Collin Sexton made some history during his homecoming in Atlanta on Saturday night. While helping the Cavs to a 96-91 victory over the Hawks, Sexton became only the fourth player in franchise history to score 20+ points in each of his first six games of an NBA season. He is the first to do it since – who else – LeBron James in the 2004-05 season. Yes, even GOAT James hadn’t done it since his sophomore year in the league.
The Cavs star guard finished with 27 points on 55% shooting and 40% from three. 13 of those points came in the fourth quarter as Sexton was instrumental in pulling out what looked like an improbable victory after a deplorable first half performance by the Cavaliers. Cleveland has jumped out to a surprising 4-2 record, which ties them for first in the central division, and are the only team to hang an ‘L’ on the conference-leading Sixers. A large chunk of that success is attributable to the one they call ‘Young Bull.’
It has been an up-and-down first three years in the league for Sexton, who has endured a revolving door of head coaches (he’s played under four, already), a position change, after the Cavs selected PG Darius Garland in the 2019 draft, a season cut short due to a pandemic, which has also impacted his preseason, and quickly being labeled a ‘bust’ after an underwhelming rookie campaign.
But fans could see him beginning to turn a corner in the first half of 2020 before the season ended abruptly in March. In January and February, he was averaging over 22 points a game and shooting 46% from three, after scoring below 18 points per game, October through December while shooting well below 33% from beyond the arc. But it was those five March games, before Covid forced a shutdown, that had Cavs fans frothing at the mouth and displayed the trajectory that Sexton was setting himself on. In those contests, he averaged 30 points and shot 58% from the field. And these were largely games against playoff contenders (Utah, Denver, Boston, San Antonio).
After six games in the 2020-21 season, Sexton is doing everything in his power to ensure his name is mentioned in the same breath as those who are considered among the best guards in the game: Lillard, McCollum, Curry, George, Irving, etc. His numbers are hard to ignore. Sexton is currently top 10 in scoring (26ppg) and 3pt shooting (55%). His field goal percentage (55.6%) is also eighth among all guards in the NBA. None of the names mentioned above are doing better than Sexton in any of those metrics.
Suffice to say, Sexton has shaken off the critics and looks anything but a bust. The move to shooting guard has been a blessing for the 22-year-old Georgia native. No longer expected to take on the burden of learning to become the prototypical playmaking, floor general point guard. It was a role he was never really suited for anyway. Sexton has been free to explore and enhance his God-given skill set: that of scoring the basketball. Collin is already one of the best finishers at the basket. But in his last 15+ regular-season games, he has begun to emerge as one of the best shooters of the basketball from beyond the arc. As the numbers above can attest to, coach J.B Bickerstaff put it well when he spoke of Sexton’s scoring prowess following Saturday’s win:
“He’s a walking bucket,” Bickerstaff said. “There are certain people who have a knack for putting the ball in the basket all sorts of ways. The kid is not afraid of the biggest moments. When we needed a basket, he went and manufactured a basket, and that’s a unique skill. We ought to praise that skill because it helps you on nights like this. We were struggling from the field, having a hard time scoring. Guys are scrapping and fighting, but we couldn’t get it going on the offensive end, so it was great to have a weapon like that that can go get a bucket on demand.”
Sexton has also proven he can create shots for his teammates, as well as himself, and has shown flashes of good court vision and improved passing. Although the role of ball distribution has been handed to Garland, with great results, it is good to see Collin embrace cultivating his overall game and honing skills outside of just scoring the basketball.
But it is definitely scoring that Sexton does best. He is so quick and explosive that it makes him nearly impossible to guard. In transition, he is a dangerous one-man wrecking crew. He is currently third in the league in total transition points. If I had one criticism of Sexton, it’s that he doesn’t impose himself on games enough, the way explosive star players do elsewhere in the league. But you can already see these sands shifting. A most notable example was the second half of the Hawks game, where Collin proved himself the Cavs’ indisputable closer with 13 fourth-quarter points, including a clutch three and nailing four late free throws to ice the game.
With Darius Garland is confident in his role as the Cavs point guard, Sexton can continue to blossom, freely, as a potent offensive weapon. It finally looks like the Cavaliers have the starting backcourt they always thought they would have when they drafted the two players in back-to-back years. And in Collin Sexton, they have a legitimate heir to the LeBron James kingdom who can help carry the team to future successes.