The Cavs put together their two signature wins of the season by taking down the Brooklyn Nets in back-to-back games thanks to the outstanding play of Collin Sexton. Unfortunately, the Cavs couldn’t stop the season then. They were quickly and unmercifully brought back down to earth by the Boston Celtics on Sunday night.
Here’s what we learned this week:
Life comes at you fast in the NBA.
This post would look very different if it came out Sunday instead of Monday. The Cavs were justifiably feeling like they were on top of the world after two straight wins over the Nets. This would’ve been a post where I talked about the Cavs’ place in the standings, whether they should be buyers at the deadline, and outlandish things. However, that didn’t happen because the Cavs got run off the floor in Boston as the Celtics beat them 141-103.
This week was a reminder that things can change fast in the NBA, but also that one game doesn’t determine your season. The Cavs are entering what will most likely be a season defining portion of their schedule. They survived horrible injury issues and are 8-8 which is good enough for sixth in the East. This is a major accomplishment for J.B. Bickerstaff. However, things are probably going to get worse before they get better. The Cavs will take on the Lakers, Clippers (twice), Bucks (twice), Suns, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, and Warriors within the next 30 days. How the Cavs handle that stretch will determine just how ready the young players are to take the leap. If they make it to March .500 or better, this is a team that we can take seriously. If not, they’re probably a year away from playoff contention.
Collin Sexton continues to surpass our wildest expectations.
It’s easy to see what Sexton did this week and say that he always had this in him, but that isn’t the case. This isn’t the player we saw his rookie season. Sexton came into the league without a single elite or even good NBA skill outside of his pure speed which he didn’t understand how to use. That has changed and changed quickly thanks to his seemingly supernatural work ethic.
Sexton’s continued rise is made possible by his ability to turn weaknesses into strengths. There’s no better example of this than his outside shooting his rookie season. I know this isn’t new, but I feel it’s worth repeating to show just how quickly and seriously Sexton takes to addressing weaknesses in his game. Sexton shot 14.3% from three on 1 attempt per game during the first month of his rookie season. He completely changed his shot profile through the course of that season as his three-point attempts by month increased from 1 to 1.9, then up to 2.4, then 3.5, then 5.7, and finally 6. His last full month of his rookie season saw him shoot 44.7% from three as well. That’s an unworldly improvement from a guy who refused to take open threes at the outset of the season.
That same steady building and rounding out of Sexton’s game has taken place over the last three years in other, less measurable ways. He came into the league with a loose handle, but now has the confidence to get to his spots on the floor. He didn’t know how to use his speed to draw contact, but now can stop and start in ways that get him to the line with some consistency. And the list could keep on going.
We saw that commitment to improvement pay off in a meaningful and more measurable way this week. Sexton poured in 42 points on 16 of 29 shooting (55.2%) including 20 straight Cavalier points to lift them to victory on Wednesday night. Sexton outdueled Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving and was the best player on the floor that night. Sexton followed that up with 25 points, 9 assists, and 1 turnover in a second consecutive win over the Nets.
The drastic leaps he’s made throughout his young career, and more specifically this season, make it hard to put a ceiling on who Sexton can be. Making one all-star game felt like a complete longshot during his rookie season, but that now feels inevitable. The third-year guard is going into Monday’s game averaging 25.5 points per game with a 57.1 effective field goal percentage. To put that in perspective, Sexton is currently averaging more points and has a better effective field goal percentage than Anthony Davis, LeBron James, James Harden, Donovan Mitchell, and Devin Booker.
The twenty-two year old has already surpassed whatever realistic expectations anybody could’ve had for him. The question is, how much more can Sexton improve? There are still holes in his game as exposed by Sunday’s loss in Boston. But, if we’ve learned anything about Collin, it’s that we shouldn’t try to put a cap on how good he can become.