On the latest HoopsHype podcast episode, host Michael Scotto is joined by Cleveland Cavaliers guard Darius Garland, who was just voted the top breakout player this season, according to a HoopsHype poll of 15 NBA executives. Garland discussed his expectations this season, where he ranks among NBA point guards, why the playoffs are a goal for the Cavaliers, what Evan Mobley, Lauri Markkanen and Ricky Rubio will bring to the team, and the futures of Collin Sexton and Kevin Love.
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1:30 What are your expectations going into this season?
Garland: To get better. We have a young squad coming in this year, so I’m trying to be a leader for these guys. Evan (Mobley) is a young guy, and he’s calling me his vet. It’s kind of weird because I’m going into my third year (laughs). I’m trying to lead by example and talk to a lot of guys, and win games. That’s what we’re trying to do. For myself, try to get better every day and, hopefully, make a push for an All-Star Game for the first time in Cleveland.
2:55 Who would you compare your game to as a player?
Garland: I watch a lot of guys. Stephen Curry. Kyrie Irving. Chris Paul. I like Damian Lillard a lot. I try to take bits of pieces in their games and put them in mine.
3:40 Where do you feel you rank among the rest of the NBA point guards right now?
Garland: In my opinion, I think I’m up there for sure. I think last year I really solidified myself, and I think this year I have a lot to learn. I’m coming back for more this year, especially having the target on my back of these executives that are saying I’ll be the breakout player of the year. A lot of people are going to be coming at me and trying to see what I can do. I’m just coming in and trying to be aggressive, trying to play the game the right way, and trying to get wins.
4:53 What are your long-term goals looking ahead?
Garland: Team goals are winning championships and getting as many wins as we can. I want to be an All-Star, be the best I can be, and be one of the best players to ever play this game. That’s always been my goal since I picked up a basketball. I always wanted to be the best version of me. I want to be known around the league. I want to have my kids’ friends talk about remembering Darius Garland. A lot of All-Star appearances would be amazing. Hall of Fame.
6:15 What have you done to work on your game this offseason?
Garland: Extending my range. I’ve been working on that a lot. Shooting off the dribble, coming off pick-and-rolls, a lot of isolation situations, different step-backs to get into my shots.
7:30 What can Evan Mobley bring to Cleveland, and what’s his future going forward?
Garland: I think this year he’s going to be a big help for us, especially on the defensive end. He really prides himself on defense. We’re taking that and running with it, literally. He can do a lot of other things, but defensively he can slide his feet. We can switch one through five with Evan and Jarrett Allen. He’s versatile and blocks a lot of shots. On the offensive end, he can really shoot it. His mid-range game is nice. He can put the ball on the floor. When he gets used to his body and fills it out, it’s going to be crazy. He has a really bright future ahead of him.
9:04 What do you see for Lauri Markkanen and his role in Cleveland?
Garland: I want Lauri to shoot it every time I pass him the ball. Nine times out of 10, it’s going to go in. I tell him every day to shoot it. I have a lot of confidence in him, and the entire team does. We want him to be aggressive and be one of the leaders on this team. He’s been in the league as long as me, Collin (Sexton), and Jarrett.
10:45 What have your conversations with Ricky Rubio been like?
Garland: Ricky’s come in and brought that leadership role. He’s been in the league for a long time, played in a lot of Olympics and FIBA games, so he’s seen a lot of basketball. I just can’t wait to learn from him. He was a point guard that got drafted early, and he helped a lot of stars when they were younger. He helped Devin Booker. I want him to come in and bring that to me, Collin, and Jarrett. He’s going to have to help us coming in being a playmaker, being aggressive, and putting everybody in the spots they need to be.
12:05 Have you guys talked about the playoffs as a goal for this team going into the new year? What are the expectations for the Cavaliers in that locker room?
Garland: In our locker room, our expectations are to make the playoffs. The league is very balanced this year, so it’s going to be tough, but I think we’ve got the guys and the mindset to do it.
13:45 What’s JB Bickerstaff like behind the scenes as a coach and trying to foster that playoff mentality?
Garland: He’s not pressuring us, but he’s definitely putting it in our ear, saying that’s our goal and where we want to go. He’s just keeping it cool until the games start, but he’s on us about conditioning and being one of the fittest teams in the league.
15:30 What do you foresee for Jarrett Allen going into this season, and if we could see a new hairstyle?
Garland: I think the afro isn’t going anywhere. When he first got here, me and Collin used to joke with him all the time that he should get cornrows and try something different, but he’s not budging at all. Even after $100 million, he’s still not budging. I think he’s going to help us a lot defensively. He can move his feet and block shots. Offensively, he’s going to have to be a load in a lot of pick-and-rolls, a lot of lobs and help Evan as well.
18:21 How do you and Collin Sexton balance the backcourt dynamic together?
Garland: Our dynamic is easy. I’m an unselfish guy, so whenever he wants it, I’ll give it to him. He’s so fast and an elite scorer. He can get a bucket whenever he wants. He’s unselfish as well and will look for me. It’s easy to play with him, and he’s fun to be around.
20:00 How’s it for you guys in the locker room regarding trade rumors surrounding Collin? Do you guys talk about it?
Garland: We don’t talk about it. All we care about is making each other better and getting better as a team. If we win, everybody looks good. When we start winning, hopefully, this year, then you get what you want.
20:50 What’s Kevin Love been like as a teammate behind the scenes, and what can he bring to this team this season?
Garland: He’s a treat to be around, literally. He always has a smile on his face, and he’s always making jokes. He’s always ready to work. I call him my big vet. That’s the big dog right there. He’s won a championship, been an Olympian, and had All-Star appearances. He’s done it all. We all try to pick Kevin’s brain for what he’s seen. I try to pick his brain over little things. Me and Love go out to eat and talk a lot. We love having Love around.
22:33 Any advice from Kevin Love that’s stuck out to you?
Garland: In my rookie year, he always told me to stay aggressive. He tells me this every time before we go out to a shootaround or anything. He tells me to go play my game.
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto