The Cleveland Cavaliers are way ahead of schedule this season, already eclipsing their 2020-21 win total as they establish themselves as a true playoff contender in the Eastern Conference.

Behind Evan Mobley’s impressive Rookie of the Year play, Kevin Love’s Sixth Man of the Year play and Jarrett Allen’s near-All-Star performances, the Cavs have pieces all over the floor that make a difference.

But there has been no greater differentiator than Darius Garland.

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The third-year shooting guard showed glimpses of his stellar potential in his first two seasons, but through the first 48 games of the season, Garland’s consistency has stood out as he’s been their best player on the floor every night.

Fresh off a streak of five straight 20-plus game games, Garland did it again in their 95-93 win over the New York Knicks at home, recording 13 points and 12 assists, becoming the first player since LeBron James ( 2017). -18) to record five straight games of 10+ assists. This stretch ties Garland for the longest streak of any Cavaliers player in the last 10 years.

That’s been the theme of Garland’s season, routinely putting his name next to the greatest player in Cavaliers history.

Earlier this month he became the fourth-youngest player in Cavaliers franchise history to record a triple-double and the only Cavaliers player since LeBron to do so in three quarters in the last 25 years.

In the process, he has caught the attention of some of the biggest stars in the league.

“Steph got close. Steph got really close,” Garland said via The Akron Beacon Journal. “Donovan Mitchell, the compliments from him are great. And then like some of my close friends in the league, like some of my older brothers like Tristan [Thompson], Bron, Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard. As if they were telling me to go ahead and keep pushing. I mean, it’s great to hear that from some of the best basketball players to touch a ball.”

One player who has seen the development up close has been Cavaliers veteran Kevin Love, praising Garland’s performances, especially against the best shooting guards in the league.

“I saw him take on Kyrie last night, and we were talking about it this morning,” Love said in a recent appearance on JJ Redick’s Old Man and the Three podcast.

“He has a lot of respect for the great basketball player that Kyrie is, but I’m almost like, ‘Darius, you went toe-to-toe with one of the absolute best point guards of the last 10, 20 years, and you were.’ incredible. You helped us win that game in a big way.

“He keeps testing it. He continues to take the next step. I think he’s understanding too, even when he doesn’t have a great scoring game, or he doesn’t shoot very well from the field, like in Utah, he was still able to impact the game and win us the game in one number. in ways.”

The 21-year-old has been the Cavaliers’ best player this season, averaging 19.7 points, 8.2 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game with shooting splits of .464/.360/.913, leading them in scoring and assists in his way to a 29-19 record, good for fifth in the East standings.

Season-ending injuries to Ricky Rubio (ACL) and Collin Sexton (knee) could have easily derailed the Cavs’ season, but Garland’s steady growth has masked his injury woes.

Coming off the third-place finish of the 2022 NBA All-Star voting, Garland ranks ninth among Eastern Conference shooting guards with 343,551 votes and while it might be a stretch for him to make the jump to All-Star status this season, it’s a matter of when. , no Yes.