Koby Altman and the rest of the Cavs brass, for better or worse, have made the guards the foundation of this rebuild. The jury is still out on whether the Collin Sexton and Darius Garland backcourt can work long term. This season will go a long way in determining their long-term viability together.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at what this season has in store for the guards.
Most on the Line: Darius Garland
You can easily excuse Garland’s disappointing play from last season. He missed part of training camp due to a lingering injury from college, he played only a handful of games in college, point guard is the hardest position to adjust to out of college, and the list could keep on going. Those excuses will not be there this season.
There’s reason to believe that the second-year guard will have a major bounce back season. Reports from the bubble and training camp have been nothing but positive. But reports don’t mean anything if it isn’t backed up on the court.
It takes guards three or four years to truly adjust to the league. This isn’t a make-or-break season by any stretch. However, it is important that we see tangible improvements from what we saw nine months ago.
Biggest Wildcard: Dante Exum
Exum is exactly what you want from a guard physically. He has the height and athleticism to be a problem on both ends. Unfortunately, those advantages haven’t made him as good of a player as many were hoping.
Exum showed flashes of what the best version of himself looks like last season. He had an incredible performance against Minnesota where he poured in 28 points off the bench on 11 of 13 shooting. He sprinkled in some promising performances prior to his injury in late February. Those promising performances were far from the norm. Exum averaged 5.6 points and 1.4 assists per game in his 24 games with the Cavs .
Exum will have to work for a spot in the rotation this season. The Cavs have made it clear that they want to give Kevin Porter Jr. time running the second unit offense. It’s also hard to imagine Exum is going to be given playing time over Dylan Windler or Isaac Okoro unless he’s shown something in camp or preseason that would prove he deserves it.
Exum has the tangible skills to be good rotation piece. At 25, there’s reason to believe that he could still grow into that player. Whether or not he can make the most of the limited opportunities he has left remains to be seen.
Projected MVP: Collin Sexton
Sexton took a big step forward last season after the Jordan Clarkson trade. There’s a reason we’ve thrown around his stat line of 23.3 points per game and 3.3 assists on 49/43.3/86% shooting in the 46 games after the trade. It’s really impressive. Especially for someone who looked lost on the court at times during his rookie season.
It’s unreasonable to believe he will take as big of a leap this season, but I’m confident we will at least get more of the same. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the best player on the roster this upcoming season. That’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d say just a year and a half ago.
Biggest Storyline: Will the “Sexland” backcourt work long-term?
The Cavs have a lot invested in this backcourt. The only viable way forward is for the pair to work well together on the court or one of them needs to be shipped out. There probably isn’t another way around that.
The Cavs struggled when Sexton and Garland shared the floor last year as they finished the season with a -10.8 net rating in the over 1,200 minutes they played together. While that was to be expected in the first year of their partnership, ideally, we’d like to see drastic improvements in their ability to work together.
There are reasons to believe that they can work better this season. Sexton has been working on his ability to play off-ball more which will certainly help with the overall flow of the offense. Both players have also put on some much-needed weight and muscle given their size which should help considerably.
The fact remains that they need to work well together. Even if one of these players was moved to the bench, they would still be forced to share the floor together for long stretches. You don’t draft players that high in the draft and have them play under 30 minutes a game.
Altman knew the risk he was taking by drafting smaller guards in back-to-back season. While this isn’t a make-or-break season for this duo together, there will be a point down the road where a decision about the long-term viability together will need to be made.
Next up tomorrow: The Cavs’ wings.