the outlet pass

Cavs Rookie is Really Great at This Really Bad Thing

If Collin Sexton can flesh out the other areas of his game, however, he can become a real problem for opposing defenses.

by Michael Pina
Dec 7 2018, 5:52pm

Photo by CJ Gunter/EPA-EFE

The below has been excerpted from this week's Outlet Pass, to get caught up on everything else you need to know in the NBA this week read the rest of the column here.

Collin Sexton owns one of the most maddening and admirable shot charts in basketball. Guards who fetishize long twos and struggle-face their way into the paint with little to show for it unnecessarily wander uphill while leaving countless points on the table. But, as Cleveland’s physical representation of a silver lining, Sexton (who’s still 19) isn’t afraid to prioritize his own comfort zone over what NBA tastemakers deem obligatory. It’s clear from watching him that threes aren’t necessarily outside his range, but, for now, Sexton and the Cavs are fine with him cozying up to an area on the floor that just about everyone else in the league has abandoned.

“He’s taken what the defense has given him,” Cavs head coach Larry Drew said. “I think as he continues to mature, continues to grow and develop, he’ll start to understand, you know, that you just take a little step back and you get another point. But right now he’s playing off feel.”

Not only does Sexton gorge on the game’s least efficient shot more often than anybody else, but the gap between him and the pack is jarring. According to Cleaning the Glass, 43 percent of Sexton’s shots are long twos. For reference, that’s one point below DeMar DeRozan’s career high and last year’s league leader finished at 38 percent. “That’s just what they’re giving me,” Sexton told VICE Sports. “I have to take advantage and make it.”

Not even 30 games into his career, this doesn’t need to induce a freakout. But just so we’re clear, threes matter, and Sexton will eventually need to take more than 1.6 per game if he wants to widen his own margin for error. The upshot of a mid-range diet typically is not an efficient scorer. The Cavs would like Sexton to eventually be an efficient scorer. The good news is there doesn’t appear to be any sort of unnerving impediment holding him back. His range will someday extend by a few feet without any need to rework shot mechanics or speed up his release, and he’s already shown a willingness to pull up in the face of defenders who duck under his screen.

Sexton’s warm-up routine before games mostly focuses on the tight pull ups that account for a huge chunk of his shot selection, but Cleveland’s coaches also want to simulate the cushion defenders regularly give him above the break.

Earlier this week, before Cleveland’s shootaround began, Sexton and a handful of coaches had half the court to themselves. On the other side, a few Cavs (Alec Burks, Channing Frye, Sam Dekker, and a couple more) walked through sets with Coach Drew. For Sexton, the goal was to sharpen his entire off-the-dribble attack. He snaked pick and rolls as a coach instructed him to step forward towards the paint instead of back to the arc as he weaved middle off a screen, so as to prevent his man from recovering to bother his shot.

“Attack the nail!” they shout, referencing the exact middle of the free-throw line. Speed is important, but this particular sequence is pointless unless Sexton can get his defender on his hip and lock him in jail. Learning such nuance does not happen overnight, but is crucial to his development. Until he figures it out, Sexton will take some difficult shots that don’t need to be so hard.

He then spent ten minutes implementing patience into his side pick-and-roll, setting his big man up to re-screen and let him get downhill for an easier jump shot when his man goes under the pick. For Sexton, these smooth pull-ups are great to keep in his back pocket, especially after the three becomes a regular part of his arsenal and opponents work to take that away. In the meantime, not every long two is created equal. Like, this should never, ever, ever happen in an NBA game:

Sexton doesn’t completely abandon layups or threes—he’s 18-for-39 beyond the arc and isn’t bashful when given enough space and time to let one go—and that’s notable. But his next step will be to initiate pull-up threes instead of settling into them because that’s what the defense wants.

“It’s there,” he told VICE Sports. “I’ve just got to take more reps and not be afraid to shoot...I’m not at all [shy about shooting threes], but if they’re gonna sag back off me I’ve gotta be able to knock that 15 footer down.”

Coach Drew has not instructed Sexton to take more threes, and so long as the Cavaliers are playing to lose, the rookie’s shot selection is sufficient. Frankly, when he makes them at an effective clip (currently 44 percent, which isn’t bad), the threat of a mid-range jumper accentuates Sexton’s blinding speed and forces defenders to guard him tighter than they want to. Ignore his first ten games (all off the bench) and Sexton’s averaging 17.8 points on very impressive shooting splits. He went 3-for-3 beyond the arc on Wednesday night against the Golden State Warriors. So long as he and the organization are happy letting his scope expand organically, Sexton can become one of the more dynamic scorers at his position. Attach a potent mid-range pull-up and reliable three ball to Sexton’s uncanny speed and someday defenses won’t know what the hell to do with him.

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports US.