CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers chose Darius Garland, a 6-foot-2 point guard who played just five college games, with the fifth pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday night.
Eight years ago, they chose a 6-3 guard who had played just 11 games in college with the No. 1 choice. That guy’s name was Kyrie Irving, who along with LeBron James and Kevin Love helped Cleveland to an NBA title in 2016.
Garland, who played at Vanderbilt, tore the meniscus in his left knee in a game against Kent State, but many people considered him the fourth-best player in the draft.
“I’ve overcome the adversity,” the 19-year-old said. “I’m ready to go.”
With the 26th pick, the Cavs took 6-8, 200-pound swingman Dylan Windler, a four-year player at Belmont. As a senior, he averaged 21.3 points, an Ohio Valley Conference-leading 10.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting an outstanding .429 on 3-pointers. He had 18 double-doubles, which tied for 13th in the nation.
Cleveland general manager Koby Altman also made a trade, sending four future second-round picks to Detroit for the 30th pick, which the Cavs used to take 6-6, 218-pound Southern Cal shooting guard Kevin Porter Jr. The 19-year-old, who was suspended at USC for off-court behavior, averaged 9.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.4 assists as a freshman.
“He’s the most athletic person I’ve ever seen in person or played with,” college teammate Nick Rakocevic said. “You never know what he (is) going to do. He is a natural-born scorer.”
At press time, Cleveland had not made a move involving veteran shooting guard J.R. Smith, who is under contract for $15.7 million next season, with slightly less than $3.9 million of that guaranteed.
The 175-pound Garland averaged 16.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 139 minutes with the Commodores. He shot .537 from the field, .478 on 3-pointers and .750 at the line, with some experts comparing him to All-NBA pick Damian Lillard of Portland.
“I’m a competitor,” Garland said. “I’m ready to get to Cleveland.”
Prior to the Cavs taking Garland, Atlanta traded the Nos. 8, 17 and 35 picks to New Orleans for the fourth choice, which the Hawks used to select Virginia forward De’Andre Hunter, a player Cleveland was definitely interested in. Atlanta also gave the Pelicans a heavily protected first-round pick that still will belong to Cleveland if it is among the top 10 in the 2020 draft.
The Cavs, whose other primary option at No. 5 was Texas Tech shooting guard Jarrett Culver, reportedly entertained a lot of trade offers for the pick prior to taking Garland, whom they met with earlier in the week in Los Angeles. The rookie is represented by James’ friend and agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports.
As a high school senior at Brentwood Academy in Tennessee, Garland was a semifinalist for Naismith Player of the Year and a McDonald’s All-American after averaging 28.6 points and shooting .597 from the field. He won four state championships and was the second player in Tennessee history to win three straight Mr. Basketball awards (Brandan Wright, also at Brentwood).
Garland was off to an equally great start at Vanderbilt before hurting his knee. The Commodores were 4-0 before he was injured and went 5-23 without him, including 20 straight losses to end the season.
“I think he’s going to be a great pro,” said John Jenkins, a former Commodores player who was a first-round pick in 2012. “(He) sees the game well, super quick, has a great jumper and good feel for the game. He’s the real deal.”
Garland is considered extremely shifty and can score at the rim, off the dribble in the midrange and from behind the 3-point line. He had more turnovers (15) than assists (12) in his limited time at Vanderbilt, but is the son of former NBA point guard Winston Garland and already understands the game at a fairly high level.
“Welcome to Cleveland @dariusgarland22 better be ready to throw some lobs,” high-flying Cavs big man Larry Nance Jr. tweeted.
With Garland the same height as Cavs starting point guard Collin Sexton, who was chosen with the No. 8 pick last year, it will be interesting to see how coach John Beilein utilizes the undersized guards.
Like Sexton, Garland needs to improve defensively, but he has a 6-5 wingspan, 8-1 standing reach and the physical tools to improve at that end of the floor.
“I think me and @CollinSexton02 can play really well together,” Garland tweeted. “The future is bright.”
Windler doesn’t have overwhelming athleticism, but he’s surprisingly quick, was one of the best shooters in the draft and has range that extends well beyond the NBA 3-point line. For his career, the 22-year-old hit .406 from behind the arc (217-for-534) and averaged 13.2 points, 7.8 boards and 2.0 assists.
The Cavs chose Windler over the likes of Kentucky swingman Keldon Johnson and 7-2 Oregon center Bol Bol, who were expected to go much earlier in the draft but were still on the board at No. 26.
“He just understands how to win,” said Belmont coach Rick Byrd, who retired at the end of the 2018-19 season. “You could invent a game of some sort, explain the rules and Dylan would be the best player at it.”
A five-star recruit coming out of high school, Porter was considered a potential lottery pick coming into the season, but had periods where he struggled on and off the court at USC and needs to mature emotionally. He shot .471 from the field, .412 on 3-pointers and just .522 at the line, but is considered to have a huge upside.
“I’ve been battling my whole life. Still am,” said Porter, whose father was shot and killed in 2004. “Really, it’s just a learning experience.”
Past No. 5 picks
The last five No. 5 picks in the draft were Trae Young (Atlanta through Dallas), De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento), Kris Dunn (Minnesota), Mario Hezonja (Orlando) and Dante Exum (Utah).
Other notables taken with the fifth pick include Kevin Love (Memphis, 2008), Dwyane Wade (Miami, 2003), Vince Carter (Golden State, 1998), Ray Allen (Minnesota, 1996), Kevin Garnett (Minnesota, 1995) and Scottie Pippen (Seattle, 1987).
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