(image by Tomek Kordylewski)
I had Darius Garland fourth on my Big Board and the less confident me is shyly whispering that while avoiding eye contact. The more confident me, however, is calling on distant relatives for cash loans so I can buy Garland stock from anyone willing to sell it.
Garland’s rookie averages were pedestrian. He put up just north of 12 points per game on 40.1 percent shooting from the floor and 35.5 percent from deep. When compared to other guards in his class, DG had an underwhelming season. Fortunately for us, millions of years of evolution have supplied humans with eyeballs and we can use them to go beyond the stats.
When doing so, Garland’s star ceiling becomes evident. His handle is elusive. His shot creation game is budding despite being far from polished. The jumper needs reps but is smooth. Even if not always utilized, the passing vision is there. Yet, Garland has some glaring needs that will require fixing if he is to maximize his career. For now, let’s focus on the plusses of his rookie campaign.
The Pick & Roll: Setting Up His Defender
Garland’s handle just isn’t on a string, rather, it stays anatomically attached to his body via the webs that Spiderman shoots out of his wrist. This allows the guard to confidently drag his defender into screens usually set by the brick wall known as Tristan Thompson.
Not many guards run tighter to their screener than Darius Garland. In one of the plays below, you’ll actually see im run into his own man. Regardless, DG uses an array of dribbling moves whose purpose is to run that man right into the pick. You’ll see him deploy behind the back, hesitation and deceleration moves to this effect below.
Once he has the step, Garland is able to finish effectively in the short midrange. According to Cleaning the Glass, he is currently in the 86th percentile for short midrange makes, hitting them at 47 percent. Garland’s touch is encouraging as it projects to his overall ceiling as a shooter.
His floater already rivals his peers and he can actually hit them with either hand. He needs work when driving all the way to the rim (more on that to come) but for now what we’ve seen is promising.
Passing Vision, Kinda
Similar to my relationship with common sense, Garland’s passing vision is a strength when he decides to routinely engage with it. Both his assist percentage and assist to usage ratio rank below the 50th percentile for combo guards. This is not indicative of his passing talent, however.
After breaking down his defender, Garland can spot open men on the floor. This year he demonstrated how he manipulates screens before slinging one handed passes or lobs to rolling bigs. Additionally, Garland uses fakes and deception to find slashers and perimeter shooters.
Still, there are moments when Garland gets tunnel vision, specifically around the rim. It contributes to one of his major weaknesses; one which will be detailed next.
Tunnel Vision When Attacking
This season, Garland took 23 percent of his field goal attempts at the rim and finished in the 3rd percentile for made shots once there. Shot selection is one of the reasons he struggled mightily around the hoop.
Garland’s slipperiness allows him to wear down defenders and then dart to the bucket. This does not change the fact that he is undersized. Garland has a tendency to loft shots among the trees that often get rejected or altered. When he does this, open teammates are refused solid scoring chances.
As a combo sharing guard duties with Collin Sexton, Darius did not always have to shoulder the responsibility of being the offensive initiator. With more reps he should be able to fine tune his shot selection when going to the rim. After all, we have seen him be able to spot rollers, kickouts and cutters before.
Technique At The Rim
There’s more to knowing when to shoot or pass that goes into an efficient rim finisher, however. At 6-foot-2 with only a plus three wingspan, Garland lacks the length, height and weight (192 pounds) to currently bang among bigs when driving down the lane. This leads him to opt for slow-forming scoop shots. Similar to my exes on Instagram, they are just waiting to be blocked.
Garland may turn to this particular layup approach because he is afraid of contact. He is partial to finishing drives moving away from the hoop instead of gathering to go up strong against bigger players.
What is so maddening about these plays is that Garland is so good at deceiving his primary defender. Frustratingly, he will sometimes pick up his dribble instead of continuing hard to the rim. His low foul rate is also a sign that he is not yet prepared to take on the physicality of the NBA.
Offseason To-Do List
In the words of my former soccer coach, Garland needs to “get on that pasta and rice diet.” Carb up, son. Add some muscle and good weight to that midsection. James Harden and Steph Curry can testify to how a strong core positively alters the trajectory of basketball careers.
Doing this will help Garland build the confidence needed to embrace physicality. In the words of my favorite The Last Dance quote, he needs to be the one who “administers pain.” It also wouldn’t hurt if Garland continued to develop pick and roll chemistry with his teammates. This is a player who should take a major leap forward next year.