It’s official: The Cleveland Cavaliers blitzed hard then fell harder, and Collin Sexton won’t be an All-Star in 2021. Truthfully, it shouldn’t come as a surprise—Sexton was a borderline candidate at best, and that was before he and the Cavs tumbled into the abyss in February. Even after accounting for the players picked as reserves, it’s hard to make a case that Sexton should’ve made it over players like Khris Middleton, Trae Young, Domantas Sabonis and Jerami Grant. But fear not! Sexton should have an even better shot to make it next year, when Cleveland is scheduled to host the festivities and he’s a year older.
The Cavaliers are still just in year three of their rebuild, and only one of their regular starters is old enough to have had a reasonable idea of what MySpace was; much of the roster has its best days still ahead of it. Considering how spectacular the flashes have been at times, it’s not completely ludicrous to think wonder whether any Cavaliers could make an appearance in the NBA’s midseason part — all it takes is a little imagination.
To become an All-Star-level NBA big, there are a few paths one can follow:
- The Path of Gobert: It took a year or two longer than it should have, but Utah’s towering center finally became an All-Star in 2019–20. All he had to do was be a one-man defense, be a top-three rebounder, lead the league in dunks, and never turn the ball over! Much of these descriptions can be found in the ‘skills’ section of Jarret Allen’s resumè, albeit at entry levels.
- The Path of...Like, Every All-Star Big That Isn’t Rudy Gobert: ...Yeah, this is how it has to happen these days. Over the last four seasons, only three bigs have made an All-Star team without making at least one three per game: LaMarcus Aldridge (who almost exclusively shoots long twos anyway) Anthony Davis (made 0.9, is Anthony Davis) and Andre Drummond (:/).
What does this mean for the newest member of the Cavalier’s young core? Allen doesn’t (yet) have the counting stats to match Gobert’s, and while Allen scores well in Cleaning the Glass’ defense and rebounding metrics, it’ll be hard for him to emulate Gobert’s career-spanning royal flush. And while he has hinted at stretch-five potential (70 percent on free throws for his career, and the occasional three!), Allen doesn’t offer much in the way of generating offense (1.7 assists per game; assisted on two-thirds of his field goals). He profiles more as a Gobert-esque, low-maintenance finisher, not a Bam Adebayo/Nikola Jokic/Joel Embiid-type creator.
Not that Allen hasn’t demonstrated that he’s every bit the building block the Cavs’ homegrown players look to be. In just over a month, Allen has already settled in as one half of a formidable pick-and-roll partnership alongside Darius Garland. He also recently authored one of the best performances of the NBA season, regardless of team. He’s arguably been the lone bright spot in the Cavs’ February doomfall. And how many players can claim a victim list as prolific as Allen’s? Jarrett Allen is one of the best young bigs in the league and a perfect fit for the modern NBA. It’s just extremely difficult for non-creating bigs to become All-Stars. Whether he ever makes the team or not, Allen should be one of the Cavs’ best players for a long time to come.
Year-one and Year-two Darius Garland might as well be two completely different people. The Cavs’ point guard has upped his production in nearly every statistical category and looks orders of magnitude more confident and in command of both opposing defenders and the Cavaliers’ offense. And since Allen landed in The Land, Garland has time and again demonstrated his expertise as a lob passer.
Garland is an arhythmic scorer; he won’t drive past defenders at warp speed, nor will he pile drive them into the stanchion. Instead, he’ll twitch and jerk his way open like a student driver whose teacher is controlling the brakes, then scoop a wrong-footer off the glass. It’s, uhh, a mixed bag — he’s a pretty good midrange shooter (44 percent, per Cleaning the Glass) subpar finisher (56 percent at the basket), likely because he’s a pack of ramen compared to the colossi who patrol NBA paints.
One of Garland’s prime selling points coming out of Vanderbilt was his anytime-anywhere shooting ability, but curiously (and excruciatingly), his newfound confidence seems confined to inside the arc. Garland is taking almost three more field goal attempts per game (14.5 this year to 11.8 last year), but almost one fewer three per game (5.0 to 4.3). He has a smooth stroke (he’s shooting almost 40 percent), a quick trigger, and the handle to make space. Becoming a more willing shooter could turn the Garland-Allen pick-and-roll into one of the league’s premiere partnerships.
Garland is still very much a work in progress; he owns the fourth-worst net rating of any Cavalier (–12.8 per 100 possessions), and the worst among starters. But shooting from deep beyond the arc has become a game-breaking skill, and Garland looks like he has it down pat, if he would only put it to use. He probably won’t be an All-Star next season, but his long-term potential might be the most tantalizing of any of the young Cavs.
Collin Sexton started this season on a rampage. The third-year guard finished the first month averaging just under 27 points per game, capped off by his wrathofgod-ing of the Brooklyn Nets’ newly formed Big Three. And while he’s since returned to the mortal plane (just over 21 per game since Jan. 22), Sexton is still the braid on the back of his head’s length from being a top-25 scorer on the season (23.1). And even as his scoring has regressed, Sexton has maintained his improvements as a defender (his defensive rating is nearly five points better this season than last) and distributor (career-high 4.2 assists per game with a 19.1 assist percentage).
Those peripheral improvements are encouraging, and considering his maniacal work ethic, they should only continue. But if Sexton makes an All-Star team, it’ll be because his scoring goes from incendiary to full-on thermonuclear. Fortunately, his bag already contains all the ingredients to perform fission—well, all of them except one.
For a dude who’s nicknamed after an animal that’s famous for ramming into shit, Sexton has a shockingly delicate midrange touch. He’s never finished below the 69th percentile in attempts from there, and he’s all the way up in the 97th percentile this year. That’s good! But what’s also good is scoring three points instead of just two, and Sexton, well, doesn’t do enough of that. Despite his established long-range prowess (39.4 career three-point percentage), Sexton still only attempts four three-pointers per night, and 62 percent of his makes from deep are assisted (84th percentile).
That’s not a recipe for an All-Star in 2021. Not with pull-up threes having practically been perfected by Stephen Curry. And Damian Lillard. And Kyrie Irving. And Luka Doncic. And—well, you get it. Sexton has shown he’s capable of draining threes off the dribble this year, even if they are more standstill pull-backs than on-a-dime pull-ups.
Still, Sexton is clearly capable of producing more from outside. I’d say he’ll work on it, but it appears he already is; Sexton is taking six triples per game attempts over his last four. Sexton improving his shot profile should have a multiplicative effect: not only will he be taking more efficient shots, it’ll lead to better opportunities for his devastatingly effective midrange game and cleaner passing lanes. If that Sexton has a legit shot at All-Star home-court advantage next season—and far beyond.