Nothing unintentional about Collin Sexton's breakout season

Collin Sexton is finally putting it together this season. What conclusions can we draw from his improvement?
Collin Sexton throws it down against Washington
Collin Sexton throws it down against Washington / Alex Goodlett/GettyImages
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The Face of the Franchise

Being Cleveland's first draft pick after the second departure of LeBron James, expectations were high. The last time Cleveland used a lottery pick on a point guard, they took Kyrie Irving, so it isn't hard to imagine that Sexton felt pressure to achieve for the regrouping Cavs. In Summer League play, I don't think anyone was doubting his will to meet the challenge of NBA basketball. Just take a look at this clip of his defense in the closing minute of a Summer League game against the Lakers.

Sexton was impressive in his early years with Cleveland. He averaged over 20 points per game in his first 3 years as his stats grew steadily. Injuries limited the Young Bull somewhat, but he still played at least 60 games in his first 3 years. Unfortunately, the Cavs' organization added a wrinkle to Sexton's development and made the league question how dedicated Cleveland was to the Alabama product.

In recent years, we've witnessed the Detroit Pistons overload their backcourt with redundancy. First they picked a point guard, Killian Hayes. In subsequent drafts, they selected two more point guards in Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey. This led to a big problem for Detroit's roster: how do you develop more than one player at the same position without favoring one player over the other? If one player gets more playing time and more reps with the starters in practice, the other player's production is likely to suffer.

In the 2019 draft--immediately following Sexton's rookie season--Cleveland picked another point guard fifth overall. That player was Darius Garland, a shifty, dynamic point guard from Vanderbilt who carried a ton of hype with him. Though he struggled in his first season as a pro, he showed drastic improvement in the following years, even reaching All-Star status in 2022. In the 2022 season, Sexton was the clear PG2 and spent most of the year out with a meniscus tear.

Collin Sexton, Malachi Flynn
Sexton always looks like he's using 200% of his brain to concentrate / Mark Blinch/GettyImages

A narrative had been developing around that time in NBA circles that Sexton produced "empty stats", meaning that he didn't contribute to winning basketball, he just put up good numbers because he was on a bad team that didn't have other scoring options. Being out all season with an injury didn't give Sexton a chance to defend himself from these accusations, and Cleveland had made it clear that Garland was their guy moving forward. When the opportunity to trade for All-Star Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland didn't hesitate to include Sexton in the deal.