This week had it all. An ugly loss to the Pistons, players frustrated with Collin Sexton’s tunnel vision, thugs and slugs, two nice road wins, and maybe Darius Garland’s breakout game. Here’s what we learned from this up and down week.
Tristan Thompson can score 30-plus points.
Thompson had one of the most impressive games of his career in Detroit on Thursday. He finished with a career high 35 points on 15 of 20 shooting while going five of 6 at the line. Thompson also added in 14 boards, three assists, a steal and three blocks.
Thompson is in the middle of one of his best seasons both on and off the court. He’s been the one veteran that takes every chance he has to defend the young players through his words and actions. On the court he’s having his best statistical season as he is averaging a career high in points, assists, rebounds, and steals. Thompson has done everything he can to show that he deserves and wants to be in Cleveland for the foreseeable future.
Darius Garland is turning the corner.
Garland is beginning to play the game he wants to instead of reacting to what happens around him. The fourth quarter in Denver was the first time that we’ve seen him take over and control the game in Kyrie like fashion.
Garland’s playmaking and ability to score inside the three point line is what has allowed him to play the game his way. Garland’s ability to connect on his floater has changed everything for him. Teams haven’t respected his scoring ability inside the three point line for much of the season. Defenders weren’t leaving their man to help and Garland was forcing low percentage floaters. However, he’s beginning to consistently hit his floaters which have forced teams to collapse more. The rookie’s ability to get inside and score is what allowed him to take over in Denver, not his outside shot. That may be the most encouraging development of the season.
We saw flashes of his playmaking ability at the start of the season, but he didn’t have a good feel of the game yet so we didn’t see much consistency. Garland wasn’t able to get to spots where he could score or set up others. Adding a floater that teams respect has opened up plays like this. Here the threat of his floater forces the defense to collapse and sets up an easy finish for Thompson.
The threat of the outside shot has always been there, but his ability and awareness of how he can attack inside the arc has opened up his playmaking. As a result, he has recorded seven or more assists in four of his six games this month. It’ll be interesting to see how the rookie’s playmaking continues to evolve as he gets more and more comfortable in the league.
You can’t give up on Collin Sexton.
The Cavs have had numerous lottery picks over the last decade. Some of them have gone onto be key pieces of a championship team while others have been busts. However, none of them have been more frustrating to watch than Sexton.
The thing that makes Sexton so frustrating is that he has ability, but his short comings are blatantly obvious. Sexton is fearless. He plays with a reckless abandon which makes him believe he can finish in any situation. That determination may one day be a positive, but right now it’s a negative.
Sexton’s offensive self awareness is remarkably low. Even for a young guard. It’s not that he doesn’t make the right pass, but that he isn’t willing to even look for the pass. When he decides to go to the basket there’s absolutely nothing that can change his mind. This is why he has been blocked a league leading 72 times and has only 87 assists on the season. Watching him put his head down and get blocked at the rim time and time again while teammates are open elsewhere sometimes makes me question why I even watch Cavalier games.
Those frustrations don’t mean that Sexton can’t become a good player. His scoring touch has continuously improved despite his three point shot deserting him for the majority of the season. Sexton has done a much better job of consistently getting to the basket in transition and in the half court. While his volume is higher than you’d like it, there aren’t many 21 year-olds who can put up 18.7 points per game with a 52.9 true shooting percentage.
It gets repeated often, but his determination to improve combined with his skill-set is why you can’t give up on Sexton. We saw it last year with his outside shot and we’re seeing it this year with his work on defense. He’s far from being a decent defender, but we’ve seen flashes of what he can do. His play on that end kept the Cavs in the game against Detroit on Thursday. With under two minutes left, Sexton had a steal which led to an easy Thompson dunk. He followed that up with a game saving block with just over thirty seconds left. The Cavs lose that game if it wasn’t for those two plays.
It’s easy to see why veterans and fans get annoyed with Sexton. There’s a lot he needs to improve on to become a good player. That much is glaringly obvious. However there are skills there that could be worth being patient for. The question is whether the Cavs will be patient enough to get a return on their investment.