The Cleveland Cavaliers finished up one of their more exciting weeks of the year. Collin Sexton continued his string of impressive play as the Cavs were able to pick up wins over Detroit and Milwaukee. Here’s what we learned this week.
Collin Sexton can be good in crunch time.
Sexton closed out both wins for the Cavs this week with his play down the stretch. The rookie showed his continued confidence in his three-point shot by closing the game against Detroit with a pull-up three. He followed that up by clinching the game against Milwaukee by taking Ersan Ilyasova to the basket after the defense switched.
It’s nice to see Sexton make big shots when the game is on the line, but it’s more encouraging that he isn’t afraid to pass out of the final shot if the shot isn’t there. In the play below Sexton once again attacked the basket after getting the defense to switch. This time the Bucks collapsed in the paint and Sexton was able to find Cedi Osman wide open in the corner.
Passing is still one of Sexton’s biggest weaknesses, but it’s encouraging to see him make the right play when the game in on the line.
Teams are respecting Larry Nance Jr.’s three-point shot.
Nance has put together a solid season. He’s made improvements in his game on the defensive end of the floor while showing that he has skills as a secondary creator in the half-court. Arguably Nance’s biggest improvement this year has come with the addition of an outside shot. Nance is hitting 36 percent of his three point shots in 1.6 attempts per game on the season. That’s a huge leap for a guy who never averaged more than 0.6 attempts per game.
Nance may never become a high volume outside shooter, but teams are starting to guard him like he is and that alone is enough to transform his game. In this play JaMychal Green closes out hard on Nance as he catches the ball at the top of the arc. Nance uses a pump fakes to take Green out of the play which leads to an easy two points with a lob to Tristan Thompson.
Most defenders aren’t closing out this hard on Nance, as Milwaukee basically dared Nance to shoot anytime he received the ball behind the arc Sunday afternoon. However, the play above illustrates just how dangerous he can be if teams are respecting his outside shot.
The Cavaliers haven’t given up.
This has been a frustrating season given the injuries and the expectations of competing for a playoff spot even if those expectations weren’t realistic. It appeared at times that the coaching staff didn’t want to be here and I couldn’t blame any players if they felt the same way. Fortunately that has turned around as the Cavs have gotten healthy. One of the things that has really stood out about this team after the all-star break is how much they care about winning, which generally isn’t the case for a tanking team.
One of the benefits of the new lottery odds is that it doesn’t severely penalize bottom of the league teams for finishing the season strong. We’ve been able to see Sexton, Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic finish the year around a veteran core that is still trying to win games which has brought the best out of everyone. Osman and Zizic have looked good at times playing in roles more suited for them while Sexton is in the midst of his best stretch of basketball this season.
Arguably the Cavs biggest problem for the better part of the last two decades has been trying to set a culture apart from LeBron James. For the first time this season there have been glimpses of what a proper culture in Cleveland could look like. Hopefully the Cavs can build on how they’ve competed to finish the year into the off-season and beyond. Larry Drew’s staff is flawed, but they do deserve credit for how this team has bought in to end the season.
Sexton can be an efficient scorer.
Sexton completed another solid week as he finished the week averaging 22.5 points per game on .547/.522/.88.9 shooting splits. We saw just how good the rookie can be as he led the Cavs to two straight wins over playoff teams. What has stood out about Sexton’s play recently is just how consistent he’s becoming. Sexton didn’t have his best stuff Sunday against Milwaukee, but he still found a way to positively contribute. Games like that simply didn’t happen earlier in the season.
It’s not wise to judge a player based on how they look on their best or worst nights. What we’re seeing from Sexton isn’t a stretch of good games, but a sustained period of efficient scoring. Sexton has been the Cavs’ best offensive player for almost two months now. Since the beginning of February, Sexton is leading the team in points with 20.7 during that stretch with a true shooting percentage of 57.2.
Two months isn’t a particularly large sample size, but it’s becoming clearer with each passing week that Sexton has the skill set to be an efficient scorer in the league. That’s not something many would’ve said about him before the year started.