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Fantasy Basketball: The Ascent of Darius Garland

Natty discusses the rising success of the young Cavaliers point guard.

New York Knicks v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Darius the Great, the third King of Kings, was a big deal in ancient times. He was the father of Xerxes of 300 fame, and Darius spread an empire that stretched from Asia to North Africa. He f*cked with the Athenians and found out at Marathon, but the dude had himself a lengthy, and mostly successful, career. He also ascended the throne by cleverness, which I greatly appreciate.

Speaking of clever Dariuses who are ascending, how bout dem Cavs? Prior to Monday’s games the Cleveland Cavaliers were in fifth place in the improved Eastern Conference. Much of the press discussing the Cavs’ place in the standings has focused on the front court trio of Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley, and Lauri Markkanen, a trio of enormously tall gentlemen. That threesome is abnormal in the New NBA, but Cleveland makes it work, mainly due to Allen’s exquisite play at center, and Rookie of the Year favorite Mobley’s muy mature game. The Cavs are currently THIRD in defensive rating in the NBA, and they have the fourth best net rating overall, which is ASTONISHING considering how the consensus viewed the team prior to the season. Even Kevin Love is having a renaissance! Anything is possible with these Cavaliers.

Let’s take a look at who’s actually running the show, though. Future King of Kings Darius Garland, the point guard for the Cavs, is 21 years old, and he’s in his third season in the league. His original backcourt mate, Collin Sexton, is out for the season. Ricky Rubio, the veteran point guard off the bench, is also out for the season. And, the Cavs’ recent acquisition via trade, Rajon Rondo, only played three games for his new team before missing the next six games (he’s playing in Monday’s game). So, Darius Garland has basically been THE guard for Cleveland this season. How’s the young conqueror done?

Well, he’s currently seventh in assists per game (8.1 APG), which is more than presumed All Star and young sensation LaMelo Ball, and more than MVP Nikola Jokic. Garland’s line this season is 19.8 points per game, 3.3 rebounds per game, 8.1 APG, 1.2 steals per game, and 2.5 3-pointers-made per game, with percentages of 36.4% from three, and 46.9% from the floor overall.

Only five players average 19+ PPG and 8+ APG: Trae Young, Luka Doncic, James Harden, Dejounte Murray (who’s having an incredible season in San Antonio), and Darius Garland. Garland’s the youngest player in that group. Garland has the second best 3PT%, and averages the second fewest turnovers, in that group. He has THE best overall field goal percentage. There are three players who average 6+ 3PA per game, have a 36 3PT% or better, AND a 46.9 FG%: Zach LaVine, Desmond Bane, and Darius Garland. Garland is the youngest of that trio, too.

Or, how about this: of all the players who average at least 30 minutes per game, only two players have a better plus-minus than Garland: Rudy Gobert and Steph MFing Curry. Now, THAT’S a list of players helping their teams win! Garland’s having a career year, no doubt about it: best true shooting percentage of his career, best plus-minus, most assists per game, best field goal percentage, AND the highest usage rate of his career. While Cleveland lost THREE guards, at least temporarily, Garland kept excelling.

He’s also had an incredible fantasy season. He’s currently #20 on the player rater. Of that top 20, only Jaren Jackson, Jr., had an average draft position worse than Garland. Only three of the players in the top 20 had an ADP above 30: Tyrese Haliburton (77.4 ADP), Darius Garland (77.8 ADP), and 3J (86.5 ADP). The nearest ADP to those three in the top 20 is Chris Paul at 29.6 ADP. Think about how much value those three guys have delivered this year, damn!

And, like I said, Garland is only 21 years old. While he’s having the best year of his young career, we shouldn’t assume this is his ceiling. Why couldn’t the young, budding star get 5 or 10% better next season? And, the season after? And, the one after that? Remember, Jarrett Allen is a young center who the Cavs signed to a four-year deal. Evan Mobley is a ROOKIE. Garland’s going to have these guys in his frontcourt for the foreseeable future.

Garland will most likely get drafted in the first three rounds next season, I think. He, along with Ja Morant, Trae Young, Haliburton, Cade Cunningham, Luka, LaMelo Ball, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are the ever expanding list of elite young ball distributors. Regardless of height! The NBA has some hella fun young PGs right now, and their dishing and diming reminds us of how fun basketball can be.

Garland, I hope, will be named an All-Star this year, especially since the All-Star Game will be held in Cleveland. But, will folks vote for THREE Cavalier All Stars? Dunno, that’s a tall order for a team that came into the season with no expectations of success. Then again, this Cavs team is nothing BUT tall. Garland’s improvement has become a problem for the rest of the NBA, ON TOP of the problem that Mobley and Allen have shown themselves to be. Cleveland’s one hell of a surprise, but Garland’s play has been a pleasant one. The Cavs look good, man. Beware this young King of Kings.