In 2005, the NBA began not allowing prep prospects to enter the NBA Draft right out of high school. After 40 players did so between 1975-2005, the league implemented a rule so that in order for an American player to enter the draft, he must be at least 19 years old and at least one NBA season must have elapsed since said player graduated from high school. Whether it be going to college and being a one-and-done player or playing overseas for that one year, high school players could no longer go straight from high school to the NBA.
While Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Darius Garland did go to college, he is about as close as you could get to a high school-to-NBA player nowadays. It’s one of the main reasons there are so many questions surrounding the point guard and the type of player he can be in the NBA. His minimal experience in the college game is also one of the main reasons he was one of the most intriguing players in the 2019 NBA Draft.
Five games (four full games) into his freshman season at Vanderbilt, Garland suffered a season-ending knee injury. Prior to tearing his meniscus on November 23, 2018, against Kent State, the point guard Garland averaged 16.2 points, 2.6 assists, and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 53.7% from the field and 47.8% from beyond the arc in 27.8 minutes per game. Although all of this is a very small sample size, while shooting 47.8% from three-point range, Garland was also 8-of-17 beyond the NBA three-point line.
He was able to showcase some of his best skills during his short stint with the Commodores, skills that he proved to have prior to college as well. A lead point guard, Garland could not only knock down shots from anywhere on the court, but he was creative enough and such a solid playmaker that he could find open teammates as well. Not only that, but the guard is also considered a very good pick-and-roll player. Given how important that part of the game is in today’s NBA, that could be an area in Garland’s game that he could potentially thrive in right away while he continues to fine turn the rest of his game.
Add in that he is only 19 years old and nowhere near his prime and, well, there’s plenty of promise for both Garland and his game. Another reminder of the fact that he is so young: At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, there’s a chance that Garland could still be growing. His game will not only continue to grow, but his body might too.
Yet, such a small sample size in college meant that NBA teams had to lean on what he did during his time in high school and his potential when Garland is indeed 100%. He could have possibly been a top-three pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. He could have been amongst the well-known names like Ja Morant and RJ Barrett.1 He could be a legitimate star point guard in the NBA. He could be a building block for a rebuilding team. He could not only be a knockdown three-point shooter and scorer in the NBA but a point guard that is able to make his teammates better as well. The problem is that we truly don’t know if any of those things listed will come to fruition. The Cavs and Cleveland fans alike hope they do, but given his very short stint in college, one that made even shorter due to an injury, no one truly knows and we must wait until it lets itself play out.
Even before attending Vanderbilt, Garland had already reserved plenty of accolades, proving that he is (and could be) an outstanding basketball player, even potentially in the NBA. Named a McDonald’s All-American,2 he led Brentwood Academy to four-straight state championships, won Tennessee Mr. Basketball three times and played for Team USA from the time he was 14 years old. There’s a reason he was considered the second-best point guard (No. 14 overall player) in the 2018 recruiting class.
Would his game transition to the NBA? Even with all those question marks, many draft analysts and people around the league praised the Cavaliers for selecting Garland with the fifth-overall pick. His experience, or lack thereof, didn’t matter. The fact that he played at hometown Vanderbilt instead of a powerhouse like Duke or Kentucky didn’t matter. What matters is that given the type of game he plays paired with his skillset, people around the NBA think that he can be a very successful player at the highest level.
Considered a gym rat and a player that will do anything and everything to improve his game, the sky might be the limit for Garland. Many people said the same thing about Collin Sexton when the Cavs drafted him in 2018. Look how much he improved just in Year 1. It’s just that no one really knows if any of that will actually come to fruition. We know that he will do all he can to be the best he can possibly be, but what truly is Garland’s ceiling when he is actually healthy? No one, including Garland, really knows the answer to that.
The good news is that new Cavs head coach John Beilein is widely considered a coach that can develop young talent. He has not only proven that he can do that, but he also makes the most out of what he has on his team, along with putting his players in the best possible situations to succeed. While Beilein will need that part of his coaching to transition from college to the NBA, the 66-year-old has the experience to make his young players better, all while learning the ropes of being a head coach in the NBA. If he is able to continue that development with Garland, along with the other young players on the wine and gold, it will make the rebuilding process run much smoother, all while putting the Cavaliers back in their winning ways sooner rather than later. Garland just has to hope that his potential is for real and his teammates and coaches alike know how to maximize his skill set and game.
In what many believed was a three-player draft in 2019, with Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and RJ Barrett leading the pack, when Garland dropped to the Cavs at No. 5, it almost seemed like a no-brainer. Many project him to have the highest upside among the other players that weren’t selected in the top three. With that said, with so many unknowns given that he has only played five games post-high school, Garland’s career path in the NBA could be filled with plenty of ups and downs. Cavs fans hope that he turns into a player that the wine and gold can lean on for the foreseeable future and a guard who, when paired with second-year guard Collin Sexton, can be building blocks for the Cavaliers.
It remains to be seen and we likely won’t find out for quite some time, but Garland, while he has plenty of potential, also has many more question marks than answers entering his first NBA season. For the Cavs and their fans alike, hopefully, those questions are answered quicker than many presume and he turns into a solid player in the NBA, one that would make taking him with the No. 5 pick well worth it and one that will make the first four teams that picked in the draft question themselves and their respective picks because they passed on Garland.