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Precocious Point Guard Plays All 82,
Sets Rookie Marks Along the Way
Season Overview: Some rookies run out of gas as their first season winds down. Collin Sexton got stronger.
For all the numbers we’re going to spill out here – and the Young Bull put up some serious digits – the number 82 might be his most significant. In a season in which injuries depleted the roster and derailed preseason hopes, Sexton was the only Cavalier to suit up for all 82 games this season. (And the first Cavalier to do so since Andre Miller in 1999-2000.)
But the former Alabama star didn’t just cruise to the finish line. He sprinted through it – bouncing back from a so-so start and going on a late-season tear that put him in the same sentence as some all-time greats and could (and should) land him on the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team.
After being taken with the No. 8 overall pick this past June – the final piece of the Kyrie Irving deal from the previous summer – a then-19-year-old Sexton hit the ground running in Vegas Summer League. The Young Bull played in all seven contests and, in a sign of things to come, got better with each passing one – averaging 19.6 points on 43 percent shooting, adding 3.6 boards and 3.3 assists per.
Things weren’t as smooth once the regular season rolled around. Cleveland’s roster went through several permutations throughout the season, including a coaching change six games into the year. Through the first 10 games, Sexton played understudy to George Hill – coming off the bench to start the season before getting his first start on November 7 against Oklahoma City.
Sexton scored at least 20 points in three of December’s first five games, but began running low on steam heading into the holidays and into January – failing to reach the 20-point plateau at any point during that stretch. And over the final three games of the month and first game of February, Sexton looked like he’d finally hit the famed “Rookie Wall” – shooting just 28 percent from the floor over that span.
But he bounced back after the All-Star Break – averaging 22.8 points per in the five games before the midseason classic – and basically riding that heater the rest of the way.
In March, he began posting historic numbers – tallying at least 23 points in a seven-game stretch, becoming the first rookie in franchise history to achieve that feat and becoming the first freshman since Tim Duncan in 1998 to do so.
When that streak came to an end, he still notched 20 points in his next game against the Clippers – joining Ron Harper as the only Cavs rookie to net at least 20 points in eight straight games as well tying Atlanta’s Trae Young for the longest run by any rookie this year.
Over that 13-game span dating back to March 8, Sexton averaged an even 24.0 points per – shooting .524 from the floor, .468 from long-range and .902 from the stripe.
Trae Young and Luka Doncic might’ve gotten the most of the spotlight this season, but Sexton was right at the top of his incoming class.
On the season, the Mableton, Georgia native ranked first in free throw percentage (.839), second in three-point field goal percentage (.402), minutes per game (31.8), third in points per game (16.7), fourth in field goal percentage (.430) and fifth in assists per game (3.0).
No rookie this year rung up more double-digit performances than Sexton this season – topping his class with 73 and tying LeBron James’ total back in 2003-04. (Ron Harper still holds the franchise mark at 80.) Sexton’s 1,371 total points this season only trail Harper and James and are the 10th-most by any NBA rookie since 2009-10.
The knock on Sexton coming out of Alabama was his outside shooting. But he answered that critique emphatically – drilling 119 three-pointers on the season, 46 more than Kyrie Irving, who set the previous mark in 2011-12.
Sexton also became just the third rookie in NBA history to average at least 16.0 points while shooting at least 40 percent from beyond the arc and 80 percent from the stripe – joining a pair of players named Larry Bird and Steph Curry.
In terms of production vs. durability, Sexton became just the second Cavs rookie (joining Harper) to average at least 16.0 points and play in all 82 games and the first NBA rook to do so since Karl-Anthony towns in 2015-16.
Season-long roster overhauls and early-season coaching changes usually spell doom for a rookie point guard, but Sexton seemed impervious to the upheaval around him. And not all roster changes were detrimental to his development. Quite the opposite when it came to a pair of trades that landed veterans Matthew Dellavedova and Brandon Knight.
Delly took some of the late-game pressure off Sexton midway through the campaign and Knight’s presence allowed him to play off the ball almost exclusively down the stretch.
Both moves greatly affected Cleveland’s rookie guard – as did Kevin Love’s return to the lineup just before the Break.
Sexton has some things to work on over the offseason, but he’s proven that he’ll be a solid piece of the Wine & Gold’s future for years to come. And in a couple months, he’ll be paired with Cleveland’s incoming class.
The future is bright in CavalierLand. And the Young Bull is just digging in.
Highlight As stated in the intro, Sexton – who played a grand total of 33 college contests – got stronger as the season progressed. And he finished on a real tear.
The freshman guard closed out the campaign netting double-figures in 23 straight games – tying Brad Daugherty for the fifth-longest rookie streak in team history and longest since LeBron’s 26-game run in 2003-04. This season, only Young (34) and Doncic (26) posted longer streaks.
Of course, Sexton had some outstanding individual outings – dropping 29 points on the Rockets and Wizards in home victories and a 28-point effort, along with the game-clinching triple, against the Raptors in mid-March.
Some of the rook’s best efforts came in defeats, as well, most notably the Cavaliers’ final road contest of the season – rebounding from a rough 1-for-9 start against the World Champion Warriors, going 9-for-13 in the second half as Cleveland nearly overcame a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit for the win. With Steph Curry and Klay Thompson hounding him all night, Sexton finished with 27 points, four assists and a pair of steals without committing a single miscue.
Lowlight Without a doubt, Sexton has proved that he can be a scorer in this league. But he’ll have to work on the finer points of his game if he’s going to continue to develop.
With the aforementioned acquisitions of Dellavedova and Knight, the Young Bull was excused from some point guard duties – mainly distributing the basketball. The Wine & Gold needed his scoring output this year – and he provided it. But his assist numbers were lacking on many nights.
On the season, Sexton posted 57 games where he handed out three or fewer helpers – taking the collar in four contests and handing out a single dime in 10.
Consistent with his strong finish to the year, however, Collin closed out the campaign with a career-high – handing out 10 assists to go with 18 points in the season finale against Charlotte.
Sexton showed than he can be a good passer, but it’s something he’ll have to focus on as the next rookie class rolls in this summer.
Odds and Ends Collin’s older brother, Jordan, played basketball at Hiwassee College in Madisonville, Tennessee.
To no one’s surprise, things got especially heated when the two tangled on the court at home – to the point where they couldn’t even decide a winner.
”We didn’t really finish the games all the time,” smiled Sexton. “Actually, we never finished games because we'd wind up arguing over a foul, start fighting or something like that. We'd never finish. My folks would come in and were like: 'Ok, y'all done playing one-on-one.'”
By the Numbers 21.1, .417 ... Sexton’s scoring average and long-distance shooting percentage over the final 29 games of the season, dating to just before the All-Star Break.
Over that stretch, the rookie raised his scoring average from 14.3 to 16.7 ppg on the season.
Quotable The night he set the Cavaliers rookie record with seven straight 23-point performances …
“It’s pretty cool, but we got the win against the number one team in the East, so that’s even better. I wasn’t even worried about it because when you start worrying about it, then you start pressing. I just let the game come to me, knocked down my open shots and whenever the ball came around, I just played.”
Looking Forward The Cavaliers got everything they expected and much more out of their prized rookie.
He proved to be tough, durable and consistent. His game is far from perfect – but he’s already proven at 20 years of age that he can score the ball with anyone. He doesn’t lack confidence and has shown that he’s not afraid to take and make the big shot.
Like his teammates, he’ll have to adjust to a new coaching staff and system – along with a new group of youngsters.
The league knows all about the Young Bull now. The question is: Can they stop him?