The much-heralded "Brooklyn pick" for the Cleveland Cavaliers is dead. Long live new Cavs point guard Collin Sexton.
Nearly 10 months after the team acquired its crown jewel of the Kyrie Irving trade, we have a face to put with it. Sexton is the Cavs' highest draft pick since Andrew Wiggins went first overall in 2014 and will either be the key to a rebuild or an immediate two-way contributor on a championship-hopeful team.
"For me, the playmaking piece was really key," Cleveland general manager Koby Altman told reporters. "I think there were some really good bigs in this draft; I think there were some really good wings in this draft. But this was a point of need and, at that point, you definitely want to take the best talent—but when it aligns it's a really good thing, and we were fortunate that he was there."
Unlike Wiggins when Cleveland traded him for Kevin Love four years ago, Sexton will likely stay with the Cavs. Altman and head coach Tyronn Lue feel he can contribute to a team that's been to four straight Finals, even at age 19.
Altman told reporters:
"I think every expectation is to keep him. I think we've gone through a long process this year of scouting him. Obviously he's a talented, talented point guard who can score, can get into the lane, he's athletic, he has upside. I think his shooting is improving. But what we're trying to be about in Cleveland right now is guys with great attitude, great work ethic and then guys that really want to be here."
Despite being a rookie, Sexton is exactly the type of player the Cavaliers could have used two weeks ago when the Golden State Warriors were sweeping them out of the Finals.
James had to do too much ball-handling, scoring and facilitating, thanks to Irving's absence for the first time in his most recent Cleveland Finals run. Injuries to starting point guard George Hill (back) and Love (concussion) throughout the postseason put even more pressure on James, who watched teammates such as Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood shrivel under the playoff lights.
James' usage rate (35.0) was the third-highest of his 13 trips to the postseason. In years his team won a title, those ratings dropped to an average of 31.1 percent. With James set to turn 34 in December in year No. 16, it's imperative the Cavs get him playmaking help.
This is where Sexton steps in.
Much of his damage is done out of the pick-and-roll, where he ranked in the 87th percentile with 0.957 points per possession. His 5.5 points per game in those scenarios ranked second in the SEC.
Cleveland ran a lot of 1-3 and 1-5 pick-and-rolls with Hill at point guard and either James or Love as the screener. While Hill is a superior outside shooter, Sexton gives Cleveland someone who can split the defenders and look for contact in the paint or kick out to an open shooter.
With his quick first step and initial burst, Sexton can draw attention when he beats his first opponent. He leaves defenses no choice but to drop a second man to help and can recognize the situation and find the open teammate.
No Cavalier besides James does this on a regular basis. Clarkson has the athleticism to draw the defense's gravity but suffers from tunnel vision and too often forces a contested shot. Hill is smart enough to find the open man but at age 32 doesn't possess Sexton's initial speed burst.
"I think what could have helped [LeBron] as well was just another playmaker, another guy to put pressure on the defense," Altman told reporters. "And Collin is explosive. He can get into the paint. He can make stuff happen. He's fast in transition. And I think ball-handling wise he can take the load off LeBron a little bit and again."
Outside the pick-and-roll, Sexton thrives in transition, which is when he can use his speed and quick change of direction.
His head coach at Alabama, Avery Johnson, described him as, "The fastest guy I've ever seen with the basketball," on Kevin Garnett's Area 21. That's some praise, given Johnson spent over 23 years as an NBA player and head coach. Cleveland was the league's second-slowest team at an average of 4.05 miles per hour.
Over 23 percent of Sexton's offense came in transition, where he scored at a rate of 1.099 points per possession. He uses his mixture of speed and a 6'7 ½" wingspan to finish ahead of, through or around defenders.
This plays into how the Cavaliers want to run. A healthy 17.5 percent of Cleveland's total offense was executed in transition, the NBA's fourth-highest mark. Obviously, this could be affected by James' presence, but even a rebuilding team with Sexton, Clarkson, Cedi Osman, Hood and Larry Nance Jr. should be looking to run at every opportunity.
On the other side of the ball, Sexton brings tremendous defensive potential.
Cleveland's old, rickety roster finished 29th in defensive rating in 2017-18, allowing 109.5 points per 100 possessions. Even after their February roster turnover, the Cavs' defensive rating (108.9) remained similar. After witnessing opposing guards torch Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas and Jose Calderon on a nightly basis, fans will welcome Sexton and more of Hill's stops. Lue could even play them together at times, given their 6'7 ½" and 6'9" wingspans, respectively.
The infusion of young, hungry talent that wants to defend and will take matchups personally will be a change of pace for these Cavs, who mostly side-eyed each other and threw their collective arms up as another lackluster effort yielded easy look after easy look.
"[Sexton] is going to defend; he's going to take on the challenge," Altman said. "In this league, it's so hard to guard people. You're not going to shut down the toughest players in the world. You're just not. But you can make it tough for them; you can make it hard for them."
Having someone like Sexton to set the tone with his effort and intensity is something the Cavs haven't had since Matthew Dellavedova, who left in 2016. Sexton can bottle that same energy, but in a more talented frame.
Was drafting Sexton enough to make James stay? NBA execs told B/R's Ken Berger that's not likely. If Cleveland makes other moves, however, and James returns, he'll have a new running mate who plugs some of the Cavaliers' holes and ramps up their transition game from good to great.
Sexton should thrive as a member of the Cavs, either as supporting actor or leading man.