After promising rookie year, Collin Sexton's game is still developing

He says he wants to be more of a leader

Brendan Gulick
October 04, 2019 - 3:36 pm

Brendan Gulick

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Independence, OH - In many ways, Collin Sexton had a typical rookie season from a high first round pick. He had moments where he looked the part, and others where the situation overwhelmed him. The Cavaliers know if they are going to successfully rebuild their franchise in the second season post-LeBron, young players like Sexton need to flourish, quickly.

Make no mistake, it’s a multi-year rebuild and the team isn’t likely to contend for a playoff spot this season. But Sexton’s development in particular could help expedite the 2019 rookie class’ success. Sexton isn’t shying away from any of it.

“Well there’s no question it’s a work in progress right now,” Coach Beilein said. “He’s learning new language, he’s got new teammates, he has a lot of things he’s working on right now. But his desire, his ‘want to’ to be coached is incredible. We have to get his assists up and his turnovers down.”

Last year, Sexton finished the season with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.30. For comparison’s sake, there were 100 qualified players in the league who had ratios of 2.1 or higher, led by Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Tyus Jones (7.1).

That doesn’t paint a pretty picture. But it’s typical for a 19-year old rookie point guard to have a tough time adjusting to the league. It’s also not fair to ignore how well the 1st round pick from Alabama finished the season.

Sexton led all NBA rookies last year in free throw percentage and he played in all 82 games. He was also top five statistically in minutes per game (2nd, 31.8), points per game (3rd, 16.7), field goal percentage (4th, .430) and assists per game (5th, 3.0). His shooting metrics were especially impressive, after he became just the third rookie in NBA history to average at least 16.0 PPG, while shooting .400+ from beyond the arc and .800+ from the free throw line. Larry Bird (1979-1980) and Stephen Curry (2009-2010) are the only others to accomplish that feat. Sexton was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team.

“The next step in my progression is to make sure I lead the team,” Sexton said. “I need to keep everybody involved and engaged, and just be a coach out there on the floor. The coaches have been working with me on a lot of my passing, lots of situational stuff. I know I can improve in that area tremendously. Last year I watched a lot of film on games where I had low assists totals and I see the mistakes where I could’ve gotten an easy lay-up or a quick dump pass to get my teammates going.”

It might have taken fans by surprise when the team drafted point guard Darius Garland, but that wasn’t because the team was giving up on a teenager. Far from it.

The Cavs appear to be attempting to replicate the success that Portland has found with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. John Beilein knows Sexton’s development is critical for the team’s long-term success.

“All I want right now is good students of the game,” Beilein noted. “He’s being a good student of the game and is really focused in practice.”

Sexton eluded to being a visual learner when asked about how he can better his craft.

“The hardest thing last year was learning what I could and couldn’t do when I was on the floor, … learning to figure out how teams were going to play me. It’s actual practice reps and through watching video. There’s nothing like having a live body out there because when you’re in a game, you have to read and react in a hurry.”

No matter how he goes about his improvement, Sexton has good building blocks. He had one of the sweetest strokes in the league by the end of the season.

“We want him to get to the foul line, that’s for sure,” Coach Beilein added. “But his ability to shoot is rare for someone in their first year, so we want to embrace that. But if you watch our offense, a lot of people will get involved before a shot is taken sometimes. It’s not a democracy, where I have the ball and it’s my turn to shoot because I haven’t shot in a while. We want to take good shots, over and over again. Collin’s got a helluva shot and any time we get him open, he’s gonna shoot the ball. But we want it to be that way with anybody.”

Thoughts on practice absences

Coach Beilein said that today was a huge teaching day in all aspects of the floor. The team hardly went full-court the entire practice. They spent most of the day working on things they’ve all done for years, but today was about learning to speak the same language. Those kinds of practices can often feel disjointed, but Beilein’s team needed a day to get their minds around everything as the season approaches.

With a low intensity practice after three days of pushing the players through tough situations, the coaching staff limited Kevin Love, Matthew Dellavedova and Darius Garland to mental reps for the afternoon. They each shot around early in the day, but they didn’t physically participate in much of practice.

“Delly is still coming off the World Cup and Kevin had three great practices this week,” Beilein said. “So we told him to step back a bit today and watch what we’re doing.”

As it relates to Garland’s absence with foot soreness, Beilein stressed there was absolutely no reason to push him in practice before he’s full healthy.

“As long he’s not at 100%, we’re not messing with him right now. He’s probably at 90%, but we want him to get to 100%. I’m sure he’s frustrated – he’s been injured for a long time. But I’m not frustrated. If anything, it’s going to make him really hungry to get at it because he’s been sitting for so long. He’s a bright young man, and I think he will pick up things from watching.”

As far as worrying about falling behind from not being on the floor, Beilein said he won’t know until he sees Garland actually practice.

“We’ll see what he retained from watching. Everybody has a different learning curve. But what’s beautiful is that we can spend so much time with him watching film to get him ready. I think every rookie in the league is going to be ‘behind’ not matter what. How far behind will be the question.”