Collin Sexton Is a Bright Spot for a Dark Cleveland Cavaliers Team

David Richard – USA TODAY Sports

In September, Tristan Thompson was the butt of jokes for telling reporters, “we’re still 4-time Eastern Conference champions, so until you take us down from that, teams ain’t got much to say.” Well, it’s a valid point. After all, they are still the defending champions of the Eastern Conference. They’ve dominated the same 14 teams for the past 4 years. They deserve respect for that.

However, the loss of LeBron James has unsurprisingly taken a toll on this Cavaliers squad. They’ve severely dropped off across the board. Last year, Cleveland had one of the worst defenses in the league. It got worse. A lot worse.

Adjusted Offensive Rating (ORtg/A) is the estimate of points scored per 100 possessions, adjusted for strength of opponent. Adjusted Defensive Rating (DRtg/A) is the estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions, adjusted for strength of opponent. A high Adjusted Offensive Rating and low Adjusted Defensive Rating is ideal. The Adjusted Net Rating is calculated by subtracting DRtg/A from ORtg/A.

The team is sitting at 14th in the Eastern Conference. Their 4-14 win-loss record is only ahead of the tanking Atlanta Hawks. To be fair, the Cavaliers are also clearly not contending. They are going for a high draft pick. Just ask J.R. Smith. Smith told reporters, “The goal isn’t to go out there and try to get as many wins as possible. I think the goal is to develop and lose to get lottery picks.” If you don’t believe him, just watch him play. I hope he’s actively participating in the tank, because J.R. Smith is shooting at career low percentages across the board: 34.2% from the field and 30.8% from beyond the arc.

The Cavaliers began the season with an 1-11 run. Six game and five game losing streaks were separated by a win over the lowly Hawks. Cleveland then picked up their second win, this time over the 7-7 Charlotte Hornets (Hornets star Kemba Walker was held to 7 points on 2-16 shooting from the field. The next game, Walker scored 60 points. Law of averages, I guess), before being blown out 119-95 by the 5-9 Washington Wizards. In this game, Cavaliers rookie Collin Sexton led his team with 24 points, shooting 9-16 from the field. J.R. Smith and Jordan Clarkson combined for 7-23 shooting (0-8 from 3), 7 turnovers and only 15 points. Despite a very strong rookie performance, Sexton was only focused on how he could improve. In a post-game interview, he cited his turnovers as an area he needed to improve in. It was a valid criticism of his game, as he had 8 turnovers over the past two games. Since that interview, Sexton has played 125 minutes over 4 games and has only committed 5 turnovers, cutting his season turnover average in half.

The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Collin Sexton from the University of Alabama with the 8th pick in the 1st round. In college, he was most well known for his performance against Minnesota in 2017. The entire bench unit for the University of Alabama was ejected for entering an altercation on the court. Another player committed too many fouls and was thrown out of the game. This left Alabama in a 4 on 5 situation. Oh yeah, then another player got injured. Make it a 3 on 5. That’s just not a game you stand a chance in. A Division I college basketball team will win in a blowout 9 times out of 10 if given a 2 man advantage. Let alone the undefeated, 14th ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Collin Sexton exploded for 40 points on 55% shooting. Alabama lost by just 5 points.

While it was a legendary performance, Sexton was still regarded as a raw prospect with average shooting. Many felt that the Cavaliers reached with their pick. Veterans on the team itself reportedly felt that Sexton did not “know how to play.” Collin Sexton has silenced those doubters.

In the past two games, the Cavaliers upset the Philadelphia 76ers and the Houston Rockets. Cleveland isn’t on the same level as these teams, but their recent stretch has shown their potential as a team. Against Philly, Sexton tacked on 23 points on 10-18 shooting. In the next outing, the rookie scored a career high 29 points. Sexton’s recent surge has elevated the entire team. For example, this season Jordan Clarkson has the highest field goal percentage and points per game average of his career. His playmaking ability still leaves much to be desired, but he is excelling in his role as a scoring sixth man.

The many flaws of this Cleveland team clearly demonstrates that they have not reached their peak. David Nwaba has doubled his three point shooting volume this season, and it’s not looking pretty. His 22.7% shooting from beyond the arc is horrible, but he has shown his defensive ability. For instance, against the Rockets, Nwaba held reigning MVP James Harden to 3-15 shooting. That’s no small task; Harden is one of the best scorers in the NBA.

Despite Sexton’s current success, it’s important to not get ahead of ourselves. He has flaws. For example, he has showed his natural talent as a scorer, but he still needs to improve as a facilitator. Sexton’s work ethic and determination to constantly boost his game should leave no doubt that he will continue his development.

Yes, the Cavaliers are not a good team. They miss LeBron James. Collin Sexton may not be the King, but he’s certainly looking like he can be the franchise player that Cleveland is seeking.