We’re less than a month away from Salt Lake City becoming the center of the NBA world as the city hosts NBA All-Star 2023. As of today, it’s all but certain that Donovan Mitchell will be representing the Cleveland Cavaliers as one of the starting guards for the team that selects him. To date, that’ll be either Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James or Milwaukee Bucks phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo, the two leading vote-getters, serving as team captains. The team captains then will select the All-Star starter from each conference who receives the most fan votes in his conference.
With that said, while Mitchell is a lock for the Cavaliers to play as a starter in Salt Lake City, Darius Garland, who was in tenth place during the last round of fan votes, may not be so lucky. Sure, the fan vote only accounts for 50% of the total vote, with media and current players weighing in making up for the remaining 50%. But, considering that Garland is sitting at the bottom of the list, the odds are likely still against him.
That means for the second year in a row, Garland will have to lean on NBA coaches to decide whether or not he’ll be an All-Star reserve again. Last season, it felt like it was a near no-brainer for Garland to be named an All-Star for the Cavaliers. At the time Garland had led Cleveland to a 29-19 overall record and was averaging 20.3 points, 8.0 assists and 3.3 rebounds in 34.6 minutes per game. More often than not, Garland was the entirety of the Cavaliers’ offense on a night-to-night basis last season. So, again, when Garland’s name was revealed on TNT that he was named a reserve, it was a no-brainer. More than anything, it was a recognition of where he’s been professionally as well as what had yet to happen.
“It means a lot,” Garland said at the time. “It’s super cool to be representing the Cavs organization, representing Cleveland, representing the fans. Like J.B. always says, when we’re winning games, all the personal accolades come with it. When we’re winning games, the good stuff is happening. For me being this young, it’s just super cool having this experience, having this moment. Very blessed.”
In his first appearance, Garland had 13 points, 3 assists and 2 steals for Team LeBron in 24 minutes of action. For Garland, as well as the Cavaliers, it was a recognition that he belonged among the NBA’s elite. It was a culmination up to that point of an incredibly strong season for Garland and now, the expectation now is that what happened last year will become a regular thing for him. But, considering how the fan voting is going and that Mitchell’s stardom outshines everyone, could it be a one-time thing for Garland? Well, when you start to break things down, it becomes a bit of a no-brainer for Garland to be an All-Star for Cleveland once again.
From a statistical standpoint, Garland is actually playing better this year compared to last year. Mind you, that’s to be expected as a young player continues to grow professionally. If you also look at Garland’s current averages, you’d think right about now this story is a farse considering his numbers are nearly identical to his entire body of work from last year. You’d probably then think that Garland hasn’t grown, rather he’s plateaued as a player. Well, there’s this little thing called seeing the forest for the trees and the fact that things this year are much different compared to last year.
At the end of the day, all comes back to Mitchell for both Garland and the Cavaliers. Mitchell, like Garland, is a player that thrives best when the ball is in his hands and the offense runs through him. So, when he came to Cleveland, it was going to be a figuring-out process between Mitchell and Garland in order to allow the other, and ultimately the team, to succeed. Despite that and more than a half decade’s worth of experience, Mitchell is having his best year ever in the NBA across the board. Considering that, and the star power he carries on his own, it makes sense why Mitchell is a favorite to be a starter in Salt Lake City. But, in a similar vein, considering Garland is putting up the same numbers as last year despite Mitchell now sharing the offensive load, it further crystalizes his legitimacy as an All-Star.
“You’ve seen it from him day in and day out. There are not many guys in the league, let alone the East, the way he does at a high level,” said Lamar Stevens to Right Down Euclid. “Just having that dynamic backcourt with Don and Darius leading the league in backcourt points. So, I mean, I think that’s the case. I think he’s definitely an All-Star.”
Garland shared after Cleveland’s win over the Milwaukee Bucks that he prefers to get his teammates involved and would rather lead his team with his playmaking rather than his scoring. Stevens had shared prior that Garland’s team-first, playmaking mentality doesn’t go unnoticed by everyone within the Cavaliers. It’s a strong lightning dynamic to complement the thunderous style Mitchell plays with. But, it’s also a fine line Garland walks as well since lightning can be electric it also can be dangerous as well.
There have been times when Mitchell’s shot isn’t falling for Cleveland or, more recently, has been dealing with nagging injuries that have sidelined him. That’s where you’ll see Garland channel the energy he carried from last season and become the team’s offensive dynamo. There was the time Garland had the NBA’s first 50-point game of the season. Or when he dropped 41 points and added in 6 assists and 5 steals in a double-overtime win over the Charlotte Hornets. Or the time he had a near triple-double in a recent win over the New Orleans Pelicans. While he prefers to be the facilitator, Garland still has that edge that makes him one of the most dynamic threats in the Eastern Conference and possibly the NBA as a whole.
“Darius is one of the most positive guys in the locker room and always has a smile on his face,” said Isaac Okoro earlier this week to Right Down Euclid. “Once he steps on that court, he still puts that smile on his face but guarding him is a nightmare.”
Garland was asked the other night if he feels like Daniel Gibson saying he’s a killer with a smile on his face is a fair assessment of his game and he emphatically agreed. He’s still growing as a player but his confidence in himself has always been there and, in turn, it’s led to another All-Star campaign for Garland this year. Garland more than made the case on his own and it shouldn’t be a surprise when his name is called as a reserve in a few weeks’ time.
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at email@example.com. He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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