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Why Darius Garland?
To understand the question, you need to know how the Cavaliers approached Thursday’s draft.
General manager Koby Altman and his staff began with a list of players in the order in which they believed were most likely to help the team. Here is a reasonable guess:
1. Zion Williamson, F, Duke
2. R.J. Barrett, F, Duke
3. Ja Morant, PG, Murray State
Well, it seems that the Cavs actually had Garland ranked fourth on their draft board. They didn’t care about the fact he only played five games as a freshman at Vanderbilt. They didn’t care that they drafted Collin Sexton, also a point guard, in last year’s lottery. They didn’t care that Garland is 6-foot-2 on a good day.
They felt like Garland was the best fit after the top three players — who everyone else also wanted, and who were actually selected in the top three of the draft.
It’s true that the Cavs already have a young point guard in Sexton. They continue to have high hopes for him. But you can still say they drafted for need.
Because the Cavs need talented players. They need potential All-Stars. They need outside shooting and they need excitement in the offense.
Coach John Beilein has promised the latter and it’s easy to believe him. Beilein spent 12 years at Michigan and his teams typically overachieved by playing basketball the old-fashioned way. They passed, they cut, they hit outside shots. They were hard to guard.
I’m not sure what the Cavs intend to do defensively with two small guards in Sexton and Garland, but I do know that two young men who can really handle the ball and score should be fun to watch.
Every last scout will tell you Garland had the sweetest stroke of any point guard entering the draft. So the Cavs drafted him for one simple reason — they felt he was the best player available.
TWO TO GROW ON
Altman didn’t stop there. He made a surprise pick with Belmont wing Dylan Windler, a lethal outside shooter who hit 40 percent on college 3-pointers. Neither Vanderbilt (Garland) nor Belmont (Windler) are exactly considered NBA factories, but NBA skills can emerge from anywhere.
Windler is a lefty who sports the form of a guy who spends hours upon hours alone in the gym. He’s a good athlete with a 6-10 wingspan, and at 6-8, shouldn’t have any trouble getting off his shot from the perimeter in the pros. The Cavs suspect he will help right away.
Finally, Altman paid a hefty price to get one last gasp at another player the Cavs really wanted. That would be none other than USC shooting guard Kevin Porter Jr., another southpaw with a major upside.
Porter is also a fine natural athlete who can be electrifying with his finishes at the rim. His main issue has been consistency. But there are those around the league who still believe he can blossom in the right circumstance. It’s just that on draft night, a lot of the people doing the drafting clearly focused on Porter’s weaknesses.
So Altman swooped in, traded for the Detroit Pistons’ 30th selection, and snagged Porter for himself.
According to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, the Cavs gave up the following for the right to draft Porter with the final pick of the first round: A 2020 Utah second-rounder, 2021 Portland second-rounder, 2023 Portland second-rounder, 2024 Miami second-rounder, and $5 million in cash.
The Cavs believe Porter is worth every penny and his upside has those around the league understanding why.
“All he needs is some structure,” current analyst and former NBA assistant GM Bobby Marks said on ESPN Radio. “He has lottery talent. I think a lot of teams are gonna regret passing on him.”
The Cavs again will have an interesting roster made up of veterans who have won a championship (Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson) and youth that is still trying to find its way (Sexton, Cedi Osman, the three rookies and others).
They have a 66-year old coach who has never before coached in the pros.
They have a young GM in Altman, 36, a former head coach in J.B. Bickerstaff as Beilein’s top assistant, an accomplished college women’s coach in Lindsay Gottlieb as another assistant, and a former NBA center in Antonio Lang as yet another.
They are building an entirely new program, and they have been about as unconventional as you can get in starting anew.
But unconventional doesn’t mean bad. It doesn’t mean it won’t ever work. It just means different. It means a willingness to take risks and believe that what you are building isn’t just cutting edge, but a path to success.
So drafting a point guard when you already have one … and selecting a sharpshooter from little Belmont sooner than he was expected to go … and giving a bevy of second-rounders for a talented-but-so-far-underachieving player with the final pick of the first round?
That’s just been the Altman way and these are the new Cavs.
They may have you scratching your head in confusion at the moment, but they confident that, soon enough, you’re gonna love ’em.