The Collin Sexton vs. Trae Young Debate

Sexton vs. Young could be NBA's next big point guard rivalry
by John Denton

CHICAGO - On Jan. 27 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., the basketball world got a sneak peek at the kind of fiery, back-and-forth, on-court battle that could eventually play out in draft rooms throughout the NBA in the weeks leading up to the June 21st NBA Draft.

Trae Young or Collin Sexton? Collin Sexton or Trae Young?

Most mock drafts consider Young and Sexton – both 19 years old and entering the NBA after just one season of college – as the top two point guards available. While Young has a distinct advantage thanks to his seemingly limitless range as a 3-point shooter and his playmaking skills, Sexton has become a fashionable choice for some others because of his abilities as a two-way guard and the undeniable toughness he honed while playing for former NBA standout point guard Avery Johnson at the University of Alabama.

Young, the first and only player to lead NCAA basketball in scoring and assists in the same season, tried to shoot down the comparisons between he and any other point guard on Friday at the NBA Combine in Chicago. Asked if he was the best scorer in this draft, Young showed some of the bravado that helped him average 27.4 points and 8.7 assists a game this past season.

``I think I’m the best overall player in this draft,’’ Young said candidly. ``My main focus isn’t to be the best player in this draft; my goal is to be the best player in the NBA and that’s what I’m focusing on each and every day.’’

Young and Sexton showed off their skills and competitiveness back in January when Young brought his Oklahoma Sooners into Alabama to face off with Sexton in a nationally televised, highly anticipated game. And the fans weren’t the only ones with their eyes glued to the point guard showdown as 55 scouts from 25 NBA teams descended on Tuscaloosa for the contentious, afternoon affair.

In Alabama’s 80-73 defeat of Oklahoma, Sexton scored 18 points on just 14 shots and grabbed three rebounds, but he had one more turnover (three) than he did assists (two). Young was blatantly face-guarded and double-teamed as soon as he crossed half court and hounded by fans all afternoon, but he still managed 17 points, four 3-pointers and eight assists. The intense pressure and lack of help from his teammates took a toll, however, as he turned the ball over five times, missed 11 of 17 shots and saw a couple of his 3-point shots result in air balls.

Sexton, who one anonymous scout told Bleacher Report was ``bigger, stronger and more athletic’’ than Young, is hopeful that NBA teams keep that night in mind when picking in next month’s draft. Humble and well-schooled in how to remain so by Johnson, Sexton said in Chicago at the NBA Combine that it absolutely mattered to him that he be the first point guard drafted.

``I feel like it will serve as a measuring stick because they’ll look at that game to see what really happened, look at the matchup and who played the harder game and who played the most physical,’’ Sexton said candidly. ``Yes, it would be special to be the first guard picked, but I just have to go with the best team that picks me.’’

Added Young: ``That was a very competitive game. Collin is a very good player on both ends. He’s somebody who competes at a high level and it was fun competing against him. It was a good game.’’

One team that could be in line to pick either Young or Sexton is the Orlando Magic, owners of the No. 6 selection following Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery. The Magic met with both point guards this week and hope to bring them to Orlando in the coming weeks for individual workouts and additional meetings.

It will be the second consecutive year that the rebuilding Magic pick sixth and they will undoubtedly be looking for a young player who can grow alongside of 20-year-old forward Jonathan Isaac. Playing with the 6-foot-11, 222-pound Isaac would be nothing new to Young.

``I’ve known Jonathan since I was in high school,’’ said Young, who attended high school in Norman, Okla. and stayed home for college. ``We’ve played with each other and against each other in AAU and I’ve actually talked to him a few times this year. I mean, he’s a good dude. I love his skill set, he’s a really good player and he had a good rookie year. I can’t wait to see his continued success, for sure.’’

In February, Orlando traded Elfrid Payton – its point guard for 3 ½ seasons – to the Phoenix Suns because of his struggles shooting and defending. That left the Magic with reliable veterans D.J. Augustin and Shelvin Mack at point guard, but without a true difference maker at the position that has become the deepest and arguably the most vital.

``The way the league is evolving, the point guard position has become one of, if not the most important, position," Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said. "You’ve got to have guys who can play that position in a traditional sense in terms of being able to facilitate and establish a rhythm for others and also being able to score. That position continues to evolve as the game does and then, obviously, the rise of two-way players (is important). Guys who can maybe not contain the ball entirely, but they can at least steer it where you want it to go.’’

Despite his sleight frame, Young steered Oklahoma to one of the most exhilarating seasons in school history because of his ability to pile up points and keep teammates involved. His roster didn’t have another top-100-rated player around him, so he shouldered an enormous load, scoring 25 points 21 times, 30 points 10 times and authoring four 40-point games.

Clearly fatigued by a usage rate that would make NBA MVP Russell Westbrook seem passive, Young wore down as the season progressed. In the time since Oklahoma was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Rhode Island (he had 28 points, seven assists and five rebounds), Young said he’s worked to improve his strength and stamina. The progress he has made, he stressed, is just the start of the greatness that he will display in the NBA for whatever team that is wise enough to draft him.

``Right now, my main focus is getting my body right,’’ said Young, who added that he’s continued to work out in Chicago before hours of meetings with teams and prospective shoe companies. ``I’ve picked up 10 pounds of muscle in the past five weeks and we’re still five weeks off from the draft and I’m in the same process of getting my body ready to handle 82 games in the season.

``I’m excited about getting the opportunity to show people that I can play defense,’’ he added. ``I’m actually super excited to show that from Day 1.’’

The same goes for Sexton, who just might be more of a complete guard because of his blinding speed, toughness and willing to fight. Sexton was at his best when the games were the biggest, crafting his best performances against Young (eight-of-14 shooting) and in the SEC Tournament (26.3 ppg., 5.1 rpg., 3.0 apg.) and NCAA Tournament (25 points against Virginia Tech and 17 vs. eventual National Champion Villanova). That, he says, tells a lot about his competitive nature and his ability to be great.

``I like playing on the big stage and I feel like that’s what makes me really thrive. I really want to do good when it’s a big stage. That’s when I feel like it’s time,’’ Sexton said. ``I bring leadership, an ability to score and I’m able to put the ball on the floor, use my speed and play both ends – that’s real big in the NBA, too.’’

The major difference between Young and Sexton is their abilities as outside shooters – Young connected on 36 percent of his threes, while Sexton hit only 33.6 percent from beyond the arc. Sexton said he’s working diligently to improve his outside shot and eventually he will be seen as the more complete guard – even when compared to Young.

``I feel like I play both ends of the court and I play a lot more physical,’’ the former Alabama star said. ``I can use my speed, my ability and my athleticism to my advantage.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.