan Mobley to become the new tandem for the future, as Kevin Love has barely been able to play and it will take years before they’re contenders again.

Darius Garland stats 2021

The Cavs’ young core has been fairly impressive to start the season and most of that should be credited to Garland’s improved play on both ends of the floor. While Mobley seems to have the higher ceiling, it’s been Garland who’s led the way thus far.

Even so, some people still have questions regarding Garland’s potential and fit on the team. That’s why today, we’re going to prove why he’s already one of the best young guards in the NBA and the most important player in Cleveland right now.

Darius Garland’s defense isn’t all that bad

Besides the lack of experience and durability, the biggest concern with Garland’s game was his poor defense. Nonetheless, Darius Garland’s defense has improved mightily from last year, both for the naked eye and according to the stat sheet.

Garland has done a great job of deflecting passes, forcing turnovers, forcing misses, and putting his hand on the ball; averaging 1.3 steals per game. He’s still a negative asset when it comes to defensive box-plus minus (-1.2) but that number is much better than last year’s -1.8 or the -2.8 he posted during his rookie season.

Stepping up without Sexton

The Cleveland Cavaliers reportedly had plenty of doubts regarding Garland’s ability to coexist with Collin Sexton. Both players are ball-dominant scorers but Garland is the far superior playmaker, which is why Sexton was the subject of multiple trade rumors throughout the offseason.

And now that the Young Bull is set to miss a big chunk of the season with a knee injury, Garland has embraced his role as the team’s number 1 scoring option and go-to guy. He looks freer in the backcourt without Sexton and his numbers are trending up for the young Cavs.

The Cavs are better than expected

Most analysts predicted the Cavaliers to be near the bottom of the Eastern Conference this season as per usual. Nonetheless, they’ve fought hard and played spoiler a couple of nights, currently sitting at a 9-10 record and with the play-in tournament as a real possibility.

Teams should be wary of being overconfident against the new-look Cavaliers, especially with Garland’s much-improved playmaking next to Ricky Rubio. They’re not ready to compete by any means, but they’re much better than expected.

Garland for Most Improved Player?

Even if they’ve gotten off to a solid start of the season, it’s unlikely that the Cavaliers will make the playoffs. But even if they don’t thrive in the standings, Garland should rank near the top of the Most Improved Player candidates with the way he’s been playing thus far.

Garland is averaging 18.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.7 three-pointers per game on 45/36/88 from the floor while playing 34.8 minutes a night. Those numbers are all career-highs after last season’s averages of 17.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.9 three-pointers per game on 45/39/84 shooting.

He’ll face some tough competition for the award. Miles Bridges, Dejounte Murray, Tyler Herro, and Ja Morant lead the race but he still has to be a part of that conversation, especially if his numbers keep improving with Sexton out of the picture.