Cavs Keeping the Faith in Garland Despite Rocky Rookie Start

Sam Amico

CLEVELAND -- Until Tuesday, Darius Garland never had to play against anyone like Boston's Kemba Walker or Marcus Smart.

Nor has the Cavaliers rookie been on the floor with an opponent like Dallas' Luka Doncic.

And Garland has certainly never squared off with an experienced backcourt like Washington's Bradley Beal or Isaiah Thomas.

Well, guess what?

Welcome to Garland's week.

When it comes to basketball, Garland is basically starting over. He is returning to school. Only now, he's taking advanced courses. 

So it's not a surprise that Garland has very clearly been trying to find his way in the NBA. He is part point guard, part shooting guard, and playing alongside Collin Sexton (who, by the way, isn't exactly an old pro himself).

"Right now, a lot of this stuff is brand new to him," Cavs coach John Beilein said of Garland.

The numbers support that theory. Garland is averaging 7.6 points and 3.3 assists through the first seven games.

One big reason general manager Koby Altman plucked Garland with the No. 5 overall draft selection was because Altman was mesmerized by Garland's long-range shooting. 

But so far, Garland is at just 29 percent from the field -- and 26 percent on 3-pointers. He even had an 0-for-10 night last week against Indiana.

Of course, those are just numbers, and the Cavs aren't putting a ton of stock in them. They hope Garland doesn't focus too much on them, either.

The Cavs are gladly teaching and waiting and sometimes paying the price in the win column that comes with it.

For instance, Garland passed up open looks from the perimeter several times in the loss to the Celtics. He instead showed some guts, drove to the basket, challenged the Celtics' big men and ... swat. Garland's shot usually ended up getting slapped into next week.

Forget the opposing guards, Garland most definitely never saw anyone with the size and athleticism of NBA big men until this season. Remember, he appeared in just five games as a college freshman at Vanderbilt last year. And even that was during the cream-puff portion of the schedule.

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Beilein admitted he would've preferred that Garland fire up the open 3-pointers instead. But poor shot selection, 0-for-10 meltdowns, learning when to be aggressive, learning how to lead -- the Cavs can live with all of it.

That not only includes the front office and coaching staff, but also Garland's teammates. After all, they were rookies once, too.

"I went to him after he missed a three in the second quarter and said, 'Listen, we want you to shoot that shot every time,'" Cavs forward Kevin Love said after Garland's 0-for-10 night. 

Love also told Garland to not even worry about it, that he doesn't care if Garland goes 0-for-100. "I told him, 'We need you to shoot that shot. You’re too good of a player, too good of a shooter,'" Love said.

That has been the message from everyone: Don't think about it. Just play your game, do your part to keep the offense moving and give full effort on both ends.

“Just keep growing as a basketball player, try to get more wins,” Garland said recently of his own expectations. “I want to keep growing in my relationships with my teammates, try to get them involved more. The chemistry still isn’t fully there, so just keep trying to work on that, too.”

Garland is the son of former NBA guard Winston Garland, an eight-year veteran who played eight seasons (1987-95) and was mostly a shooting guard in a point guard's body. Winston Garland played college ball at Southwest Missouri State and often had his way with conference foe Cleveland State.

You can definitely see the fundamentals and NBA style was drilled into the younger Garland by his father. Much like Dell Curry and Steph Curry of Golden State Warriors fame. But not even Steph Curry was like Steph Curry as a rookie.

Overall, the Cavs (2-5) still strongly believe in Garland as a pure shooter. They still think he will become the effective and occasionally entertaining passer they envisioned. They are still glad they drafted him right where they did.

"It will come to him slowly," Beilein said. "We know who he is. He's a rookie, and his game is going to mature."

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