In a blockbuster move that was unexpected by many, the Utah Jazz sent Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Lauri Markannen, Ochai Agbaji, Collin Sexton, three unprotected first-round picks and two pick swaps in the upcoming years. Cleveland takes a leap to become a true threat in the East, while Utah looks to enter full rebuild mode and reconstruct their roster from scratch.
With the talent in the 2023 class, it makes sense for Utah to go in a different direction with their franchise. They don’t have a lot of long term pieces on their team and next year’s draft is loaded with potential superstars. However, one player that could be a long term piece with this team is Collin Sexton. Sexton has been a surprisingly controversial player since entering the league. Despite his terrific scoring production basically since he’s stepped on the floor, it’s always felt like he was expandable or even a negative asset on the Cavaliers. It’s why no team was willing to give him a significant paycheck outside of the Utah Jazz.
But is it completely fair to frame Sexton this way? There are certainly holes in his game, but there are plenty of positives that he brings to the table. He has a reputation as a “good stats, bad team” player which got accentuated by the Cavaliers’ breakout season. But very few players came into the league as good at getting buckets as Sexton, and he’s shown continual improvement each and every year he’s been in the league.
He’s best known for being a scorer. He made a name for himself in college by being an electrifying scoring guard with a fiery personality who nearly led Alabama back against Minnesota playing three-versus-five. Since he’s come to the pros, he’s substantially improved his decision making and efficiency from everywhere on the court. However, his best trait is still his ability to weaponize his speed and explosiveness to beat guys off the bounce attacking closeouts or in isolation.
Collin Sexton is such a great driver off the catch pic.twitter.com/K1QUZKOVT4
— Thomas Stapleton (@TStapletonNBA) September 15, 2022
Sexton’s scalability as a scorer is extremely underrated, and it’s that aspect of his game that makes me wonder why contending teams haven’t shown interest in him. He’s one of the best off-ball scorers in all of basketball with his ability to use screens to generate offense.
He loves to curl off of down screens to explode to the basket, but he’s also got a lot of counters. He’s a strong mid-range scorer (48% from 10-16 feet in his last healthy season) with quick footwork to get into his shot off the bounce. He’s got a high-level push shot that’s become so good that he’s able to manipulate defenses into disguising his lob as a floater or just flat out faking high to pass low (something Trae Young has become a master of).
Collin Sexton's interior passing has really popped early this year.
Playmaking certainly is a work in progress for him, but he's good going baseline and hitting cutters, excellent at in-air change-ups to dunker spot bigs as well pic.twitter.com/roMW2QpJpc
— Mark Schindler (@MG_Schindler) October 24, 2021
Sexton in general has developed into a pretty solid passer, especially on the interior. He hasn’t been able to shake the “ball hog” label since the time of his draft, but he’s continued to improve his willingness to distribute. His ability to get paint touches as well has just opened more windows for him to find his teammates. One of the most effective actions to put Sexton in was to have a big man set an off-ball screen for him so that he could curl and look to drive into the lane. From there, he can look to get all the way to the rim to score for himself or feed the rolling big who set the screen. His usage of off-ball screens makes his scoring useful for high-level offenses (99th percentile in off-screen points per possession according to BBall Index). He doesn’t have to be a high usage, live ball creator to be an effective player, and it seems like that’s often the narrative surrounding him and his game.
Sexton is a classic case of “too small to be a two guard, not a good enough passer to be a point guard”. The term isn’t totally inaccurate, but he’s able to compensate in two key ways. The first way is his ability to create advantages off the catch because of the screen usage mentioned early. But the second way is with his athletic traits. He may be only 6’1, but he plays significantly bigger than he is. He’s one of the better athletes at his position in the league and he’s got a large wingspan that helps him functionally play bigger than he is.
The hangtime on this finish is wild. Such an explosive athlete in so many different ways pic.twitter.com/KVf80PARuY
— Thomas Stapleton (@TStapletonNBA) September 15, 2022
Sexton’s shooting has been a pleasant surprise considering his inconsistent numbers coming into the league, but it’s also an interesting case study. In theory, looking at his career three-point percentages (38%) and then looking at his career attempts per game (3.9), shouldn’t he be taking more three-pointers?
Without context, it’s an interesting question, but there are issues that hold him back. The biggest one is his form. His high release point paired with his compact base makes him a good shooter, but the slowness of his release and shot preparation hold him back from being a great shooter. It affects both his pull-up shots and his shots off the catch, and it’s what holds him back from putting up volume threes despite the fact that his percentages suggest he should shoot more.
Collin Sexton is a tricky shooting eval. He’s consistently shot a high % from three throughout his career, but the mechanical flaws in his shot are the main reason why I think he’s never been a high volume shooter (3.9 attempts per game) pic.twitter.com/bA4nVrqqUy
— Thomas Stapleton (@TStapletonNBA) September 16, 2022
Regardless, it’s reasonable to say Sexton is still a good shooter. Defenders are going to have to respect his shot and try not to let him get hot. Despite him being a solid shooter, he still has issues with his shot diet. In his last full season with Cleveland, he shot just 31% on pull-up threes and 34% on long twos. Cutting down on those kinds of shots and focusing on getting closer to the basket for an easier shot should be an area of focus for him during season one in Utah.
With his scalable and efficient scoring from all three levels combined with his continually improving passing ability, Collin Sexton is worth the gamble. Utah doesn’t have much to lose this ceiling and the Young Bull will likely be thrust into a high-usage role from the jump. 25 PPG seems like a feasible accomplishment, especially considering he averaged 24.3 PPG on 57.3 TS% in his last full season with Cleveland. He won’t have to handle major playmaking responsibilities too with Mike Conley still being the floor general for their offense. He’ll be a star scorer for them and he could help them potentially overachieve next season. Contrary to popular opinion, there is a world where Sexton is an All-Star in the next few years. He’s such a productive scorer with improving passing numbers and he gives effort on the defensive end (although his technique has a long way to go). The Jazz certainly won’t be must-see television next year, but it’ll be fun to track his development as the season progresses.