Collin Sexton is Russell Westbrook*

Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Cavaliers News, Collin Sexton

Collin Sexton is a year and a half into his NBA career and the questions have plagued him since his first dribble. Who’s game does his most resemble? Can he become Player X or Player Y? The public compares no professional athletes to their counterparts like those in the NBA. Sexton’s game doesn’t allow for a straight one-to-one comparison, however. Still, he looks an awful lot like Russell Westbrook.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Sexton will never be Westbrook. He will not win an MVP, and he’ll never average a triple double. Chances are he won’t make even one All-Star game. Sexton’s lack of size compared to Russ prevents him from being as good a rebounder from the guard position. He doesn’t possess Westbrook’s abilities as a passer, either. For comparison’s sake, lets use Russ’ second year as a pro to compare to Sexton this year. That season, Russ averaged 8 assists. Sexton averages 2.3 to this point in the season. Westbrook played with Kevin Durant and Sexton has never shared the floor with anyone close to that talent level. Still, Sexton plays with blinders on. He has one goal, and that is to score.

So why make this comparison? Simple. Both are bulls on the floor. They’re players you want to go into battle with. Sexton is the hardest working player on the floor every night. He’s diving for loose balls. He goes hard at the rim, regardless of who is in his way, sometimes to his detriment. No one can accuse Sexton of not caring or not wanting to win. When he takes the floor, he believes he’s the best player on it. He backs down from no challenge; he’s unafraid to play the game his way. Sound familiar?

Sexton is one of, if not the quickest, players in the league, a title Westbrook owned for many years. It’s Sexton’s greatest strength. He’s lethal in the open floor and attacks if given space in the half court. If he sees daylight off a pick and roll, he’s at the rim. His speed frees him for most his shots. It’s his one elite level skill. While he doesn’t have the athleticism to unleash the rim rattling dunks Westbrook is known for, both end up at the rim because of their quickness with the ball in their hands.

Sexton and Westbrook also love the mid-range shot, a habit the Cavs have weaned Sexton from. The Rockets, a team that detests mid-range jumpers, only allow Russ these shots; he hoists most of his team’s unanalytic jumpers. In the first half of his rookie year, Sexton shot too often from mid-range before the Cavs organization steered him toward more advantageous spots on the floor. Last year, 21% of Sexton’s shots were from the 16 foot-3 point line range. This year that number is 6%. In Russ’ second year, 38% came from there; it’s the same percentage this year. While Westbrook got caught in the switch from mid-range jumpers to 3 pointers, Sexton’s push away from the basket came early in his career.

Both attack the rim. Sexton takes 32% of his shots at the rim; Westbrook took 39% his second season. The difference is their 3 point shooting. 9% of Westbrook’s shots were 3’s, making 22% of them. Sexton takes 3’s at a 21% clip, canning 32%. Neither is a great shooter; the NBA game calls for Sexton to take more shots from behind the arc. Shooters shoot, however. Sexton averages 16 attempts per game and shoots 45% from the field, Westbrook averaged 21 on 42% shooting. Both are inefficient scorers, though the Cavs and, to his credit, Sexton, work to get him shots either from 3 or at the rim.

A Westbrookian possession

A frustrating part of Sexton’s game continues to be possessions in which he dribbles, dribbles, and dribbles before hoisting an 18 footer. Think back to the rise of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden on the floor at once. How many times in close games would Westbrook grab a rebound, dribble up the floor, probe, probe, probe the defense, wave off a screen, beat his man off the dribble, then pull up for a foul line jumper? Frustration from fans and media never deterred Westbrook, however, proving his strength and self-confidence.

These possessions I could do without

Again, Sexton does not play with the same talent as a young Westbrook, but the complaints are the same. Too often, Sexton takes control of the offense, leaning on his own talent instead of attempting to include his teammates. If he scores, great. If he misses, he’s selfish and unable to read the situation and involve his teammates. Sexton’s self-confidence can hold him back.

The confidence, hustle, and self-belief in both Collin Sexton and Russell Westbrook make for a good comparison. Each leaves every ounce they have on the floor, using devastating speed and hard work to their advantage. They need their confidence and ability to handle criticism to withstand the noise directed toward their unorthodox games. Both are frustrating, yet marvelous players to watch. Sexton will never reach the All-Star, MVP level of Westbrook, but he’ll continue to fight his way through the league. A poor man’s Brodie.

What’s What Around the League

1. The Ballad of Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota took an upbeat turn at the start of this season, yet the old tune has returned in 2020. A fun start, he’s regressed to the mean. His shooting percentages are now lower than his career averages and the T-Wolves are back to their old, haphazard ways. A thwarted comeback in Indiana showed his shortfalls. Wiggins helped lead the squad back from a 10 point 4th quarter deficit, attacking the basket for layups and drawn fouls. In the last two minutes, however, he missed 2 shots at the rim and stepped out of bounds, turning the ball over in a crucial spot. While some players step up during crunch time, Wiggins retreats.

2. No matter who Milwaukee runs onto the floor, Mike Budenholzer’s squad doesn’t miss a beat. A hodge podge of youngish players mixed with seasoned vets have coalesced around Giannis Antetokounmpo, complementing the MVP perfectly. George Hill leads the league in 3 point shooting at 53%. The Lopez twins play outstanding interior defense, masking the deficiencies of their teammates. But at the center, Giannis dominates, sucking the air out of opponents. While Miami is feisty, Philly talented, and Boston and Toronto lurking, the Bucks have no excuse but to cruise to the Finals. Can they win it? The pressure then will fall onto Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe. Miscast as 2nd and 3rd options on a contender, each would be better off a rung lower on the hierarchy. Will they step up in the playoffs, giving Giannis the smidge of help he’ll need for Milwaukee to hoist the trophy?

3. This is nothing more than a Ja Morant stan account at this point.

4. Though his teammate owns the award, here’s a vote for Montrezl Harrell for sixth man of the year. He averages 19 and 7 for the Clips, giving them a presence inside on an otherwise perimeter heavy team. While Ivica Zubac starts, it’s Harrell who plays the important minutes. He forms an unstoppable pick and roll combo with Lou Williams; his mixture of quickness, strength, and touch around the rim makes him unguardable for most bigs in the league. While Williams can gyrate from scorching to ice cold, Harrell is a rock. Doc Rivers knows what he’s getting when Trez steps on the floor. Will his defense hold up in the playoffs, however? Match-ups with Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert, and Nikola Jokic await. L.A. will count on Harrell to guard these All-Star bigs in crunch time. How he performs on that end will determine the Clippers’ fate.

5. The Grizzlies are on fire, having won 7 in a row and 9 of 11, taking over the 8th seed in the West. Ja Morant leads the charge, but don’t overlook the success of his backcourt mate Dillon Brooks. The Griz have just one loss when he scores at least 20, and during the winning streak he’s averaging 21 on 46% shooting, 48% from 3. Brooks makes a perfect safety valve for Morant, a spot up shooter he can find when other avenues close. The most help he gives the rookie, however, is on defense. Ja is just 6’3” and a wiry 175 pounds. At 6’7”, 200, Brooks possesses the size to guard bigger, stronger wings Morant struggles with. The Grizzles have the look of a franchise that will contend for the next decade. Configuring the correct pieces around Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. will decide how much of a force Memphis will be. Brooks is a free agent after the season, and a must re-sign for the Grizzles front office. He’ll get a large raise from the 1.6 million he’s making this year, but with just 57 million on the books for 2020-21, the time for Memphis to pay up is now, before Morant and Jackson Jr. are due.

6. The definition of a bad NBA shot.

Wide open 3, two dribbles into a contested 18 footer

7. Zion awaits, and the NBA world is atwitter with excitement for his debut. The Pelicans have warmed the seat for him, winning 10 out of their last 15 to pull closer in the race for the West’s final playoff slot. Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball are playing well, so how will the rookie fit? Williamson is unlike any player to enter the league. His size and explosiveness allow him to get whatever he wants on the floor offensively and defensively; his 71% shooting from the field during the preseason attests to that. Still, entering the lineup for a hot team in the middle of the season with roles already defined will be a challenge. As great as Zion is and will be, his first few weeks may be more difficult than some expect.

NBA fans on Zion debut day

8. Why is Milwaukee so good? The hustle and ball movement on this play highlights the great cohesiveness Mike Budenholzer has instilled.

9. Whenever Kyrie Irving opens his mouth, controversy follows. This week’s media uproar surrounding Irving involves him mentioning after a loss to the Sixers that the Nets were “1 or 2” players short, inferring that Brooklyn wouldn’t be title contenders until Kevin Durant returns. Is he wrong? Kyrie mentioned a few of his teammates’ names as good NBA players, but left others out. I doubt he meant to disparage anyone, however. Irving has crossed a threshold; everything he says -or doesn’t say- causes a stir. Yes, media members are important. Yes, players talking to them adds interest in the league. But does everything have to be something?

10. Kyrie doesn’t spit out typical player speak. Everyone claims to love candid interviews until they hear one. Like him or not, Kyrie speaks about how he feels at that moment. The backlash he receives will change how he interviews at some point, however. A person can only take so much criticism. If you respect the player’s right to his opinions, don’t chastise him for it when he expresses them or nitpick a name put on or left off a list given in a post-game interview. Though Twitter would disagree, you don’t have to voice an opinion on everything.

 

How good is Tristan Thompson?

Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA

It’s no surprise that Kevin Love is posting monster numbers and leading the Cavaliers. Assuming health, Love would hoard rebounds and points this season on a young team with few established NBA veterans. The true revelation after six games, however, the heart and soul of this young squad, is Tristan Thompson. Though he’s spent his entire career as a hustler and one of the top offensive rebounders in the league, he’s taken a backseat to bigger stars since being drafted. The fourth pick in 2011, he played second chair to the number one selection, Kyrie Irving. Just when Cavs’ coaches began running parts of the offense through him, LeBron James and Kevin Love entered. A key cog in four years’ worth of Finals runs and the championship, we still saw Thompson as expendable.


No longer.


Now a true leader, Thompson joins Love as the only leftovers, with Matthew Dellavedova, who own a ring. The improvements he’s made to his game have been stark. Considered a great rebounder but limited offensively, he’s showing parts of his game not seen before. Averaging 16.5 points and 2.5 assists, these offensive numbers are significant leaps from his career averages of 9.3 and 0.9. Long and quick for his size, Tristan could always hold his own when switched onto guards. His defense on Steph Curry during the 2016 Finals was essential. Now, however, he’s added shot blocking to his repertoire. A slow jumper, it’s caused him to get his shot blocked and kept him from becoming a good rim protector, until now. His 1.7 blocks per game this year have given the starting unit protection on the back end of the defense.


The advanced stats spell out his importance. Per 100 possessions, the Cavs are 14 points better offensively and 8.6 points better defensively when he’s on the floor vs. the bench. Skewed by the poor bench units of the Cavaliers, those numbers are still impressive. Love’s numbers are 6.8 on offense and 6.2 on defense.


No part of his game is more important than hustle, however. A fighter who never gives up on possessions, he’ll be remembered as one of the better offensive rebounders in the game’s history. Now he’s leading this young group, along with Kevin Love. Their experience and knowledge of the NBA is invaluable. They have the jewelry to reinforce their words. More feisty than expected to this point, these two along with John Beilein deserve the credit for making Cleveland fun.


Before the season, I wondered if the Cavs would, or should, extend a contract to Thompson after this season, his last on the five year, 82 million deal signed in 2015. If his play keeps up, it’s an easy decision. The leadership and experience he brings to the team will hasten the rebuild. Winning is a tough, and he and Love have been through the battles. A 5 year, 100 million dollar contract, if he wants to be in Cleveland, should get done before free agency.

The two rookies seeing time on the floor, Darius Garland and Kevin Porter, have struggled more than not. Only six games into their NBA careers, both are unsure of themselves, thinking too much on the floor. Both seem eager to impress their coaches and teammates. They’re passing too much, giving up open shots in favor of ball movement. Both need to be more selfish.


Garland only played five games last year at Vanderbilt, so some rust was expected. His three-point shot isn’t falling yet, only shooting 29% from three. An NBA shooter, Garland’s 3’s will drop sooner than later. His passing has shown signs, however. A question mark coming into the league, he sees the floor and is running the team well. Once he learns where and when his teammates like the ball, his assists will rise from the 3.7 he’s averaging.


Porter is all over the place. Against the Bulls, he passed up a dunk and an open shot at the end of a quarter in favor of worse shots for teammates. He then stepped up in the 4th, drilling a three, blocking a shot, and finishing with a dunk at the rim. On Friday in Indiana, he had three turnovers, was the worst player on the floor, and looked lost. He rebounded on Sunday, scoring 8 against Dallas and dishing 2 assists. Porter Jr. then received a one game suspension for bumping a referee at the end of the third quarter. This seems to be nitpicking, though. His reputation was a bigger factor here than the inadvertent bump.


Consistency will come for the rookies. Both talented, they’ll find themselves once they get 30 games under their belts. After the All-Star break, we’ll learn more about these two.

What’s What Around the League

1. Does it get better than a Joel Embiid-Karl Anthony Towns brouhaha? Short on punches yet long on drama, the altercation between the two is peak NBA pettiness. Embiid has never shied away from confrontation, on or off the floor, while Towns is trying to re-establish himself as the best young big in the league. The Timberwolves’ 4-1 start is promising, and KAT’s 27 and 11 averages are encouraging. Minny must show sustained success and maturity to contend in the West, however. In the meantime, circle March 24th on your calendar for Philly’s visit to Minnesota. It will not disappoint.

2. Golden State, woo-boy. First Kevin Durant, then Klay Thompson. Now Steph Curry has a broken hand and will miss three months. D’Angelo Russell will average 30 in Curry’s absence and the Dubs will still lose by 25. When Glenn Robinson III is your second best scorer, dark days are ahead. Not how Warriors’ brass envisioned opening a new arena, the NBA is an abyss for championship squads when the title window closes. The four straight Cavs-Warriors Finals seem so long ago.

3. Davis Bertans, now that Curry and Thompson are sidelined, is the best 3 point weapon in the league. At 6’10”, his launches from well beyond the arc are impossible for big men to cover. Shooting 55% from deep on 7 attempts per game, his 68.1% effective field goal percentage ranks sixth in the league, according to teamrankings.com. Sneaky good in San Antonio for three years, the Spurs traded him to Washington in the off-season to clear cap room to sign DeMarre Carroll. With the Spurs off to a surprising 4-1 start, they may regret losing Bertans’ shooting, considering the 2 points per game Carroll is averaging. While being wasted on a bad Washington team, Bertans and Bradley Beal provide a reason to check in on Wizards’ games.

Dude slings from deep

4. My God, Ja Morant is fun to watch. It’s impossible to take your eyes off of him. What is his game missing? He’s shooting 50% from 3 and gets to the bucket with ease. Thin and silky smooth, he slices double teams with precision. Already possessing a smooth floater, he can get his shot off over big bodies on the rare occasion he doesn’t get to the rim. With his expert level court vision and exact passing, a superstar is in the making. He controls the game when he’s on the floor. If the Grizzlies can keep Jaren Jackson Jr. healthy, they will be a Western Conference powerhouse soon.

5. If Kyrie Irving can continue distributing the ball to his Nets teammates, Brooklyn will rebound from their early 3-4 start and ascend the Eastern Conference standings. Ten assists in each game of a weekend back-to-back against Houston and Detroit, Irving’s growing trust of the young talent around him is promising. Caris LeVert is a future All-Star and Spencer Dinwiddie proved himself last year capable of hitting big shots and running a team, whether starting or off the bench. Joe Harris is a perfect safety valve for Kyrie, shooting 57% from 3. The rub for Irving will continue to be his mercurial nature. Reports from Brooklyn already are questioning his aloof nature, noting his propensity to shut off communication with those around him. The Nets must let Kyrie be Kyrie; they knew what they were getting by signing him. All superstars aren’t equal. Instead of chastising him for what he isn’t, embrace him for what he is and create an environment for him to thrive.

6. The biggest surprise in the West is Phoenix. An off-season touted as aimless by many, GM James Jones assembled a veteran unit. The professionalism in Phoenix has risen from years’ past; Ricky Rubio provides stable playmaking from the point guard position while Tyler Johnson, Kelly Oubre Jr, and Dario Saric provide spacing for Devin Booker to cook on offense. The crux of their turnaround, however, is Aron Baynes. Averaging 15 and 5, he’s shooting 46% from 3. He’s fifth in the league in efield goal percentage (68.5% according to teamrankings.com) and 7th in the league in offensive win shares via basketball-reference.com. Considered a useful if unnecessary piece in Boston, the head scratching move by the Suns to acquire Baynes and Ty Jerome for a 2020 1st rounder seems savvy now. Though the Suns 5-2 start may be a mirage, the team’s plan to surround its young core of Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton with experience is paying dividends early.

7. Eric Bledsoe has to be better for the Bucks to be a serious title contender. Perhaps hungover from his embarrassing Eastern Conference Finals performance, Bledsoe’s points per game, shooting percentages, steal percentage, and offensive and defensive win share numbers are cratering. The NBA is a tough league, especially for someone who signed a huge contract before being benched in the biggest series of his career. Giannis’ greatness will allow Bledsoe a chance to rebound, but he has to figure himself out or George Hill will play crunch time point guard minutes in Milwaukee.

8. The Pacers’ offense has struggled, but head coach Nate McMillan provides hope they’ll figure it out. Plodding along against the Cavs Friday night, Indy was hoisting bad transition shots early in the shot clock, leading to a dreadful, 19 point 1st quarter. McMillan’s team steadied themselves, getting to a Malcolm Brogdon/Domantas Sabonis pick and roll, leading to more efficient offense. An expected playoff team laboring early, the Pacers will be better served slowing down and grinding teams defensively, at least until Victor Oladipo returns.

9. Ranked 20th in defensive rating, the Mavericks will need to improve on that end if they hope to continue their hot start. One problem in no need of fixing, however, is rim protection. Kristaps Porzingis is second in the league in blocks behind Anthony Davis at 2.7 and cleans up his teammates’ messes at the rim. For all of Luka Doncic’s wizardry, his defense and the height challenged back court of Seth Curry and Jalen Brunson are putting a lot of pressure on the back end. Porzingis will be busy all year.

10. Houston was down by 59-18 on Sunday night in Miami. 41 down in the second quarter. South Beach on Saturday night is undefeated.