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Cavaliers enter promising and perplexing era with two point guards, Darius Garland, Collin Sexton

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Collin Sexton was the crown jewel of Cleveland’s rebuild.

He was the fruit of the Nets pick – a selection (acquired for Kyrie Irving) the Cavaliers treasured so highly, they shortchanged their championship odds during LeBron James‘ last season to keep it. The 2018 first-rounder landed No. 8, and the Cavs drafted Sexton. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert seemed particularly intrigued by the point guard from Alabama.

Sexton averaged 16.7 points per game last season, third-most among rookies, behind only Luka Doncic and Trae Young. With the top five picks comprising the first team, Sexton landed on the All-Rookie second team. He looked like he could be Cleveland’s point guard of the future.

With that growing profile, Sexton booked a gig on Yahoo Sports’ NBA draft show.

Shortly before filming began, he got word the Cavs would use the No. 5 pick on another point guard – Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland.

***

By the time the Cavaliers were on the clock, it had been publicly reported they’d take Garland if not trading the pick. The awkwardness in Yahoo’s studio was palpable. Nearly everyone referenced the elephant in the room – Sexton sitting there as Cleveland drafted his potential replacement. The mentions were usually accompanied by nervous laughter.

Finally, Sexton was asked about the Cavs picking Garland.

“Honestly, I think it would be cool,” Sexton said.

He seemed relaxed and confident. Suddenly, all the tension on set dissipated.

It’s only beginning in Cleveland, though.

***

Maybe Sexton will pan out. Maybe Garland will pan out. Maybe both will. Maybe neither will.

It’s far too early to say.

That’s why the Cavaliers were right to pick Garland even after taking Sexton.

Drafting is extremely difficult. It’s hard enough to assess the long-term futures of teenagers. Overly focusing on fit adds another complication and creates even more opportunity to get the selection wrong.

No. 3 on my draft board, Garland was a tier above anyone else available and two tiers above the next non-point guard. He was too good to pass up.

Still, that strategy creates immediate complications.

Garland and Sexton are both ambitious young players trying to carve their own paths. They don’t mesh simply on the court. Managing the pairing will be a season-long effort.

***

The big question: Can Garland and Sexton coexist long-term?

I don’t think so. But I don’t know, and there likely isn’t a rush on determining. The Cavs probably won’t part with either Garland or Sexton anytime soon. Both guards will have time to try to blend. If they surprise and find a nice chemistry, that’d only be to Cleveland’s benefit.

Sexton compared the Cavs duo to Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, point guards who frequently shared a backcourt during the Raptors’ run to a championship.

Pistons coach Dwane Casey, who initially paired Lowry and VanVleet, is a big proponent of two-point guard lineups.

“I don’t know too many times offensively where it’s not a benefit,” Casey said. “Because any time you can have multiple ball-handlers, multiple pick-and-roll players, it’s a plus.”

Garland profiles as an elite shot-maker, able to pull up from all over the court and bury jumpers. He has work to go as a distributor, but he’s a willing passer and looks like an NBA point guard. He’s the clear 1 when playing with Sexton.

Sexton, who describes himself as a “combo 1,” is more of a slasher. He can make the pass in front of him, but he hasn’t shown an ability to read the whole floor. It’s tough to run an offense through someone with that tunnel vision. Still, Sexton’s speed and aggressiveness could serve him well off the ball.

“He’s very fast and get him into space as quickly as we can,” Cavaliers coach Jon Beilein said. “When you have the ball all the time, people load up. When you don’t have the ball, and all of a sudden you get it, you can really quick strike. So, we’ll be looking for that a lot.”

The biggest swing skill between both players might be Sexton’s 3-point shooting. After making just 34% of his 3-pointers at Alabama, Sexton shot 40% from beyond the NBA arc last season. If he can knockdown open spot-up 3s, that’d go a long way in making the pairing work.

Offensively.

Defense remains a challenge. Lowry and VanVleet are stronger and more advanced in their awareness. Sexton has been a rough mix of overaggressive and inattentive. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, he’s quite small for the bigger guard. Garland (6-foot-1, 175 pounds) is small fory any role.

There are also ego questions whenever multiple players accustomed to controlling the ball must share it. Yet, both Garland and Sexton downplayed that concern.

“We’re both here to win,” Garland said. “It doesn’t matter how we play, if we play together, if we don’t. It doesn’t matter. We’re just here to win games.”

***

The Cavaliers probably won’t win many games this season. After years of contending around LeBron James, Cleveland is just getting its rebuild off the ground.

Garland and Sexton are the centerpieces. Managing their development should be the priority.

Does that mean frequently playing them together so they each maximize their minutes? Does that mean staggering them so they get as much experience as possible without stepping on each other’s toes?

Beilein said he’d determine that as the season unfolds, but the Cavs’ somewhat coincidental abundance of combo guards points to using somewhat interchangeable guards, anyway. Cleveland acquired Brandon Knight and Matthew Dellavedova in salary dumps mainly about adding draft picks. Jordan Clarkson has played both guard positions. A Garland-Sexton backcourt could play a similar style to any other combination of those guards.

That makes it easier to get through this season, though not necessarily easy.

***

Sexton particularly enjoyed doing the Yahoo draft show with Nets center Jarrett Allen, another promising young player. Sexton said everyone teased Allen about the possibility of Brooklyn signing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving later in the summer.

“He was like, ‘I don’t know what y’all know,'” Sexton said.

Of course, the Nets landed Durant and Irving. Only Sexton, not Allen, knew what move lied ahead for his team.

But how will it work out in Cleveland? That remains the rebuild-defining mystery.

Lakers’ Anthony Davis expected to return Friday; Avery Bradley out 1-2 weeks with fracture

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Anthony Davis sat out Wednesday night’s comfortable Lakers win over Golden State, the star letting a sore shoulder and ribs heal.

Apparently, that’s all he’s sitting out. While nothing will be official until close to game time, Davis went through shootaround and looks to be a go Friday night against Sacramento at Staples Center. From Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“Went through shootaround today,” Davis said Friday morning. “Felt good.”

Davis is averaging 26.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.9 blocked shots per game, anchoring a Lakers’ defense that has been best in the NBA this season. It goes without saying the Lakers are better when he is on the court.

Only Davis knows his body and how he feels, but he also has a history of missing games due to minor but nagging injuries. Should the Lakers consider giving Davis another night off to make sure he is fully healed, plus give the rest of his body some time to rest?

“What, like, load management? No,” Davis said…

“I want to play,” Davis said. “But obviously saying that, the training staff will probably be more reluctant to [let me play]. If it’s still bothering me a little bit, [they’ll] have me sit out. Or if it’s feeling good, I’m going to play. … Just to know that the way the team played when I sat out, I don’t have to be in a rush to get back.”

For some fans — and LeBron James (in a shrewd PR move with the team down the hall) — have pushed back on the idea of load management. Which has somehow become a dirty phrase around the NBA, despite the science showing it can help reduce injuries, improve performance, and lengthen careers.

Lakers fans buying into and parroting the anti-load management argument may want to go find a Toronto Raptors fan and ask if they would trade the 22 games Kawhi Leonard missed last regular season for that championship parade. Or, just wait until the Lakers do some of it later in the season (but, like all teams now, will mask it with “sore back” or some other minor ailment that could be played through, just to avoid the PR hit).

While Davis is back, the Lakers are going to miss Avery Bradley for at least a week with a hairline fracture in his leg. From the official Lakers’ press release:

An MRI last night revealed a hairline fracture in a non-weight bearing bone of Avery Bradley’s right leg (on the fibular head). Bradley will be re-evaluated in 1 to 2 weeks.

Bradley has started all 10 games he has played in for the Lakers, averaging 9.4 points a game and giving them an active perimeter defender. Fortunately, this doesn’t sound like it will sideline him for long.

Other teams reportedly eyeing Magic’s Aaron Gordon, Orlando not interested. Yet.

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Orlando’s offense is dreadful. In the past week it finally moved into scoring more than a point per possession — just barely — but they are ranked 29th in the league. They just can’t hit shots. The Magic have the worst team three-point percentage (28.5 percent) and the worst true shooting percentage. It’s not that they’re taking bad shots, they are just not making them.

When a team struggles, other teams start to look at what players they like and may be available in a trade. Other teams watching the Magic stumble to a 4-7 start have their eyes on Aaron Gordon, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic — and he adds the Magic are not going there.

Multiple teams are monitoring Magic forward Aaron Gordon with interest should an opportunity present itself, but the Magic have shown no interest in moving him, sources said. Orlando is 4-7 and working to turn the corner early this season. Gordon signed a four-year, $76 million deal to return to the Magic in 2018.

At least not yet.

The Magic reportedly have been interested in DeMar DeRozan, but Orlando would have to move a lot of salary to land him (DeRozan makes $27.7 million this season).

One thing that has been good for Orlando this young season is the emergence of Jonathan Isaac as a player — he is already outstanding defensively, and his offense is improving (but still has a long, long way to go). Sean Deveney notes at Forbes that Orlando could change its mind about trading Gordon because of concerns about how he fits with Isaac (the team is basically net neutral when they are paired this season).

The Magic could give up forward Aaron Gordon, because there are concerns that he might not fit well over the long term with forward Jonathan Isaac, but Orlando won’t trade away Gordon for a few months of renting DeRozan, who is hardly the guy to help fix the Magic’s 3-point shooting troubles.

Gordon has two fully guaranteed years left on his contract after this season, however, it declines in value (down to $16.4 million the final season) making it very tradable.

Deveney mentions another potential target: D'Angelo Russell of Golden State. Much like Gordon, the Warriors are not interested in talking Russell trades yet, but that could change depending upon how the season evolves.

It’s early. Teams are just in the first stages of assessing their team and thinking about potential players who can help. The Magic, and Gordon, are a team to watch, particularly if the offense doesn’t turn around.

 

 

The time Kendall Gill stayed out all night then led Hornets to early-afternoon win (video)

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In the great history of NBA party-then-play stories, 15-year-pro Kendall Gill has a new tale from his rookie year with the Hornets in 1991.

Gill on Off The Dribble:

We pulled into D.C. My cousin took me out. I was out until 6 in the morning. He brings me back to the hotel. My coach, Gene Littles, is sitting in the lobby. And as I walked in the door, he’s like, “What the hell are you doing out here, rook? Don’t you know we’ve got a game at 12 o’clock in the afternoon?” Well, turns out, I go and I score 28 points that day, the high for my rookie season. I scored 28 points. He comes to me after the game and says, “You can go out and hang out any time you want to until 6 in the morning – if you play like that.”

A couple details are off. Gill scored 24 points to lead Charlotte over the Washington Bullets on March 31, 1991. But that wasn’t his season high. He scored 28 a few days earlier in Phoenix. The Washington game also had a listed start of 1 p.m., not noon.

Still, this comes close enough on the verifiable facts. Besides, I want the fun parts of this story to be true, so I’ll choose to believe them, anyway.

Birthday boy Karl-Anthony Towns giving Timberwolves even more reason to celebrate

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Tom Thibodeau is gone. Jimmy Butler is gone. Karl-Anthony Towns has taken greater ownership with the Timberwolves.

Towns organizes team-building activities like Topgolf and a halloween party. Towns gives the pump-up speech before each game. Towns communicates more on the floor.

That’s why, Towns said, he didn’t even realize his birthday was approaching until his parents recently reminded him.

“I get caught up in work,” Towns said.

Whether or not Towns actually needed the reminder, let alone for such a flattering reason, his birthday – which is today – got him reflecting. He felt old.

So, Towns mentioned to Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders that his birthday was around the corner. Saunders had the opposite realization: Towns is turning 24 today. Just 24!

“He’s still young,” Saunders said. “As a coach, that gets me excited.”

Towns is one of the NBA’s special talents – a proven star with room to improve. Picking up the momentum he built last season, Towns appears to be really coming into his own this year.

The center is posting his usual impressive numbers (25.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game), but his new attitude has stolen the show. He fought Joel Embiid and went face-to-face with Rudy Gay.

Don’t let the antics completely overshadow an impressive basketball story, though. Towns has led Minnesota to a surprising 7-4 start by revamping his game. Most of his shots are coming from beyond the arc, and his 4.2 assists per game are a career high.

By creating spacing and keeping the ball moving, Towns is contributing to a style that lifts all the Timberwolves. Perhaps, nobody has benefited more than Andrew Wiggins, who’s fitting right into this modern look.

The transformation is only the latest chapter for Towns, whose reputation has fluctuated significantly throughout his five-year career. This might explain why he already feels so old:

Minnesota drafted Towns No. 1 in 2015, and he won Rookie of the Year. In the 2016 and 2017 NBA general-manager survey, a plurality of voting executives picked Towns as the player they’d most like to start a team with. In the 2017 survey, Towns also received the most votes for league’s best center (even while getting a couple votes as league’s best power forward).

On paper, Towns delivered. He made his first All-Star and All-NBA teams the following season. He also reached the playoffs for the first time.

But Thibodeau and Butler butted heads with Towns, who never showed the hard edge those former Bulls tried to coax from him. After trading Butler, Minnesota went right back to losing.

In the 2018 and 2019 surveys, no general manager picked Towns to start a team with. Only a few picked him as best center.

Now, the landscape has shifted again. Anthony Davis spends a lot of time at power forward. Joel Embiid doesn’t stay as healthy. Nikola Jokic has fallen way off.

Towns is the early frontrunner for All-NBA first-team center.

“Everybody takes big steps in their growth at different times,” Saunders said, “and I think we’re seeing that from Karl.”

Towns can’t take anything for granted, and neither can the Timberwolves. But he at least has a good chance for vindication after his preseason playoff talk.

The way Towns has implemented more 3-point shooting into his game is particularly impressive. His 9.0 attempts per game lead NBA bigs, and he’s converting more than 40%. But floating on the perimeter was once a sign Towns was being too passive. Now, Towns is finding the right balance between spotting up beyond the arc and playing aggressively.

That’s in part his own mentality changing, in part his teammates’ mentality changing. Gone are the days when Towns could be an afterthought outside the paint.

“The ball is always going to find KAT,” Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie said. “He’s the center of our offense.”

Towns’ defensive intensity still comes and goes. He still must prove himself in the playoffs, and that usually requires trials and tribulations he hasn’t yet experienced.

But at age 24, Towns is finally/already showing something special.