The first time LeBron James left Cleveland, it took an expectedly horrid year of basketball and a trade that led to the number one overall draft pick in 2011 — before the Cavaliers had a scoring-cable ballhandler on the roster again. That, of course, came in the form of point guard Kyrie Irving, who was drafted with that number one pick. Fast forward to 2018. Cleveland is preparing for what many expect to be a tanking year, and there’s much uncertainty surrounding a roster that’s, well, a mess. While the Cavs have eight or nine players you could easily see being traded at some point in the next year, the team does have, much like in 2011, a rookie point guard to build around. Here’s what Collin Sexton, the number eight overall pick, brings to the table:
For many people (myself included), the first time they took notice of Sexton was during a particularly strange afternoon in the NCAA. During a November 25 game between Sexton’s Alabama Crimson Tide and Minnesota, a brawl broke out in the second half. After the team’s entire bench was ejected because of it, one starter was injured, and another fouled out, the Crimson Tide were left with three players to finish the game. Thankfully, one of those players was Sexton. For nearly 10 minutes, he led his Alabama squad on a brilliant run thanks to a gritty performance, finishing the game with 40 points on 12-of-22 shooting.
It was his willingness to attack the basket, finish strong, and make crucial perimeter shots during those final few minutes that was so impressive. Outnumbered on the court, it was impossible for Alabama to run any kind of offensive set. With Sexton running point, he took the game into his own hands and led the team on a 26-16 run to finish the game, coming up just short in the end 89-84. Despite the loss, Collin Sexton put himself on the map. A fantastic season (19.2 PPG, 44.7 percent shooting), as well as a first-round NCAA tournament win, put him firmly in NBA Draft conversations.
Through his first few NBA Summer League games, Sexton has displayed that same toughness he showed throughout his freshman year. His ability to attack the basket, using dribble moves and strong drives, puts him well above most of his current competition. He’s great at finishing with contact and should be an and-one machine in the league. He also has solid control of his body, even when moving at full speed, and is able to finish at the rim at different angles. He’s physically, but also mentally, tough, and that will make him an immediate asset at the NBA level.
We’re often too quick to compare rookies to superstar-caliber professionals, but in the case of Collin Sexton, it’s hard not to mention Russell Westbrook when talking about his speed in transition. Much like Westbrook, Sexton can utilize his speed to beat every other player down the court. He has the ability to pull down a rebound at one end and score at the other end in an instant. You saw evidence of this early in Cleveland’s Summer League game against Sacramento. Off a Justin Jackson miss, Sexton grabbed the board near the free throw line and took off, beat eight of the nine other players back down the court and finished at the rim with his left. The entire play took all of five seconds, but it was a perfect indication of the kid’s straight-line speed.
He can utilize that same speed in the half court as well. Again against the Kings, Sexton received a pass slightly above the hash mark and with the switch of hands along with two dribbles, got to the rim, scored, and drew a foul. In the split second after he caught that pass, he went from a light jog to full speed, stayed in control enough to have a good angle at the rim with his left hand, and finished with contact.
Offensive production will be hard to come by for Cleveland if the roster stays the way it is, which means plays like this from Sexton will be crucial.
Collin Sexton wasn’t exactly a monster from behind the arc at Alabama. He took four threes per game and finished the season at 34 percent. He hasn’t been any better so far in his Summer League performances, sitting at just 20 percent (2-of-10) from NBA range. Time and experience will tell if he’ll be a three-point threat but, right now, that shouldn’t be anyone’s concern. What he does have in his arsenal is a high-percentage midrange shot. And, since he’s not playing for the Rockets, he’ll be able to get that shot a lot.
It’s Sexton’s ability to stop on a dime in that midrange area that makes him so dangerous. In his Summer League debut, he had a play in transition similar to the one against the Kings. He pulled down a board, this time nearly under the basket, and took off. At nearly full speed, he was able to utilize a hesitation move to create space between him and two Washington defenders, pull up below the free throw line, and knock down a jumper. He made it look effortless.
While you’ll likely see a lot of pull-ups in transition, Sexton can also shoot in the half court offense. With such quick hands and feet, he can make perimeter defenders look silly and create more than enough space to get a good look from 15 feet. However, it’s also his ability to shoot around the foul line (or slightly below it) that makes him tough to guard. When you have a ballhandler with his skill set, someone who can drive strong to the basket or stop short and knock down a jumper, it keeps defenders guessing. So far, Sexton’s kept a lot of young defenders doing just that.
No one has a clue exactly what this Cleveland team is going to look like in October or what strategy (probably tanking) it’ll roll out for the season. However, the extremely early Summer League-only returns are showing that the second post-LeBron era is off to the right start, thanks in no small part to Collin Sexton.