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Collin Sexton's Rookie Journey

Collin Sexton has been through more in his first season, than most players will go through in their NBA career. He saw the best player in the NBA choose to not resign with the team that just drafted him, a little more than a week after being drafted. He saw his first head coach, Ty Lue, get fired after starting 0-6. He’s seen his all-star teammate Kevin Love go down with an injury for months of the season, while another teammate in JR Smith called him out for not knowing “how to play”. After all this adversity it would be easy for any player to get discouraged and get lost in the shuffle, but not Collin.

The league is starting to recognize Collin and call him by his nickname, an accomplishment that didn’t even take a full season. “Young Bull”, the commentators will say, when referring to the first year point guard. A nickname that is fitting for both his play style, as a guy with an insane motor, and for his work ethic off the court. Sexton has already earned a reputation for being a gym rat which explains why we’ve already seen him improve so much, so quickly. When enrolled at the University of Alabama, it was common for Avery Johnson to call campus security to make sure that he eventually got out of the gym late at night.

So why the harsh words by his teammates in November?

According to an article on the Athletic, the Cavs veterans were happy with him coming in and not knowing his role on the team. They were upset that he was abysmal at guarding the pick and roll and wasn’t setting up his team, and rightfully so. At the time he was only hitting 22 percent of his shots from beyond three point range while consistently being in the bottom few players in the entire NBA in plus minus. There were reports that the team felt he was given preferential treatment that hadn’t been earned by the rookie. At the time he was just 19 years old and the new face of the reigning Eastern Conference champions.

It makes sense though, that the players would blame him. Sexton just joined a locker room that had gone through years of blaming each other. This was the culture that the rest of the team was used to. We’ve seen Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Ty Lue, and David Blatt all be scape goats anytime things went wrong. On top of that, there might be some underlying animosity towards Sexton with him being the what the Nets draft pick conveyed into. That pick was supposed to be a blue chip asset and could have been moved to get another piece for one last title run. So with the head coach fired and Kevin Love sidelined with an injury, the focus turned to Collin.

Through this year Sexton has shown that he is a guy that deserves respect for his effort and game on the court, but hasn’t proven to be a leader yet. Becoming more comfortable with his teammates is a great step, but he hasn’t shown results as a facilitator. In his first 74 games he had more than five assists only five times. In fact, Larry Nance Jr., the young PF, averages more assists per game than Sexton for the year. It doesn’t help that he has teammates like Jordan Clarkson and Cedi Osman that are complete ball stoppers, and even when Sexton does make a helpful pass, his teammates often hesitate before making a move. Sexton is also know to dump the ball off to his teammates, as if he is removing himself from the play.

Although his teammates don’t necessarily help him get assists, it wouldn’t be fair to put the blame solely on them. His teammate Kevin Love leads the league in catch and shoot three point percentage, which is a point guard’s dream. This should lead to perfect opportunities to get on a fast break going north and south and dish it out at the last second for the 113 million dollar man to hit the outside shot. But instead Collin gets lost in a sea of defenders. Just like his nickname suggests, the Young Bull goes barreling towards the hoop, without his teammates in mind. Watch below as Sexton grabs the rebound and ignores his teammates on the perimeter with their hands up as they are wide open. By the time he releases the ball just about every defender has a foot in the paint contesting the shot.

When asked what has been different in the second half of the season Collin said “I feel like I’ve been calm and letting the game come to me and not try to force anything. Just getting shots that my teammates create for me and knocking them down.” While it’s obvious he’s improving, it's still not good enough as a playmaker, which is why the Cavs need to stop thinking of him as a true point guard and more of a combo guard that is great at playing off ball.

Collin’s favorite move is a floater around the free throw line, where he stops on a dime and extends his body as tall as he can, releasing the ball at a high arc. While most defenses are focusing on defending the three point line and the paint, Collin is attacking the soft spot in the middle. The only issue with this move, is that it is a low percentage two point attempt with high risk and low reward.

The Cavs young guard is in the top 10% of the league in three point field goal percentage while being in the bottom 10% of the league in percentage of shots beyond the arc. On top of this he is taking long mid range shots more frequently than 96% of the league. What does this mean? One of the leagues best three point shooters is settling for long mid range shots and rarely using his skills properly. Of course we can blame coaching for this, but at a certain point we have to acknowledge that Sexton isn’t making great decisions with the ball in his hands. Watch below at how comfortable Sexton has become as a three point shooter during his hot streak since the All-Star break, where he was left off the Rising Stars team.

Out of all the lottery point guards over the last five years, Sexton is atop of the list for three point percentage at 41.8%. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and D’Angelo Russel are the only other two that were above 35% during their rookie campaign. He has exceeded expectations for a rookie as far as scoring, putting up 23 or more points seven games in a row. A rookie record that he shares only with Hall of Famer, Tim Duncan. With some patience, and a lot of help with his shot selection, Sexton will continue to help the Cavs rebuild on the offensive end.

Defense……….not so much.

Among guards that have played at least 20 minutes per game this season, Sexton ranks dead last in plus minus, and it’s not even close. Among those same guards he ranks second to last in both steals and blocks per game. His numbers defensively are similar to those of Landry Shamet or Luke Kennard, the kind of guards that you would need to hide on defense. This isn’t a matter of effort either, he’s clearly trying. This is a matter of Collin looking lost on what his assignment should be. Often times just watching the ball handler across the court, while the guy he’s guarding roams freely. Sexton hasn’t put much on tape this year to prove that he’ll ever be decent on defense, leaving Cleveland in a bad position. How does this team build a roster around a point guard that can’t pass and plays some of the worst defense in the league? One word.

Zion.

Of course, we couldn’t have any discussion about basketball without including the upcoming star. The Cavs currently are slotted with a 14% chance at the number one pick, the best odds in the league. Zion would be able to bring the ball up the court and draw the defenders, leaving Sexton and Love open for a great look. If the Cavs miss on Zion it’ll be hard for them to find a fit with the remaining prospects. Ja Morant could provide the passing, but this team would crumble defensively. RJ Barrett could provide the scoring, but the team wouldn’t have enough playmaking to be successful.

With the season nearing the end, the curtain is closing on Collin’s rookie campaign. He’ll likely finish near the top of Rookie of the Year voting for his late season resurgence, and it’s well deserved. With a full season under his belt, the expectations will be much higher in his second year to take it to the next level, similar to the leap De’Aaron Fox had. During this transition period for the Cavs it’s important that Sexton realizes that there is a lot riding on him. Cleveland needs a new man to witness.

Follow Kyle Brandon on Twitter and hear him every Monday on the Shot Callers Podcast.

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