Running of the Bull
Collin Sexton Made Big Strides This Season, and He's Just Getting Started
Walk into a room full of NBA head coaches and ask how many of them would take a 21-year-old combo-guard who can – in the words of one of those coaches – “roll out of bed and get you 20.”
Throw in the fact that he never misses a game or practice or that he’s a completely coachable young man who still has plenty of room for growth on both ends of the floor.
You’d go 30-for-30.
But only that one head coach – J.B. Bickerstaff – has the luxury of that quiet kid with the boisterous game. And he knows just what he has in Collin Sexton, a second-year man who has, in his words “the mindset and his ability allow him to do things that other people can't.”
Consistency is king in the NBA. Most players at the pro level can have a big night or two. And every season or two, someone will come down with a bout of “Linsanity” and go off for five or six games.
But Sexton – the 8th overall pick of the 2018 Draft – is like a machine, from the opening tip of the opener until the final buzzer of the season. Rarely has a nickname been so appropriate as “the Young Bull.”
The final piece of the Kyrie Irving trade, Sexton was tabbed after one season at Alabama – where he sealed his reputation on an evening in late November 2017, nearly leading the Tide to a win over nationally-ranked Minnesota despite his squad playing 3-on-5 in the second half.
The Young Bull scored 40 points in that game – 31 after intermission – to put his name on the NBA map. And the Cavaliers called it two Junes ago.
It’s hard to say he’s flown under the radar in his two seasons with the Wine & Gold. His nickname is recognizable in every NBA gym around the league. But while Trae Young and Luka Doncic have rightfully garnered all the headlines – and were both All-Star starters this past season- Sexton has posted comparable numbers.
He established himself as the Cavaliers primary offensive weapon this past season and was the squad’s leading scorer at 20.8ppg. The Mableton, Georgia native was scorching just before the 2019-20 campaign abruptly ended – topping the 25-point plateau in each of his last six outings, including a career-best 41-point outburst against Boston, and averaging 28.1ppg over his last eight games.
Considering his red-hot finish and the fact that he got a taste of winning, running off some signature victories and forming some true chemistry under J.B. Bickerstaff, it’s no wonder Sexton is ready to get back after it.
“(Next year) is definitely going to be amazing just because we understand that how J.B. wants us to play and we understand how he is as a coach,” said Sexton. “We had 11 games with him. We know that whenever we go to war at night, at the end of the game, he's going to be there for us, whether it's on the referees just a bit from us or even screaming, yelling at us.”
When the season wrapped up, Bickerstaff was equally complimentary of his young guard – especially how he improved as a playmaker as the season progressed.
"The growth was phenomenal – and it was something that everybody noticed and appreciated and respected,” said Bickerstaff. “You could see his teammates buying into it more and more and more.”
Sexton has all the tools to be an All-Star guard, and he’s proven that he’s able to improve areas of perceived weakness. After coming out of Alabama with the knock of being a poor outside shooter, he proceeded to set the Cavaliers’ rookie record with 119 three-pointers.
His offensive numbers are impeccable. He led the team in scoring 32 times this season and had the top scoring average. He was the only Cavalier to score more than 40 points this year – dropping 41 on Boston in early March. In his 147 games as a pro, the Young Bull has notched double-figures in 135 of them, 61 of 20 points plus.
Sexton also hasn’t missed a single game through those 147 scheduled outings – needing 39 more to pass Andre Miller for the record to begin a Cavaliers career.
That talent, toughness and tenacity isn’t lost on Sexton’s veteran teammates.
"He’s just such a, such a competitor, it's infectious to be around,” praised Kevin Love. “It's very seldom have I seen somebody work so hard in this league to get better. And I think the game slowed down for him. I believe that he saw the game open up so much, because he’s so easy, so fast and so heavy and finishes so well within 15 feet.
"And he really started to look and kind of find where he can distribute as well. The game just completely opened up for him and in his second year it was really, really cool to see that.”
Even though he was a sophomore this season, he’s still viewed as part of a trio of young Cavalier guards that includes rookies Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr. Now, all three have seen what an NBA season is about – and they’re all under 22 years of age.
The next step of the Cavaliers progression as a team as having these young guys grow around its group of veterans.
"I know that the season didn't go as planned, but I felt like from where we came from to the end of the season, we got better and we started communicating personally off the court a lot more than we normally do,” said Sexton. “Everyone has to go their separate ways, but this year we definitely locked in and were definitely together a lot more, which I loved.
"That's the only thing that I felt like we needed to improve on is that off court. Once you get chemistry off court, your chemistry issues always get better on the court.”
The Wine & Gold will watch the NBA Playoffs tip-off later this month down in Orlando. It’ll be a bittersweet moment, but also something to aspire to as J.B. Bickerstaff’s young squad continues to grow up. And they’ve got an excellent building block in their sophomore guard from ‘Bama.
”I know (Sexton) would have finished incredibly strong, but I do believe that he's one of the guys that will take another big step this summer just because he just chases the game and work so incredibly hard,” concluded Kevin Love.
Sexton has set goals – and there doesn’t seem to be much stopping him once the Young Bull sees red.
"Just to continue to get better all-around, become a better playmaker,” said Sexton. “Just continue to grow and become a leader – whether it's on the court or off the court, just become a better person.
"I felt (making) the Rising Stars game, I know how it feels. So next year and a few years after, I want to push towards that All-Star Game, because I know what it feels like. It just makes me a little bit more hungry and makes me want to work that much harder. So that's what's next.”