2020-21 Position Recap: Guards
Cavaliers Dynamic Duo Comes of Age
by Joe Gabriele (@CavsJoeG)
6/14/21 | Cavs.com
Ask anyone around the league about the Cavaliers’ current identity and they’ll immediately point to the Wine & Gold’s young backcourt duo of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland.
The Cavs aren’t alone in that department. Teams like the Blazers, Suns, Wizards, Hornets and Warriors (when they’re healthy) all lean on their starting guard tandem to do the heavy lifting – although none, not even the “Splash Brothers” – have a collective nickname as cool and catchy as “Sexland.”
With Cleveland gearing up for another run at the NBA Lottery – from which both guards were eventually selected – next Tuesday night, Cavs.com takes one more last look at the previous season in a three-part breakdown, beginning with today’s look at the squad’s backcourt.
That starting backcourt really did account for much of the squad’s production this season.
The Young Bull led the squad in scoring for the second straight season; Garland led both seasons in assists.
At 24.3ppg, Sexton – in his third season after going No. 8 overall out of Alabama – was the league’s 19th leading scorer, 9th in the East. Garland’s mark of 6.1apg was good for 9th in the East, 18th-best in the Association.
”Sexland” got stung by the injury bug this season, but not as badly as some other parts of the roster. Only Isaac Okoro, Cedi Osman and Dean Wade played more games than the two starting guards, with Sexton playing in 60 of 72 games and Garland in 54. Before missing Cleveland’s January 7 meeting with Memphis this past year with a sprained left ankle, Sexton had suited up for 155 straight to start his NBA career.
Damyean Dotson proved to be a essential backup this season as the Wine & Gold dealt with repeated run-ins with the injury bug along the way.
David Liam Kyle via NBAE/Getty Images
If last season’s guard outlook seems heavily focused on Cleveland’s dynamic dyad, that’s because the team didn’t get much consistent help from other members of the backcourt. (We’re going to consider Okoro a forward for now, despite the versatile rookie getting 26 starts at guard, including 10 of the team’s final 12 games.)
Damyean Dotson was solid in his first season with the Cavs – averaging 6.7ppg on 41 percent shooting in 46 appearances, including seven starts. And Brodric Thomas proved to be a pleasant surprise and inspiring story, ascending through the G-League after going undrafted out of tiny Truman State – playing (and contributing) in 28 games after joining the squad in late February.
Aside from those two, the Cavaliers saw players come and go during this strange past season – including Quinn Cook, Jeremiah Martin and Yogi Ferrell.
Dante Exum, after appearing in six games with Cleveland, was part of the three-team teal to land center Jarrett Allen and Matthew Dellavedova was limited to just 13 games after suffering a concussion to start the season. He started just a single contest – an April 11 home loss to the Pelicans – but still managed to lead both teams with 10 assists in that game.
Fortunately for the Cavaliers, the pairing of Sexton and Garland was so productive that it kept the team afloat through some troubled waters – putting up numbers that rank historically among the team’s all-time titans.
Garland got better as the season progressed and was simply outstanding in April before his season was interrupted by an ankle injury.
He closed the campaign having posted career highs in scoring (17.4), rebounding (2.4), assists (6.1), steals (1.22), minutes (33.1) along with shooting percentages from the floor (.451) and beyond the arc (.395).
After beginning the month of April with a six-point clunker against Philly, the No. 5 overall pick in 2019 averaged 21.5 points per over the next 14 games – topping the 20-point plateau on nine occasions, including a career-best 37-point outburst in a blowout victory in San Antonio. Garland tallied 20-plus in six straight from April 15-25 to become just the seventh player in team history to do so in either of his first two seasons.
Garland handed out double-digit dimes on six occasions this year – thrice in the month of April alone – and dished out seven or more assists 23 times. He was one of only four players this past season to average at least 17.0 points and 6.0 helpers while shooting 39 percent from deep and 84 percent from the stripe, joining Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry and the league’s MVP, Nikola Jokic.
And maybe the most promising aspect of all is how much Garland’s accomplished at such a young age.
The Indiana native, who just turned 21 this past January 26, became the fourth-youngest player in team history to reach 1,000 points. On April 21 against Chicago, he became the quickest in franchise history to drill 200 three-pointers, sitting at 210 heading into season number three.
Garland wasn’t the only Cavalier to post numbers putting him in exclusive company. His running mate, Collin Sexton, also posted yet another ultra-productive campaign.
This year, Cleveland’s leading scorer was one of only five players to average at least 24.0 points, 4.0 assists, 1.0 steal while shooting 47 percent from the floor, 37 percent from long-range and 80 percent from the stripe – joining Irving, Jokic, Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Curry.
J.B. Bickerstaff has often quipped about how the Young Bull can “roll out of bed and get you 20” and Sexton essentially proved him right – topping the 20-point mark in 48 of his 60 outings this year, including a run of 10 straight to start the season, something no Cavalier in team history had ever done.
Sexton also showed he had a flair for the dramatic.
After missing the first games of his career due to injury – a five-game absence in early January – the rugged Atlanta native re-emerged to explode for a career-high 42 points, going 16-of-29 from the floor, including 5-of-11 from deep in the Wine & Gold’s dramatic double-overtime win over the new-look Nets.
In the midseason thriller, Sexton drilled his first triple of the night with 1.2 seconds remaining in the first overtime to tie the game at 127-apiece and proceeded to score 15 of Cleveland’s 20 points in the second extra session.
Sexton is also at the center of the Cavaliers young core, and he doesn’t turn 23 until early January of next year.
And, like Garland, he’s also rising through the franchise’s offensive ranks in rapid fashion. In a matchup with Boston in late January, the Bull became the third-youngest Cavalier to reach 3,000 points. On May 4 – in his 200th career game – Sexton reached the 4,000-point mark, becoming the second youngest to do so.
The Cavaliers will certainly address their backcourt depth throughout the offseason – with added length, veteran decision-makers and some added three-point shooting all items on that list.
But in terms of promising young talent at the top, it doesn’t get much brighter than Cleveland’s one-two punch. They’ve learned how to produce. The next step is learning how to translate that production in victories.