Is Collin Sexton a Starter, a Sixth Man, or a Scapegoat? | SLAM

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have internal frustrations regarding young guard Collin Sexton, who many believe would be best in a bench role.

This is the latest report to come out of the Cavs camp (per Joe Vardon of The Athletic), following a string of eyebrow-raising events surrounding veteran big man Kevin Love, whose frustrations with being on a non-contending team have boiled over on multiple occasions.

Avoiding discourse about the timing of these reports, and inferences drawn by ‘connecting the dots,’ it’s clear that there’s a disconnect between the team Cleveland wants to put on the court and the direction they’re currently headed.

Sexton, averaging career-highs of 24.4 points and 4.1 assists per game on .483 percent shooting from the field and .378 percent shooting from 3-point range, has been the team’s most productive player throughout the season. Despite a long-standing reputation as an offensive blackhole and low-IQ player, Sexton’s demonstrated a steady growth in both his court vision and willingness to pass.

Indeed, when considering the lack of offensive options the Cavs have possessed outside of Sexton, the desire to pigeonhole him in the role of a Sixth Man seems less profound than out-of-touch.

Certainly, a traditionalist would see Sexton’s quick-hitting, score-first style and compare it to the sixth man archetype. Rightly so, I may add.

However, such a viewpoint fails to take into account Sexton’s growth as a facilitator, as well as the role he’s needed to play.

To the latter point, one key example of the importance of the Young Bull’s scoring is seen in the difference between how much he’s scored in wins (29.0 points per game) versus losses (22.2 points per game). There’s not a Sixth Man whose scoring has been as crucial to a win as Sexton’s; not because of his style but because those teams had other high-level scoring options.

It becomes an almost chicken-and-egg issue until you assess Sexton’s growth as a passer and scoring in multiple ways off-ball.

As a passer, Sexton currently has 20 games with at least five assists this season after having just 11 in the 2019-20 season and 12 in the 2018-19 season. Numbers aside, Sexton’s decision-making and court manipulation have improved, with him seeking out an open teammate after getting a step on his man or working his man open with his speed, or the threat of it.

So what gives?

On the one hand, there are clearly times when Sexton calls his own number instead of his teammates, and whether or not it leads to a made shot matters less than that they feel less involved then they want to be.

In some ways, that would seem to be a problem that falls on the coaching staff but they already run a healthy dose of plays that get Sexton off-ball and gets everyone touches. In reality, the onus falls on Sexton to be a bit more willing of a passer; while his shot may give the team the best shot to win, building good habits like heavy ball-movement makes the game more fun for and easier for all.

That being said, it’s an issue that’s largely overblown in the case of Sexton but highlights a larger problem in Cleveland: the reek of egos and poor chemistry. An environment that’s eerily reminiscent of the the days the Cavs had Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters in uniform, and in a power struggle.

Not only is it a terrible show of camaraderie to leak an anonymous and critical report to the media, rather than addressing their teammate directly, but it shows a stunning lack of self-awareness by the Cavs.

After trading away their most skilled perimeter player in Kevin Porter Jr., the Cavs were bound to rely on a young backcourt with inherent flaws and no true way to escape the tension between the two for the remainder of the season.

A tension that may not have been purposely created but was born from the negative media cycle surrounding Sexton since his early days in The Land, in contrast to the tone taken when discussing Darius Garland.

While Porter could very well have emerged as an eventual starter, his skillset complimented both Garland and Sexton equally. Porter may have even been able to start alongside Garland and Sexton, giving Cleveland a three-headed beast on offense.

Without KPJ in-tow and with all of the other problems presented by the Cavs’ lack of overall talent and durability, Sexton has been made to be a scapegoat when his efforts to put Cleveland in playoff contention should be celebrated.

Just a few months ago, Sexton was considered a pillar of the franchise and their cultural backbone.

Now, with the end of their 2020-21 season likely just a couple of weeks away, one has to wonder if Cleveland still views the tough-skinned young guard in the same way.