Each season, a group of second-year players make the jump from intriguing rookies to impact second-year pros. This year will be no different, and a handful of players are already emerging as the favorites to take the biggest leap from year one to year two.
The likes of Ja Morant and Zion Williamson don’t count, as they were extremely impactful in year one of their respective NBA careers. Similarly, Michael Porter Jr. is in year two only as a technicality, as he has been with the Denver Nuggets for three seasons including this one.
The biggest breakout from year one to two has without a doubt been Darius Garland thus far. Though he’s missed a few games recently, the guard is proving doubters wrong early in season two with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
During his rookie campaign, Garland averaged 12.3 points per game to go along with 3.9 assists per contest. This season, though only in six games, his averages have jumped up to 17.2 points and 6.3 assists. Even better, he’s combining with Collin Sexton to form one of the more intriguing guard combinations in the NBA for the coming years.
More than just his countable stats, his on-court play itself has been noticeably better too – already Garland has earned more minutes this year than he got last year. Further, the team is playing significantly too as a whole, specifically when he is on the court. Last year, he had a plus-minus of minus-5, compared to this year at plus-4.2.
Again, everything needs to be taken with a grain of salt over a six-game sample size – but the numbers and on-court play are promising, though. His numbers are up across the board, including his percentages. If the Cavaliers continue to be one of the surprising teams throughout the NBA season, it will be because of the play of their dynamic young backcourt.
When Garland and Sexton take the court, the Cavaliers stand at 4-2 on the season. That includes wins over the Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Hornets.
That’s a big part of what makes him such an ideal fit alongside Sexton. Yes, the pair are undersized compared to traditional standards of what a starting backcourt should look like. As always, the NBA is changing. That includes size necessities. Garland plays the traditional point guard role surprisingly well for a second-year player, and Sexton is such a natural scorer that fitting him isn’t necessarily difficult.
The scoring, 17.2 per contest, is an added bonus to the natural playmaking ability of Garland. As of today, he ranks sixth in second-year players scoring-wise, trailing Morant, Williamson, Porter Jr., Coby White and R.J. Barrett.
Garland and Morant lead the group in assists at 6.3 per contest, but the latter has played in half the games so far.
While Andre Drummond’s dominance has been a key part of the Cavaliers’ success, the young backcourt has been the motor under head coach J.B. Bickerstaff.
Drummond is averaging an impressive 17 points and 14.2 rebounds alongside Garland and Sexton. At 27 years old, Drummond is one of the veterans of the team, undoubtedly. Not only is he a force on the boards, but he’s also the ideal pick-and-roll partner for both youngsters.
Among the top ten scorers per game in terms of second-year pros, no other player can match Garland’s 46.9 percent shooting from behind the arc – better, he’s connecting on that rate on 5.3 attempts per game.
Elsewhere, De’Andre Hunter of the Atlanta Hawks is breaking out with 16 points per game in the early season; while less heralded players such as Spurs forward Keldon Johnson are amongst the biggest jumps as well. Johnson has become a key contributor for San Antonio, averaging 13.9 points per contest in just under 30 minutes played.
Not too far behind Johnson is last season’s bubble breakout player, Tyler Herro of the Miami HEAT. Herro was a hot pick to win this year’s Most Improved Player, though he’s yet to take the jump some had expected. Still, Herro is contributing a solid 13.4 points per contest for the once again contending Floridian franchise.
All in all, it appears the 2019 NBA Draft Class has some of the brightest futures among NBA players. Still, no one, even in such a loaded class, can match the jump made by Garland from year one to year two. As he gets healthy, along with the hopeful health of both Sexton and veteran big Kevin Love, could have this Cavaliers team on the road to contending for a playoff spot much sooner than many anticipated.
Cleveland is standing at 5-4 in the early going, but as mentioned earlier, they’re 4-2 in games in which both Garland and Sexton take the floor. If fully healthy, this team will be contending for a back of the pack playoff spot this year at the earliest. If not, their young duo can continue developing alongside another promising prospect in rookie wing Isaac Okoro.
For the first time in a long time, things are trending in the right direction for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
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