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Should Darius Garland and Collin Sexton start together?

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A bad and not-so-young team just got a lot younger. What roles belong to what players?

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers-Press Conference David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports

The last time I wrote in this space we talked about what role, if any, Collin Sexton should play in Cavs draft plans. The basic thought was that his improved play in the last third of the season was at least something to think about, but if you were in love with a point guard prospect you’d still probably end up taking them. That came in the wake of reports of Darius Garland moving up draft boards, and lo and behold, the Cavs do seem to have become enamored with the prospect and selected him fifth overall.

How much they love him is up to interpretation. The day of the draft the feeling was that the Cavs really wanted De’Andre Hunter, but the Hawks moved up and took him before the team’s selection. Even as news of the Garland pick was reported, it was noted that the Cavs were still open to trading it. But it sounds like Garland made a lot of jump shots and missed not very many jump shots in a private workout with the Cavs, and a team that needs star power and shooting decided to roll the dice on Garland, who played a grand total of four complete college games.

You know what? I’m in. I have no idea where Garland can get defensively, and he’ll need a lot of work finishing at the rim. His coaches swear he can pass but I’m not sure of the evidence for that. But he projects as an extremely efficient scorer, and the Cavs don’t have many of those at the moment. His ability to shoot could help him play off ball, whether that’s because of Collin Sexton, or simply because his vision doesn’t get to a high enough level. In short, he has the type of game that helps offenses succeed in the NBA.

In time, he and Sexton might be a nice fit. Sexton has a frame to put on weight, and everyone seems to agree he works hard and will eventually get there. That strength should help him guard multiple positions even if he is just 6’2. Sexton could benefit from attention commanded by Garland and use his strong first step and space to get to the basket. If the Cavs are able to keep Kevin Love or another stretch forward type, both Sexton and Garland would have strong partners for the pick and pop that would also help them get to the rim.

So Garland’s shooting could translate, Sexton has the physical tools to defend at some point, and if Sexton continues to move towards efficiency, you could have a couple creators to put pressure on defenses. How do you develop their skills in the meantime, though?

The Cavs were the worst defense in the NBA last year, and drafting Garland, Dylan Windler, and Kevin Porter, Jr. isn’t going to move you forward. Collin Sexton seemed to play better with a table-setting point guard in Brandon Knight who could direct an offense and get different players to their spots by initiating the offense. It’s in the Cavs interest to play both Sexton and Garland without ball-dominant guards who will feel the need to get shots. Remember, even the Oklahoma City Thunder staggered the minutes of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Kevin Durant. The Miami Heat did the same with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.

It would be hard not to start both Darius Garland and Collin Sexton. Garland is your top five pick. Sexton’s improvement at the end of the year makes a demotion feel wrong. And if the Cavs start with them as lead guards, it’ll make sense. I just don’t know if it will last right away. One, the backcourt defense will be a problem. Two, both are still trying to assert themselves in the league. We saw how Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters struggled to work out the balance. These guys seem to be approaching things better, but life in the NBA is hard for guys in their first and second years. Why increase the level of difficulty?

Eventually, I think you’ll see a starting lineup with Brandon Knight or perhaps Cedi Osman as the nominal shooting guard. Guys who can do some facilitating without needing shots. This will provide space for Garland and Sexton to do their thing on their own whenever they get on the court. Eventually, you hope they can play together, but early on you just want them to feel as comfortable as possible.

The Cavs don’t have the personnel to be good, but they do have the personnel to achieve a good learning environment for their young guards. If Larry Nance, Jr. is healthy he can move the ball and finish lobs. If Tristan Thompson is healthy he can defend a little, set screens, and finish lobs. If Love is healthy, he also helps the defense while providing the aforementioned spacing. Just as Brandon Knight could potentially help Garland as he helped Sexton, Matthew Dellavedova would provide similar traits against bench units. Finally David Nwaba, if he returns, and Osman can help Sexton and Garland hide on opponent’s weak offensive players by guarding ones, twos and threes.

Looking back at what the Cavs did during Kyrie Irving’s development, we can look to see what boxes the Cavs were able to check off.

  • Did they give him a legitimate pick and roll partner? No, I don’t think Tristan Thompson qualifies.
  • Did they surround him with players that cared about defense or could help him learn or grow? Well, Mike Brown tried, but the answer is mostly no.
  • Did they surround him with shooting? No.
  • Did they have him try and work out sharing the ball with another lead guard with an attacking mindset? Yes, and that didn’t end up being helpful, either for Irving or Waiters.

So there are lessons to learn. Koby Altman has assembled options for John Beilein. We’ll see where it goes.