After every offseason, writers, coaches, fans, teammates – everyone – wonders which player is going to come back next year with something different. Playing with their back to the basket. Improving their handle. Did they gain weight? Lose weight? Even if they come back with a beard or a new haircut.
The season is only a few games old, but veteran guard Ramon Sessions looks to be the player who most focused on changing his game and expanding his role with the Wine and Gold.
On the court, he’s added the three-point shot to his arsenal. On and off the court, he’s served as mentor to 19-year-old Kyrie Irving – the top pick in last June’s Draft. So far, he’s wearing that new role very well.
After being acquired along with Ryan Hollings two summers ago, Sessions played in more games than any Cavalier in 2010-11. He was the club’s best free throw shooter, finished second in minutes, second in assists and fourth in scoring. He came off the bench to drop 32 points on the Lakers and closed the campaign notching double-figures in 15 of the Cavs final 17 games.
Although Sessions had some big nights during the year – including the aforementioned 32-pointer against L.A. and 16 games of 20-plus points – his consistency and professionalism are what kept the Cavaliers afloat.
And after bouncing around, playing for three teams in his first four years in the league, the former Nevada standout has finally found terra firma in Cleveland.
“I bounced around a lot; it feels good to be in my second year here,” said Sessions. “And I’m looking forward to many more under Coach Scott’s system. He likes to push the ball and that’s something I like to do is push the ball and just run and play basketball. And he allows me to do that. And it’s a great system for the way I play.”
His coach concurred.
“I think he’s comfortable now,” added Byron Scott. “I think over the last few years, he’s been here and there. Right now he knows: this is a great place for him, this is a great role for him. He can kind of cherish the fact that he can help Kyrie as much as possible. He’s been much more vocal this year than he was last year. But I think a lot of that is because he’s comfortable.”
Sessions is one of the club’s coolest customers, a man of few words. But he’s had to come out of his shell to show Irving the ropes. And he’s been the leader of a second unit that posted 107 points through Cleveland’s first two contests.
“I knew we had a young team,” reasoned Ramon. “Kyrie came in – young guy, a lot of potential. And that second unit is young. And it just felt like it was time for me to grow up, be mature – be a coach out there when I can be.”
If any NBA player has reason to become a malcontent, it’s Sessions. The South Carolina native has toiled in the cold weather climes of Milwaukee, Minnesota and Cleveland. He’s been bumped to the second unit – or to another city altogether – before landing on the North Coast. And including last season’s 19-63 finish, his career mark is 97-231.
Instead, he’s been one of the club’s consummate professionals – highly respected by coaches and teammates.
Now, as Sessions enters his fifth NBA season, he’s added a new facet to his game.
Sessions has always had the ability to score. He averaged 13.3 points in Cleveland last year, 12.4 with Milwaukee two years earlier. But Sessions did most of his scoring by penetrating to the basket. The 6-3, 190-pounder earned every point he scored.
But Sessions didn’t do much of his scoring via the long-ball – attempting just 71 treys through his first 259 games in the NBA. He never attempted more than two in any game before this season.
Now, he’s added the three-pointer to his arsenal, and it’s made an already tough-to-defend player that much tougher.
“I knew eventually, the older you get – (not saying that I’m old) – your game changes,” said Sessions, who had hernia surgery in the offseason. “It happened with Jason Kidd. He didn’t shoot threes early on, but (did) later in his career. It was just something – with surgery and all – that I just focused on.”
His ability to shoot the three – Sessions is 4-of-8 from beyond the arc through two games – has changed the way opponents defend him.
“I think he’s taking what the defense gives him,” observed Coach Scott. “I think what he wants guys to do is respect the fact that he can make that shot. And hopefully in our pick-and-roll offense, they won’t be going under all the time. When they go under right now, he makes shots. When they don’t, he’s going to the basket. So, it’s like: pick your poison.”
Sessions took advantage of the extended offseason, working on his long-distance shooting with his cousin, who doubles as his personal trainer.
“It was something I never focused on,” said Sessions. “Because I was getting to the basket, kind of at will. And I was like: If I’m able to get to the basket like this and get to the free throw line, why not keep doing it? But the older you get, the more you try to make your game mature, it’s just something that I was lacking.”
And though Sessions has been a virtual iron man – playing in 81, 82 and 79 games respectively over the last three seasons – the beatings his body’s been taking getting to the rim has changed his mindset slightly.
“Getting banged around, falling on the floor – that takes a toll on your body after a while.”
On the young, new-look Cavaliers, Sessions has been an invaluable piece. He’s found a home in Cleveland and a coach who knows how to use him. And now, the Cavs quiet man looks to take his game to another level.
“He knows what I expect of him and he knows what he can do on the basketball floor,” concluded Coach Scott. “So, I think he’s in a good place – mentally as well as physically. He understands that his role with this team is very important. And he’s done a hell of a job.”