The most important foundational piece to a successful NBA team is a superstar point guard, and the best way to find that guy is usually in the lottery of the draft.
The point guards who excite execs the most, or seem to have the lowest failure quotient, are those who are a blur with the basketball—pre-injury Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and John Wall types. The strategy is not always fool-proof. The jury is still out on some recent picks sold in the Rose-Westbrook-Wall mold such as Emmanuel Mudiay and De'Aaron Fox, but that type of athlete with burst is usually a good starting point for finding the closest thing to a surefire hit.
And that brings us to the next speed demon in line: Alabama's Collin Sexton.
While Oklahoma freshman Trae Young has captured the college basketball world's attention with his outlandish numbers and shot-making ability, Sexton is at the top of point guard wish lists for the 2018 draft.
He checks most of the boxes for NBA potential. He's not only fast with the basketball, but he also has a tight handle and an advanced feel in knowing how to use a ball screen and his quickness.
"I think that him and Trae Young are really separating themselves from [Duke's] Trevon Duval in terms of the top point guards in this class," an NBA scout told Bleacher Report. "There are just too many concerns with Duval's shooting, and Sexton's a two-way player. You never have to worry about him trying hard."
What could end up the best example of this and the go-to proof for teams convincing themselves to target Sexton is his performance against Minnesota in one of the most bizarre college basketball games ever.
Sexton and the Crimson Tide were forced to play four-on-five and then three-on-five for the final 11 minutes and 37 seconds after most of the roster was ejected for leaving the bench during a scuffle on the floor. During that time, Sexton scored 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting with an assist and just one turnover. He finished with 40 points on 22 shots to go with five assists.
It was a scenario scouts would like to put any point guard prospect through. In the NBA, the players are more athletic, bigger and smarter. It's almost like playing against extra defenders.
Sexton still found a way, using his speed to create angles and attack. He also got to his spots and nailed 3-of-5 threes off the bounce.
His jump shot, or at least its early results, put him ahead of schedule of some of his quick-twitch predecessors. He's shooting 43.2 percent from beyond the arc, although the sample size is small (only 37 attempts). He also made just 32.5 percent of his three-pointers on the Nike EYBL circuit in 2016, so his percentage could regress toward the mean, but the start is promising.
He hasn't done much in catch-and-shoot scenarios—2-of-6, according to Synergy's tracking data—but he's been excellent shooting off the bounce, knocking down 17 of 39 jumpers. That's a much more attractive skill in an NBA point guard than the ability to knock down catch-and-shoot jumpers, which is easier to develop through repetition.
Sexton's work using ball screens has also been impressive. He's scoring 1.076 points per possession, according to Synergy, which is a high mark, especially for a freshman.
Working out of pick-and-rolls is like a dance. The best guards know the steps and when to go slow or pick up the pace. It's often an adjustment in college with the number of different ways coaches will game-plan against ball screens, but Sexton usually makes the right calls: when to pass, when to split or when to reject the screen and go the other way.
It's difficult to simply look at numbers and project what kind of NBA player a prospect will be, but Sexton compares favorably to the elite 2016 freshman point guard class and to Rose and Wall as freshmen. It's still early, so his advanced numbers could regress, but his ability to get to the foul line should help him score consistently in college, and that's usually transferable to the NBA. (He is drawing an NCAA-best 9.3 fouls per 40 minutes, according to KenPom.com.)
|Collin Sexton vs. former one-and-done PGs|
|Off. rating||%Poss||Ast. Rate||TO%||FT Rate|
|Collin Sexton, Alabama (17-18)||120.3||32.3||24.6||13.2||76.2|
|Markelle Fultz, Wash. (16-17)||113.6||31.6||35.5||15.6||38.3|
|Lonzo Ball, UCLA (16-17)||129.5||30.1||31.4||18.9||28.6|
|De'Aaron Fox, UK (16-17)||110.7||27.8||28.6||15.8||47.4|
|Dennis Smith Jr., NC State (16-17)||109.5||28.4||34.2||19.0||47.6|
|John Wall, UK (09-10)||108.0||27.3||34.8||24.0||53.0|
|Derrick Rose, Memphis (07-08)||111.8||27.2||30.4||19.1||47.0|
The one area Sexton lags behind is assist rate. He doesn't have awesome vision, but he has good court sense and is a willing passer. He usually makes the right play and doesn't try to squeeze in difficult passes, which is why his turnover rate is so low.
Sexton is also able to pass with both hands and can do so with accuracy and zip.
On the defensive end, Sexton has his freshman moments and displays some sleepiness away from the ball. He's given up 20 unguarded jumpers, according to Synergy's tracking. But he is quick laterally and seems to take pride in getting in a stance and keeping his man in front of him.
As Young continues to put up huge numbers and Steph Curry-like highlights, he'll make imaginations run wild and get a lot of attention. But in some conversations with NBA scouts, they seem to be trying to figure out if he'll project to be more like Curry or someone like Jimmer Fredette.
It's just easier to see what Sexton's doing and project it to the NBA game. It doesn't mean he'll end up the better pro. But he's the safer pick, and if he can sustain the consistency he's shown, he'll likely find himself in the top five of the 2018 draft.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball at the national level for Bleacher Report. You can find him on Twitter @CJMooreHoops.