After being selected eighth overall in June’s NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, former University of Alabama guard Collin Sexton represents the beginning of a new era for the franchise. That’s due in part to changes during the past two offseasons, when the team sustained some deep talent losses because of the trade of Kyrie Irving and the departure of LeBron James.
By the time the 2018-19 NBA season comes to an end, one way to assess how Sexton has performed can be gauged by his stature among his fellow rookies. The obvious litmus test to use for this assessment will be how he fares when it comes to Rookie of the Year voting.
In the Cavaliers’ 48-year history, only two of their players have won the coveted award: James, following the 2003-04 campaign, and Irving, after the 2011-12 season. Listed below are five reasons why Sexton will join this select circle:
1. An Absence of Pressure
Instead of walking into a situation where he’s seen as the savior to a franchise, Sexton can simply focus on using his talents to the best of his abilities. The likelihood of reaching the Finals for a fifth straight year has essentially disappeared and simply making the postseason with this revamped team is likely to be seen as a success.
Besides having that burden lifted from his shoulders, Sexton can also develop his game away from the intense spotlight that followed the Cavs during the James era. While the team’s national presence has faded with respect to television appearances, delivering a string of consistent performances over the course of the season can still build plenty of buzz.
2. Plenty of Opportunity
While the Cavaliers still have veteran George Hill on the roster to handle point guard duties, the reality is that Sexton will still see plenty of time on this court this season including some time at shooting guard. That’s not always the case with some top rookies, who either don’t take advantage of such situations or end up being buried on a deep and talented roster.
Given the uncertainty of the upcoming year for the Cavaliers, there’s also the chance that the team ends up dealing Hill to a playoff contender at the trade deadline. That would allow Sexton to fully take over the point guard role. Even if the Cavs do end up with a terrible record, it shouldn’t affect Sexton’s chances. After all, Irving was named Rookie of the Year following a 21-45 lockout-shortened regular season.
3. Chemistry Where It Counts
The relationship between the head coach of a team and a top rookie can sometimes get muddled and lead to situations where the player almost becomes an afterthought. That won’t be happening with Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue, who has spoken glowingly of Sexton’s potential. Coincidentally, Lue played under Sexton’s college coach, Avery Johnson, when the latter served as head coach of the Dallas Mavericks.
The fact is that Sexton fits in perfectly with the type of high-tempo offense that Lue’s been trying to perfect since taking over in January 2016. That means Lue will make every effort to integrate him into the lineup as quickly as possible, knowing that Sexton’s intelligence and tireless work ethic will speed up the pace on the court and the rebuilding process as a whole.
4. Entering With Confidence
Making the switch from college ball or even international play to the NBA can often be difficult for any rookie. The ramped-up pace and other factors can sometime be overwhelming, but Sexton appeared to adapt to the changes during his baptism in the Las Vegas Summer League.
Obviously, the talent Sexton was facing wasn’t quite what he’ll face when the season gets underway next month. Still, he lived up to the expectations the Cavaliers had when they drafted him and likely exceeded them, showing no rookie jitters along the way. That confidence boost might be the spark that ends up driving him to win the award.
5. No Clear Frontrunner
The fact that three of the last four and six of the last 10 Rookie of the Year award winners were top picks might cause many people to simply hand the trophy to Deandre Ayton of the Phoenix Suns. However, two years ago, the name of Milwaukee Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon wasn’t mentioned in this competition before the 2016-17 season began, yet the 36th overall pick ended up taking home the prize.
Sexton already has name recognition and is part of a talented collection of draftees who have their own chance to step up to capture the award. That makes this competition a free-for-all instead of a pending coronation, which affords Sexton every opportunity to exploit this unique advantage.
Whether or not Sexton ends up winning the award is secondary to how effective he can be during his first season with the Cavaliers. After all, plenty of players came up short in this specific category, yet went on to Hall of Fame careers. While the Cavs and their fans would certainly love to see Sexton win the prize, they’ll be even happier if his rookie campaign is the beginning of a long journey to the shrine in Springfield, Mass.