This was a tough week as the Cavs dropped all three home games to the bottom-feeding Knicks, Wizards, and Bulls. Losing to good teams is one thing, but getting outclassed by fellow lottery teams is another. Here’s what we learned.
Darius Garland has hit the rookie wall.
Garland is in a bit of a rough stretch. His recent field goal numbers look more like concert dates on the back of a t-shirt than they do shooting numbers. Garland has gone 5-16, 4-12, 6-14, 4-20, 4-17 and 4-17 from the field in his last six games.
While this recent drop off is discouraging, it isn’t the end of the world. Garland has shown consistent improvement until this recent tough stretch. Adjusting to the NBA schedule is tough for all rookies, especially someone like Garland who hasn’t physically matured and played only five college games last season.
Larry Nance Jr. has put together an impressive week.
Nance has been doing it all for the bench unit this week. He’s provided a nice scoring punch, rebounding, and secondary playmaking for a unit that has desperately needed it. He’s finished with a double-double in all three games this week and finished with 12 or more points in four of his last five games.
This is the ideal role for Nance. He doesn’t provide enough rim protection to be a starting center and he isn’t versatile enough offensively to be a starting four. However, his skillset is perfect when he’s paired with a second unit center like John Henson who provides solid rim protection. The Cavs have had a +3.7 net rating in the 18 games Nance and Henson have played together and a +22.4 net rating in the three games this week. There aren’t many combinations that make sense on this team, but Nance and Henson are one of them.
Collin Sexton continues his impressive scoring, but other issues remain.
Sexton put together one of the best games of his career in Thursday’s loss to Washington. He finished with 29 points on 10-15 shooting with four assists. Sexton was beating his defender off the dribble all night allowing him to get to the basket at will. This performance highlighted how impressive Sexton has been in January. Since the start of the new year, Sexton is averaging 22.5 points with a 57.1 true shooting percentage.
The frustrating part about Sexton is still the way he gets his points. There’s no denying that his ability to score has vastly improved since coming into the league. He is physically more mature which allows him to finish at the rim better. Beyond that, his shooting and touch around the basket have vastly improved. Despite that, there’s still a fundamental flaw in his game that could prevent him from continuing his progression.
The best scoring undersized guards all have one thing in common, they know how to change speeds well while attacking the basket. Guys like Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry. have learned how to change speeds when driving inside. It’s part of the reason why they are the elite of the elite. This allows them to recognize the help and either adjust their shot to draw contact or find the open man because of that.
Sexton, on the other hand, only plays at one speed. His goal when attacking off the dribble is to get to the rim at all costs. If he gets by his primary defender, he will continue to the basket at breakneck speed. If the backline defense doesn’t rotate over in time, Sexton usually finishes it. If they do, Seton generally tries to finish through the contact which can lead to turnovers or blocks.
The generic complaint is that Sexton has tunnel vision. While that’s true, I believe that is a byproduct of his inability to change speeds. Changing speeds and allowing for the play to develop would allow him to make the extra pass or adjust his shot at the rim which would turn many of those blocks into fouls. Simply put, the game hasn’t slowed down for Sexton. He still feels like the only way to be effective is to do it with pure downhill speed.
Sexton has the skills and athleticism to be a premier scorer in this league. Until he learns how to best use those skills and athleticism, we will most likely see inconsistent overall play from him.