In Praise of Collin Sexton
When I was evaluating the Cleveland Cavaliers at the midterm, I said that 'I don't get the Collin Sexton animosity,' and I don't. He was passed over multiple times for a spot in the Rising Stars Challenge -- both for the initial roster and as an injury replacement -- and is routinely omitted in the discussion of the best rookies in the league.
While no one is disputing the selection of DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr., or Trae Young, was Josh Okogie and his 7.6 points, 1.2 assists, and 3.0 rebounds per game a can't-miss inclusion? How can you have a list of the top rookies without Rodions Kurucs and his 8.8-0.7-3.6 statline? The Cavs are a franchise in the wilderness -- was it too much for them to get both Cedi Osman AND Collin Sexton in this game?
But I digress.
Collin Sexton is not a perfect basketball player, but he may be exactly what the Cavs need as they move forward in the LeBron-less era, which includes the same number of postseason appearances as the LeBron-ful era in Los Angeles, I'll note. What makes him so special? His work ethic.
Something that gets underrated in the modern NBA is how much losing wears on young players. These young men have been the best of the best all of their lives. They led their high schools and AAU teams to state and national championships, and been part of the best programs the NCAA has to offer. With the way our professional drafts work, the best players are then ticketed for the worst teams: when we checked in with the Cavs at the All-Star break, they were 12-46. It's not improbable that Collin Sexton hadn't lost 46 games TOTAL since his high school career began -- how does a young player who has never known consistent defeat cope with it?
By resolving to defeat it. So often in the Association we hear about how veterans are needed to show younger players how to practice, how to care for their bodies, how to manage going from a college student to a pro. The spotlight shines brighter, the target is bigger, the money is more than most have ever had or dreamed of. When your youngest player is your hardest worker, and the example comes naturally from the bottom instead of filtering down from the top? That's an NBA franchise's dream.
In that dream, a player whose three-point shot was considered a liability suddenly owns the team record for made threes in his rookie year, like Sexton does for the Cavs, at 105 and counting. In that dream, he's second on the team in minutes played and first in three-point shooting percentage with a 41.3% mark that's in the top 20 in the entire league. In that dream, they have to lock him out of the gym instead of drag him in to better himself.
Collin Sexton is not a perfect basketball player; he'll be the first to tell you that. But he’ll also tell you that he won’t stop until he becomes one. Where the league was first critical, his efforts have not gone unnoticed. As Zach Lowe remarked in his recent deep-dive: even amongst the NBA cognoscenti, Collin Sexton 'is kinda starting to happen.'