Follow the Leader

Follow the Leader

Cavs Young Backcourt Looks to Take the Next Step

by Joe Gabriele (@CavsJoeG)
12/4/20 | Cavs.com

It’s a simple, but legitimate question: Who is the going to be the Cavaliers leader this year?

With the free agent departure of their longest-tenured player, the Wine & Gold now come into the 2020-21 campaign looking for that answer.

The frontcourt is loaded with veterans boasting pelts on the wall. Kevin Love is a five-time All-Star and won a title with Cleveland. Andre Drummond is a two-time All-Star who’s already piled up massive stats. Larry Nance Jr. is the son of a local hoops legend and is working on his own legacy. JaVale McGee is a three-time NBA Champ.

Those heavy hitters along the frontline will take charge during much of the season. But for a winning NBA squad to be efficient, the backcourt – specifically at the point guard position – has to be able to run the show.

Before taking forward Isaac Okoro with the 5th overall pick last month, the Wine & Gold tabbed back-to-back point guards in the previous two Drafts. And while Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, who battled each other in high school, have vastly different floor games, one thing they definitely have in common is that they’re both relatively quiet, soft-spoken young men.

That’s unlikely to change, but they both realize that as their careers develop, they’ll have to begin taking a bigger leadership role with the squad. It’s not an easy thing, especially considering the aforementioned veterans.

Matthew Dellavedova looks to help Collin Sexton & Darius Garland take the next steps in their game.
Jimmy Longo/ Cavs.com

Fortunately, both guys are backed up by another accomplished veteran – Matthew Dellavedova, now just one of two players from the 2016 Championship team. And if anyone understands what it’s like to work his way up the ladder, it’s the 30-year-old Aussie import.

”The hardest part is that it’s just a different game than college – with the spacing, defenses and the defensive schemes you play against – and that’s the biggest adjustment,” said Delly. “I don’t think that communicating with older guys is much of an issue because once you get here, everyone can play.

”Obviously, those guys have a lot of talent, they’re high draft picks. So I think there’s a level of respect there and I think communication has to go both ways – the guards have to tell the bigs what they like, the bigs have to tell the guards what they like and what they’re seeing and I think the more that can happen throughout the year on offense and defense, the better off the team is going to be – and the more accelerated their development is going to be.”

Sexton is coming off his second straight season without missing a game. After breaking rookie team records in his first season out of Alabama, the Young Bull was just as dynamic as a sophomore: leading the team in scoring with a 20.8ppg mark, topping the 25-point plateau in each of his last six outings, including a career-best 41-point outburst against Boston – averaging 28.1ppg over his last eight games before the season’s abrupt end.

Sexton has more than proven himself on the floor heading into his third season, now he wants to improve as a leader.

”Since the Corona pandemic happened and we all went away, I’ve been reaching out to the guys and becoming that leader,” said Sexton. “And also, whenever we’re in the gym, I’m also gonna lead by example. Whether it’s getting there on time and being early, I’m always going to lead by example.

”But becoming a vocal leader is something I definitely want to improve on. And I feel like that’s my role for this year.”

Garland had a rock-solid rookie year and looked like lights were coming on just before the season ended. After a 20-point, seven-assist effort in a dramatic win over Detroit, Garland’s game began to change – and his shot began to drop. Only Chicago’s Coby White and Miami’s Kendrick Nunn canned more three-pointers last season.

And once Garland found his range, he began to assert himself as the squad’s primary playmaker – leading Cleveland at 3.9apg in in 59 starts, handing out at least four assists in 10 straight games straddling January and February – longest stretch since Kyrie Irving in 2014.

”I think I got better, as a person and as a player,” said Garland, who also converted some baby fat to muscle in the offseason. “I’ve gotten better as a leader, getting more comfortable with the guys. This is just my second year in, so I’m still trying to get comfortable with everybody, including the new guys just brought into Training Camp.

”So everything’s playing a factor with me becoming a leader on this team.”

Last year, Garland drilled 105 triples and was well on his way to eclipsing the previous Cavaliers rookie record-holder with 119 – his teammate, Collin Sexton.

Now, Garland – the team’s primary playmaker and a grizzled old vet who’ll turn 21 on January 26 – will have to help break in this year’s incoming freshman, Isaac Okoro.

”For me, just being able to communicate with the younger guys, trying to fit in with the vets, that’s probably going to be my biggest challenge,” said Garland. “Just learning how to talk to people and just learning how to talk to people and using a certain tone on and off the court, that’s one of the biggest things for a leader.”

Going into this year, both youngbloods can learn volumes on the subject from Delly – who, himself, had an outsanding finish to last season: averaging 9.2 assists per over his final five games, doubling-up with 14 points and 11 assists in a home win over the Spurs and setting the squad’s season high, handing out 14 helpers the next night in a victory over Denver.

”It’s not like you stand up and give a speech or anything like that,” said the seven-year vet and local legend. “It’s just by what you do every day. Being a leader and trying to help others improve is an everyday thing – and it starts with what you do yourself. I don’t think anybody’s going to listen to somebody who isn’t doing it themselves on the defensive end or sharing the ball. I think you need to have yourself sorted before you tell others what to do.”

”I’ve always tried to make my teammates better, and I plan on continuing to do that this season.”

That’s leadership.