Alex Nahorniak-Svenski/NBAE via Getty Images

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

1 Comment

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.

LeBron, Lakers top Tatum’s big afternoon for Celtics

Leave a comment

LOS ANGELESLeBron James scored 29 points and put the Lakers ahead on a fallaway jumper with 30 seconds to play, and Los Angeles split its season series with the Boston Celtics with a 114-112 victory Sunday.

James missed a tying free throw moments before he coolly nailed the shot the put the Lakers ahead to stay in a frenetic fourth quarter to cap the latest chapter of this famed NBA rivalry.

Anthony Davis had 32 points and 13 rebounds in the fifth straight win overall for the Lakers, who took a 32-point blowout loss in Boston last month.

Davis hit two free throws with 12.3 seconds left and added one more with 6.7 seconds to play, before Jayson Tatum was called for charging in the final second as he attempted to create one last basket.

Tatum matched his career high with 41 points for the Celtics, who had won 12 of 14 starting with that dominant win over the Lakers in January.

Boston turned the ball over with 15.5 seconds left after James’ big shot, and Celtics coach Brad Stevens got a technical foul for arguing about it. Davis missed that free throw, however.

Grant Williams hit two free throws for Boston immediately afterward, and Davis hit one of two to give a final chance to the Celtics.

Jaylen Brown scored 20 points for Boston, but Kemba Walker missed his second straight game with left knee soreness.

The rematch was far more competitive than the teams’ first meeting this season, with both taking small leads in the fourth quarter before the exciting finish.

Davis’ third 3-pointer put the Lakers up 108-105 with 2:08 to play, but Gordon Hayward hit a jumper before Brown’s 3-pointer put the Celtics back ahead 110-108 with 1:17 to go.

With the Lakers’ immediate return to excellence since beating out Boston to acquire Davis last summer, these longtime rivals are both playoff-bound championship contenders yet again.

Los Angeles is comfortably atop the Western Conference standings, while the Celtics sit third in the East. Both teams have a decent shot of meeting in the NBA Finals for the 13th time if they continue to grow from big games like this thriller.

Tatum underlined his growing superstardom by matching the career high he set against New Orleans last month. He scored 16 points in a five-minute barrage alone during the third quarter, finishing the period with 18.

The Lakers hung in with 16 points in the third from Davis after his quiet first half.

Walker scored 20 points against the Lakers last month to beat James for the first time in the stars’ 29 career meetings. The Lakers took their worst loss of the season in that initial meeting while getting just 23 minutes from Davis, who had just returned from a two-week injury absence.

The rematch featured much more defense than the teams’ first meeting, with Rajon Rondo and Brown both making big steals for their respective clubs. Only Tatum made a major offensive impact in the first half with 19 points.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Walker’s injury is “not a long-term thing,” Stevens said. Walker did work in the weight room before the game. … The bench scored just five points in the first three quarters, including only one field goal, and finished with 11 points.

Lakers: James went down in pain early in the fourth quarter when Daniel Theis ran into him under the basket. James stayed in the game after a timeout. … Rondo spent much of the pregame warmup chatting with Kevin Garnett, his longtime Celtics teammate. Garnett then watched the game from the baseline near the LA bench with Lakers part-owner Patrick Soon-Shiong. … The matchup is always a hot ticket for celebrities. Fans near courtside included Eddie Murphy, Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington.

UP NEXT

Celtics: Visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.

Lakers: Host the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Jaren Jackson Jr. out for at least two weeks for Grizzlies

Jaren Jackson Jr. and Gordon Hayward
(Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
Leave a comment

The Memphis Grizzlies announced that Jaren Jackson Jr. suffered a sprained left knee late during the second quarter of Friday’s game vs the Los Angeles Lakers:

Memphis says Jackson will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

In his second year, Jackson has been a big part of the Grizzlies surprising success. Memphis is currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with a record of 28-28. Jackson has proven to be an ideal running mate for rookie point guard Ja Morant, as the Grizzlies have rebuilt quicker than anyone expected.

With Jackson out, Memphis will need to replace 16.9 points and 1.6 blocks per game. Jackson also regularly functions as the Grizzlies backup center, sliding over to play the pivot when starter Jonas Valanciunas is out.

With Jackson out for at least two weeks, and potentially longer, Memphis will lean on Kyle Anderson and rookie Brandon Clarke at the four. The trickle-down impact may be more minutes for backup center Gorgui Dieng, who was acquired at the trade deadline, up front behind Valanciunas. In addition, Josh Jackson, who spent the first few months of the season in the G-League, has had a bit of resurgence in recent weeks. With Anderson likely to play more at power forward, Jackson may see even more minutes on the wing.

Ben Simmons out at least through Monday

(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons‘ troublesome back will keep him out at least through Monday reports NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters. Winters reports that Simmons went through testing upon the Sixers return to Philadelphia on Sunday and will have further testing done on Monday:

Simmons missed the first game back from the All-Star break on Thursday due to back soreness. He then exited Saturday night’s game at the Milwaukee Bucks after playing less than five minutes.

Simmons went to his second-straight All-Star game last week. He’s averaged 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 8.2 assists and a league-leading 2.1 steals per game through 54 games this season.

An up-and-down season sees Philadelphia currently fifth in the Eastern Conference. The 76ers are an equal 1.5 games behind Miami for fourth and ahead of Indiana in sixth. The Sixers would love to climb to fourth for homecourt advantage in the postseason, as they’ve been dominant at home with a 26-2 record, while underwhelming on the road at just 9-20.

With Joel Embiid continuing to suffer from injuries, while also having his minutes managed, Philadelphia can’t afford to be without Simmons for long. The 76ers added depth on the wing at the trade deadline with Alec Bucks and Glenn Robinson III, but have little behind Simmons at point guard. Raul Neto started in Simmons’ place on Thursday, but did not play on Saturday until the game was well in-hand for Milwaukee.

Lance Stephenson hopes strong season in China springboards him back to NBA

Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Chinese Basketball Association season is up in the air because of the Coronavirus outbreak. The season is postponed and, while there is talk of restarting it on April 1, there are more questions than answers about that plan right now.

Lance Stephenson was in China playing for the Liaoning Flying Leopards and — as many American scorers can do against the soft defenses in the CBA — put up impressive numbers. Stephenson is hoping to use that as a springboard back to the NBA, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Will it work for Stephenson? Maybe. It only takes one GM looking for a little scoring punch down the stretch to buy-in.

However, GMs also know the numbers are inflated in China and it doesn’t translate to being able to do the same thing in the NBA. Jimmer Fredette is example 1A. Or, here are the top five scorers in the Chinese league so far this season:

1. Dominique Jones (Jilin Northeast Tigers) 37.8
2. Joe Young (Nanjing Monkey Kings) 35.9
3. Darius Adams (Qingdao Eagles) 34.9
4. Tyler Hansbrough (Sichuan Blue Whales) 32.3
5. Jonathan Gibson (Jiangsu Dragons) 31.2

All of those guys, and a lot more, would like to use China as a springboard back to the NBA. That, however, is proving to be a long leap.