The Cleveland Cavaliers are in the midst of a very difficult season, but there have been a few bright spots. Perhaps the most important is rookie point guard Collin Sexton. The eighth overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft has had his share of growing pains, but has also flashed the All-Star potential that made him a top-10 pick.
He has shown immense talent as well as his severe lack of experience. Sexton has the ability to be very good in the future, but there are three main reasons why he is not playing much in crunch time this year. He has all the talent needed to lead Cleveland into the future, but he seriously needs to work on three crucial skills before he can be considered a good player.
1. Shot selection
Coming out of Alabama, Sexton’s strengths were his defense, driving ability, and mid-range shooting. The first two are excellent to have, but the third is a bit more complicated. It’s great that Sexton is able to shoot the ball well from mid-range, but deep two-pointers are the worst shots in basketball, and the Cavaliers as a whole are taking far too many of them. Sexton is possibly the worst offender, and that needs to change soon.
Despite playing only 29.2 minutes per game, Sexton is attempting 3.5 shots from between 15-19 feet away from the basket. The only players who shoot from that range more are DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson, all of whom play more than 34 minutes per game. To make matters worse, Sexton is also taking a higher percentage of his shots from the deep mid-range than those players. Sexton is at 27%, DeRozan 26%, Durant 22%, and Thompson 24%.
Collin Sexton is shooting 44% in spite of his poor shot selection, which is impressive. He needs to find some way to turn those deep twos into three-pointers in order to increase his efficiency. He is only attempting 1.6 triples per game, but is shooting 46% from beyond the arc. Three-point shooting was a weakness for him coming into the league, and it likely still is. He needs to develop a reliable three-point shot if he is going to become a star.
Deep shooting isn’t Sexton’s only issue when it comes to shot selection. At times he will become too aggressive and drive to the hoop, only to be stopped and cornered by either one defender or several. This leaves him unable to pass the ball, and his only option is to attempt an extremely difficult shot, which is often blocked. Sexton’s 44% shooting clip and his turnover rate (2.1 per game) are both very promising in spite of his issues. These are problems that can be fixed with experience, which is encouraging.
2. Willingness to pass
While Sexton is a point guard, he isn’t really a good floor general at this point. In college, he averaged only 3.6 assists per game. This season, his average is just 2.5, and the most he has ever had in a game is five against Detroit back in October. If Sexton were averaging 5.0 assists per game, he would rank 25th in the league, and 19th among point guards. It isn’t as if Sexton doesn’t have passing skills; he has displayed excellent playmaking ability at times. He just doesn’t show it nearly enough. This is a common problem with rookie point guards who are primarily scorers, but that is not an excuse in the slightest. Kyrie Irving averaged 5.4 assists per game during his rookie campaign. Sexton needs to look for his teammates more and be more willing to pass the ball instead of forcing a shot. Again, this is something that should improve with time.
3. Spatial awareness on both ends of the floor
Noticing a theme here? Sexton needs to improve at things that rookies tend to struggle with. He is only 19 years old after all. Still, he is tasked with being the new face of the Cavaliers, and is the only component of the Kyrie Irving trade that still holds value to the team. One of these areas that Sexton must get better in is offensive and defensive awareness, both on and off the ball.
Collin Sexton is an incredibly aggressive player, sometimes to a fault. On offense, he looks for his shot first, and will often try too hard to create one. When he does pass, he is not the best at moving without the ball in his hands. He lacks the foresight to see an opening in the defense before it appears. He has yet to learn the tendencies of his teammates when they don’t have the ball, so Sexton can be seen running into his own players in an attempt to get open.
On defense, Sexton loves to press his man. This leaves him susceptible to screens, and when he can’t immediately get around them or switch off with a teammate correctly, the Cavs usually give up easy points. Sexton must learn when and when not to be aggressive. He needs to be able to track the ball even when it is on the other side of the court, and envision possible passing lanes so as to create turnovers, as well as disrupt opponents’ plays and sets.
This is another skill that will develop with experience, especially since Sexton has George Hill to learn from. Throughout his entire career, Hill has excelled at getting open on offense and being a terrific all-around defender. Hill could very well be on the move at the NBA trade deadline, so Sexton will need to learn quickly.
Experience is the best teacher, and Sexton is quickly gaining that as a result of his increasing playing time. His minutes would rise even more if George Hill is traded. The lack of pressure on the Cavaliers to be a competitive team will help Sexton’s development, as he is going to make plenty of mistakes, but they will not be scrutinized nearly as much as the entire team was over the past four years. Sexton still needs a lot of work, but he has the potential to be one of the NBA’s best point guards in a few years.