Basketball Insiders has looked at some of the most pressing training camp questions in the Northwest, Southwest, Central and Pacific divisions as the 2014-15 NBA season approaches. The series continues with a look at the Southeast, which could have a new king this season.
How will Al Horford come back from injury?
The injury last season to Al Horford left a huge void in the Hawks’ lineup and severely limited their ability to make a deep run in the playoffs. Although Horford was playing the best basketball of his career prior to the injury, the Hawks still managed to sneak into the playoffs and pushed the top-seeded Indiana Pacers to seven games in the first round. Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this week that Horford hasn’t yet reached 100 percent, but remains hopeful he’ll be ready to go by the team’s season opener on October 29. The Hawks remained fairly quiet over the summer and didn’t make any big-time moves, so the team will be banking on Horford to return to the level of basketball that he was playing prior to his injury where he averaged a career-high 18.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. The Eastern Conference is much more competitive than it was a season ago, so Horford’s return will be critical to the Hawks’ success.
Can the Hawks make a deep playoff run without a superstar?
The Hawks have managed to make the playoffs seven seasons in a row and have done it while having no real superstar on their team. With no superstar-caliber player, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they haven’t advanced past the second round of the playoffs – ever. While Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague form the Hawks’ big three, none of them are capable of single-handedly taking a game over – at least not yet. As many teams in the league have illustrated, a go-to player in crunch time is needed and with Horford still not 100 percent, he may not be the answer. Head coach Mike Budenholzer’s style of offense may be best to replace the need for a superstar as his game plan of ball movement and spacing keeps the offense moving effectively.
Outside of the Hawks’ big three, who will step up?
After Horford, Millsap and Teague, the Hawks will need to rely on other players to step up. Outside of those three players, the Hawks’ will likely have Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll in the starting five again. Korver shot a blistering 47 percent from three-point range last season and earned an invitation to try out for Team USA for his efforts. Carroll’s first season in Atlanta went about as well as it could have as he increased his points per game from six per game with the Jazz to 11.1 with the Hawks. Carroll made the best out of his starting role with the Hawks and should continue to improve this season. While the Hawks didn’t make any huge moves over the offseason, they did add Thabo Sefolosha, Kent Bazemore and first-round draft pick Adreian Payne. Sefolosha will fill an immediate need on the defensive side of the ball as the team has long lacked an elite perimeter defender. Bazemore has shown flashes of the type of player that he can become, and he should see plenty of opportunity in Atlanta to prove himself.
How will the Hornets handle the spotlight?
The Hornets will be entering the 2014-15 season with some huge expectations after a trip to the playoffs last season and the addition of Lance Stephenson, but how will they handle the pressure of being in the spotlight? Head coach Steve Clifford has proven that he is the right guy for the Hornets, but the team is expected to not only return to the playoffs, but to compete for a division title. Kemba Walker is one of the most underrated point guards in the league, but he too will now be faced with expectations that he hasn’t yet had. The signing of Stephenson shows that the Hornets are serious about competing. This could be the season the Hornets show the rest of the league exactly just how good they can be.
Which will be bigger for Lance Stephenson: his play on the court or his antics?
The conversation around Lance Stephenson usually involves his play on the court, but the talk quickly turns to his antics and whether he is worth the risk of signing. There’s no doubt that Stephenson is one of better players in the league on both sides of the ball and if engaged, could bring the Hornets to the next level. The Hornets were apparently not bothered by Stephenson’s past and welcomed him to the club. With a young locker room building in Charlotte, many have questioned the move partly because of how Stephenson could quickly disrupt that. He’ll be joining a team led by Michael Jordan and Steve Clifford and all indications are that they won’t tolerate anything extracurricular that Stephenson may be up to.
Will the Hornets receive any national recognition this season?
Given the lack of success the franchise has endured over the past several seasons, they haven’t received much national recognition as a result. Jefferson had an All-Star-caliber season averaging 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game and earned just a spot on the All-NBA Third Team. His 21.8 points were good for 11th best in the league and his 10.8 rebounds ranked eighth. As previously stated Walker, remains one of the most underrated point guards in the league and should only continue to get better. Surrounded with even more talent now, Walker should benefit and could even play himself into the All-Star race, especially if the Hornets are winning games. Rookies Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston could also have a chance to place among the league’s top rookies this season.
How will the HEAT fare without LeBron?
Perhaps the biggest question heading into training camp for the HEAT this season is how they’ll do without LeBron James. Many speculated that if James left, others would follow suit and head elsewhere, leaving the HEAT with practically no one on the team. The majority of the remaining members of the HEAT proved that theory wrong and remained in South Beach. Chris Bosh re-upped on a new max deal, Chris Andersen is back on a two-year deal, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem are on new deals to give the team financial flexibility and the front office brought in new players in Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger. The HEAT drafted Shabazz Napier to help run the offense, but an awful showing in the Summer League showed that he has a lot of work to do before he’ll take over point guard duties. While the team will have core players in Bosh, Wade, Andersen, Deng and McRoberts, they may not be enough to legitimately compete in the Eastern Conference. While replacing an MVP in James is never easy, the HEAT assembled a team that will win games and should easily make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
How will Dwyane Wade hold up this season?
The key to the HEAT’s success this season will rest on the knees of Dwyane Wade. Heading into the season, Wade has to be one of the biggest question marks on the roster. Wade averaged a career-low 32.9 minutes in just 54 games last season in an effort to save him for the playoffs. Having James on the roster, the HEAT were able to afford that luxury of resting Wade, but with James gone head coach Erik Spoelstra may not have that luxury anymore. The team has added a plethora of guards that all will be competing to backup Wade. Reggie Williams, Shannon Brown, undrafted rookie Tyler Johnson and Andre Dawkins all figure to compete for the job in camp. Out of those players, only Johnson is on a partially guaranteed deal, so he may have a leg up on the competition and could be the frontrunner for the backup job, or eventual starter if Wade can’t go.
After Chris Bosh, who will be the team’s second scoring option?
Given the uncertainty around Wade, there will be competition to be the team’s second scoring option. The team’s best option with James gone now becomes Bosh, and if Wade was healthy then he’d be the second scoring option, if not the first option. Newcomer Luol Deng could very well step into that second option for Spoelstra. The signing of Deng could become one of the most underrated moves of the offseason as it will replace some of the scoring production lost with James. The HEAT’s offense is about to undergo wholesale changes and Spoelstra has his work cut out for him.
Who will lead the team in scoring?
The Magic traded away last season’s leading scorer in Arron Afflalo on draft day and will now look to replace his 18.2 points per game. In addition to Afflalo, the team also parted ways with the longest-tenured Magic player in Jameer Nelson, who averaged 12.1 points per game. That leaves the likely competition for top scorer to Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo and newcomer Channing Frye. After Afflalo last season, Harris was next in line with 14.6 points a game and then Vucevic with 14.2 so the leading scorer for the Magic next season will most likely be one of them.
Can they jump to the next level?
With the team entering its third season in the current rebuild, the time to start winning more than 23 games is now. That’s not to say they need to fire off 40 wins this season, but an improvement is needed and an ideal number of wins should be between 27 and 32. The signing of Channing Frye seems to have increased the expectations a bit after handing him a contract worth $32 million over four years. The Magic added Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton and Devyn Marble through the draft and they all figure to see extended minutes throughout the season, but they all may not provide an immediate impact. Core players like Harris, Vucevic, Oladipo, Maurice Harkless and Kyle O’Quinn figure to have the most pressure to lead the team. The next jump for a team coming off of a 23-win season should be to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot until at least the All-Star break, which is an obtainable goal in the Eastern Conference.
How will head coach Jacque Vaughn perform?
This season may be a make or break season for head coach Jacque Vaughn. During this rebuild, Vaughn was touted as the man for the job and wasn’t expected to do much during the first couple of seasons. Now that the core players are becoming more developed, the days of winning 23 games are over. The front office seemed to have put some expectations on Vaughn after signing Frye; he could be on the hot seat if the Magic are competing for ping pong balls again rather than a playoff spot.
What does the arrival of Paul Pierce do for the team?
Paul Pierce’s decision to sign with the Wizards was a bit of a shock, but he helps solidify one of their weakest positions. During his session with the media this week, Wizards head coach Randy Wittman praised Pierce’s leadership skills and versatility on the offensive end of the floor. Beyond the experience and leadership that Pierce brings with him, he also has the ability to create his own shot, which will ease John Wall’s playmaking burden and give Wittman options on the offensive end of the floor.
Just how hot is Randy Wittman’s seat?
Even though the Wizards are fresh off of a playoff appearance, it seems that there is a lot of talk surrounding head coach Randy Wittman’s job even though the Wizards just rewarded Wittman with a contract extension after leading the Wizards to 44 wins last season and a trip to the second round of the playoffs. Players like John Wall and Bradley Beal have seen huge improvements in their game and Marcin Gortat has played well enough to warrant a five-year, $60 million contract extension, which have put big expectations on the Wizards to make some noise in the playoffs. With the improved roster and the arrival of Pierce, Wittman could be the first to catch blame if this team underachieves.
Will Marcin Gortat prove his worth?
Many around the NBA were ecstatic for Gortat when he landed his five-year, $60 million deal over the summer, but some were concerned. The biggest concern of this deal was giving a 30-year-old player a five-year deal and how the last few seasons of that deal might turn out. The fact is, Gortat forms an incredible front court with Nene and gives teams an incredible challenge when guarding those two big men. Certainly like the rest of the team, the expectations will fall on Gortat to help the Wizards make a deep playoff run and as long as he stays healthy, he should provide his worth on the contract.
Who The NBA’s Top Road Warriors?
Jordan Hicks takes a look at the teams boasting the top-five road records in the league and breaks down what makes them so good away from home.
Winning in the NBA is not easy by any means — but a victory on the road is almost more valuable than one at home. Maybe not as far as standings are concerned, but road wins are harder to come by in the league. Being able to get victories away from home can shoot your team up the standings faster than anything else.
Each year there are new teams that impress. Whether it’s expected franchises such as those led by LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard — superstars with historically great track records, rosters that must do so to meet lofty expectations. But there are always surprise newcomers such as the Miami HEAT or the Dallas Mavericks, too. Either way, a large chunk of those aforementioned team’s success relies heavily upon their ability to get wins on the road.
Who are the best road warriors this year? What teams are posting the highest records away from their home cities at the halfway point? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the top five teams in that realm, plus points to certain reasons they may be finding success.
No. 1: Los Angeles Lakers (19-4)
This first one should come as no surprise. For one, they are led by LeBron James. Secondly, they are co-led by Anthony Davis. Do you even need a third reason?
Listen, everyone thought the Lakers would be good. But did anyone think they’d be this dominant and click this fast? Honestly, high-five if so. But it’s not just those two that are doing all the work. Players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are thriving, Dwight Howard is having a mini-resurgence, Kyle Kuzma is playing for his roster spot and Rajon Rondo is still dishing dimes at a high rate – though not as high as King James.
LeBron is averaging 26 points, 10.9 assists and 8.4 rebounds on the road, almost a triple-double. Davis is just behind scoring-wise at 25.9 points and almost a double-double with 9.2 rebounds. Kuzma is shooting 47.2 percent from the field and scoring just over 15 a game and, most surprisingly, leading the team in plus-minus at a plus-7.1.
With multiple road-wins against the Mavericks — and one each over the Miami HEAT, the Utah Jazz, and the Denver Nuggets — what’s not to appreciate? The Lakers appear to be the clear front runner in the Western Conference and their impressive road record is a large reason why.
No. 2: Milwaukee Bucks (18-4)
On top of the road-win totem with the Lakers sits the Milwaukee Bucks. They’ve been every bit as dominating as the Lakers, which is helped, in part, to the much-weaker bottom of the Eastern Conference. But this by no means is a knock on their talent level. Just like the Lakers are the current kings of the West, the Bucks are dominating the East.
Giannis Antetokounmpo appears ready to secure his second consecutive MVP award. He’s even more dominant than he was last year and he’s finally shooting the three at a respectable clip.
While Antetokounmpo’s numbers seem to be pretty steady overall when compared to his road numbers, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton both see a bump in production when playing away from their home arena. Although the Bucks have an insanely-impressive point differential of plus-13.8 at home, it dips to just plus-11.4 when they play on the road. This is a true testament to their consistency as they travel.
The Bucks appear to lack the road-win resume that the Lakers bolster, but with solid wins against the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets, they can clearly take care of business against evenly-matched opponents.
No. 3: Dallas Mavericks (14-5)
By far and large the biggest surprise this NBA season has been the Mavericks. A few smart people probably had them penciled in as a surprise eighth-seed, but it’s almost a guarantee no one had them in as a playoff lock as early as December.
The reason they’re playing so well? Luka Doncic. He’s only half an assist away from averaging a triple-double on the road and he’s scoring more to boot. In fact, the Mavericks are averaging just 115.1 points at home compared to a whopping 118.6 on the road.
What’s even crazier is the fact that Dallas’ offensive rating while on the road not only leads the NBA — it’s over four full points greater than the Lakers at No. 2. The gap between them and second place is as big as the space between Los Angeles and the eleventh-ranked team.
The Mavericks boast quite the slate of road wins including the Nuggets, Lakers, Bucks, Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers. Yes, you read all those names right. One thing is for certain, the Mavericks will be a nightmare for whoever has to play them in the playoffs – regardless of seeding.
No. 4: Toronto Raptors (14-7)
You would think that after Kawhi Leonard’s departure that the Raptors would have slightly folded, but they’ve almost picked up right where they left off. Sure, Leonard’s absence was going to leave some sort of void, but it’s amazing just how well Toronto has fared this season.
They boast the second-best road defense with a rating of 102.7, just behind the Bucks. They also have the fourth-best net rating away from home.
The three-headed monster of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry has been as effective on the road as it has been at home. Thanks to the ever-improving play of Siakam, Toronto should comfortably find themselves with home-court advantage come playoff time. They might not have what it takes to repeat as champions, but they’re absolutely going to make life tough for whomever they end up facing.
Solid road wins against the Boston Celtics and Lakers certainly look impressive on the resume, but they’ll need to continue to improve as a unit if they want to make any noise in the playoffs.
No. 5: Denver Nuggets (13-7)
The Nuggets are having an interesting season. Gary Harris hasn’t been playing well at all, Jamal Murray hasn’t been turning heads either, but Nikola Jokic is still feasting on any opposing center thrown his way.
The biggest surprise so far? The stellar play of second-year rookie Michael Porter Jr. He’s only averaging about 15 minutes per game but, on the road, he’s scoring 8.3 points per game on 56 percent from the field and 51.6 percent from three. His NBA sample sizes aren’t quite big enough yet, but it’s becoming more and more clear just how good he’ll become.
Despite no one else on the roster improving much from last season, the Nuggets still find themselves in the upper-echelon of the Western Conference — and their stellar road play is a major reason. With solid road-wins against the Lakers, Mavericks and Indiana Pacers, the Nuggets are primed to finish the second half of the season strong. If Porter Jr. continues to improve and see expanded minutes, Denver could turn into a real threat out west.
All the teams on this list have been pretty impressive up to this point in the season, but there is still a long way to go. Will the Bucks or Lakers get dethroned as the road warriors of their respective conferences? Only time will tell.
But if one thing is certain in the NBA, road wins are no “gimmes,” regardless of opponent. The above teams all deserve their rightful spot on this midseason list. How many will remain come April?
The Next Frontier in Basketball: Results-Based Mindfulness
Jake Rauchbach outlines how firing and rewiring the brain’s neuro-networks via Brain-Based Training – Player Development is the next frontier in basketball.
The mind cannot tell the difference between what’s being experienced in real life and what is deliberately being visualized within the constructs of the mind. High-Performers have intuitively known this.
Science is now showing this. The brain has the ability to affect physiology and improve motor skill sets without lifting a finger.
For example, through visualizing desired outcomes, a person can rewire new neuro-networks (or pathways) in the brain, requisite for acquiring optimal motor function skills. This is based upon contemporary brain-based research.
The implications of these developments on the player development and performance space could be massive. Before we dive further into how, let’s first cover some foundational brain mechanics.
The Brain’s Neuro-Networks
According to some of the latest Epigenetic and neuroscience work by Dr. Joe Dispenza, the brain is comprised of a multitude of neuro-networks.
Neuro-networks are informational highways that transfer both information and commands. These networks are wired and rewired based upon our most consistent habits and behaviors.
According to Dispenza, people can upshift physiology, performance and career success through applying High-Performance Mindfulness techniques that rewire the brain’s neuro-networks.
Employing consistent visualization helps to fire and/or rewire these neuro-networks to more efficiently execute the specific task at hand. Additionally, employing leading-edge High-Performance methods takes this one step further by supercharging the process.
The current player development landscape generally leaves out likely the most important element of unlocking human potential and high-performance, the impact that systematically firing and rewiring neuro-networks in the brain has on statistical improvement.
This approach is much like honing muscle memory in a very specific, supercharged way, weeding out unproductive subconscious programs while installing productive programs, having the effect of boosting physiology, focus and, of course, performance.
Probably the most leading-edge and powerful way to do this is through the implementation of Brain-Based – Player Development methods. These methods can be applied for performance optimization and in the injury recovery process. More on performance in a minute, but first, let’s look at the recovery piece.
High-Performance Mindfulness for Injury Recovery
According to Dr. Milo Sewards, Head Orthopedic Surgeon of Temple University Athletics, one of the biggest areas that is left unaddressed during the rehabilitation process is the unhealed psychosomatic element. This is especially true after players are cleared to physically play.
“Players have to be able to clear that final mental hurdle that prevents them from being able to get back to not just participating but performing,” Sewards says.
According to Dr. Sewards, tools like this are a powerful way to address these issues.
“I have seen some incredible things happen, some efficacy with these techniques, and getting some guys back from injuries with these techniques back to a very high level of performance,” he says. “I would love to see all of this take off and be widely accepted.”
High-Performance tools addressing the mental hurdles that Dr. Sewards mentions above have been shown to quickly and effectively eliminate leftover psychosomatic elements from past injuries, but that is not all.
Take, for example, a study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology in 1992, where three test groups were used. Group No. 1 employed five, one-hour physical workout sessions per week for four weeks to improve arm strength. The second group just mentally rehearsed the same arm exercise that Group 1 did, without physically lifting a finger. Control groups did not exercise their arm or mind.
As you would expect, at the end of four weeks, Group 1 exhibited a 30% increase in muscle strength. But get this, the group that purely mentally rehearsed the exercise without any physical training, displayed a 22% increase in muscle strength!
Fascinating stuff, right? Another study, performed by Harvard researchers, took a group and divided it in half. One group practiced a five-finger piano exercise, two hours a day for five days. The other group’s members mentally rehearsed the exercise as if they were sitting at the piano without physically moving their fingers in any way.
Brain scans of both groups after the exercise revealed that they created a significant amount of neural activity. The group’s brain scan that only visualized the outcome was very similar to the group that had physically rehearsed.
There is big-time relevance here in regards to helping players improve.
Science continues to show that there are tangible improvements and progression taking place through Rep’ing the mind in a very specific way.
Optimizing Load Management
Efficient workflows are valued over old paradigm, sheer workload routines like never before. This is part of the reason why Load Management has become a priority. Career longevity and injury prevention have moved to the center.
Brain Psychology Player Development, that allows players the chance to improve on-court performance and physiology without increasing repetition of physical wear and tear, is an extremely valuable organizational asset.
Methods that optimize mental focus, emotional dissonance and statistical performance, without increasing the physical load on the body, are at a premium. For these reasons, combined with the scientific efficacy mentioned above, there could be a perfect storm brewing for massive market disruption.
The work-harder-for-longer model of player development is not resonating with the players as it once did. Combine this with leading-edge techniques shared within coming online, and the standard practices of improving basketball performance could change quickly. Players such as Aaron Gordon, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are infusing their routines with mind-based methods.
Considering that very few teams currently employ these methods in a systematic or customized fashion, there exists a HUGE opportunity for those forward-thinking organizations.
Optimizing On-Court Statistical Performance
High-Performance – Player Development Coaches have been showing that these methods influence on-court statistics upwards.
Case studies showing 10%, 20%, 30% and sometimes 40% improvement in the same season, have become routine and commonplace for the professional, national team and college players who trust and employ these processes.
Both players highlighted below experienced improvement in no less than five statistical areas in the course of the same season after implementation of mind-based methods. Here are examples of players describing how this work positively affected their game:
FIBA Cup, Daequan Cook: https://vimeo.com/361200434
FIBA Cup Captain, Tal Dunne: https://vimeo.com/322145121
For players and teams looking to gain a distinct edge in the development & performance space, the most efficient way to do this is through employing systematic processes that fire and rewire subconscious neuro-networks and produce high-performance.
Mind-based methods have been shown time and time again to facilitate this.
Based on growing empirical evidence, results and social proof, the next frontier in basketball could be mind-body methods that unlock performance.
NBA Daily: Collin Sexton’s Reading And Reacting A Work In Progress
Spencer Davies looks at Collin Sexton’s recent trends since the Cleveland Cavaliers traded Jordan Clarkson and his progression over the team’s last five games, including a long road trip against strong competition.
Year 2 in the NBA can be just as much of a challenge as a rookie season.
On one hand, your expectations rise — individually and team-wise. On the other, 29 teams key-in on tendencies through film study.
They’ll make adjustments to ensure you don’t get to your usual spots, forcing you to find a way to counteract. They’ll sniff out what makes you tick on the defensive end and gameplan ways to make you uncomfortable. And if you’re a shooter, they’ll contest and close-out harder than you’ve ever experienced.
In-house, things change. The roster is never exactly the same. Sometimes, there’s a lot of turnover in that department. Heck, you might have a new role and new coaching staff to learn from — and in some cases, your front office could be undergoing a shift.
Such factors can send a confident young player into the doldrums of a sophomore slump, a phenomenon that isn’t picky about choosing who, and when, to strike.
Entering the season, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton was a prime candidate to fall into this trap. With John Beilein making the jump from college to pro as his new head coach, No. 5 overall pick Darius Garland entering the mix as the team’s proverbial shiny new toy and All-Star big man Kevin Love fully healthy after an injury-plagued year, there were plenty of reasons to think that Sexton may go through some regression.
Following a blazing start from deep and continuing the momentum he established as a rookie, Sexton looked as if he began to hit a wall. In the second half of November and all of December, he went absolutely ice cold. And as a player that thrives as a natural scorer in attack mode, he reverted back to his negative tendencies — driving into trees with nowhere to go, turning the ball over due to poor decision-making and playing one vs. all-type basketball.
Sexton’s momentum picked up again, however, when Beilein staggered him and his starting backcourt partner’s minutes. Garland and the then-healthy Kevin Porter Jr. developed a chemistry on the floor that allowed for consistent ball movement to find the next guy. In an effort to experiment with different rotations, Sexton saw time with a mixture of lineups where he was a facilitator, yet he shared that role with Jordan Clarkson, a microwave-scoring sixth man with a similar style of play.
On Dec. 23, the Cavaliers parted ways with Clarkson via a trade with the Utah Jazz in exchange for little-used former 2014 fifth overall pick Dante Exum. The goal of this deal was not only to bring in a reclamation project in Exum, but to open up minutes for the squad’s younger, inexperienced players — Porter, Garland and Sexton — in key moments. And since this all went down, Sexton has been on the come up, slowly but surely.
Over the course of the year, Sexton’s had a floater down pat to finish over the top of defending bigs. He’s had to have that tool in his arsenal, too, because the NBA’s best shot-blockers have been feasting on his drives inside. Fear The Sword’s Justin Rowan astutely points out the number of shots the 21-year-old has had swatted away vs. the number of assists he’s given out (quite a disturbing ratio), which beckons the argument of him being a bad passer while simultaneously making bad decisions to challenge guys with almost a foot more of height.
These are valid concerns and will continue to be as long as it doesn’t change. Forcing the issue with your head down in a lose-lose situation can’t work in this league. At the same time, we also have to remember he’s still an inexperienced player navigating his way through his second season. Plus, from the point Clarkson was moved, Sexton’s scoring average is an encouraging 22.3 points per game on 46.1 percent from the field and 41.9 beyond the arc.
“Just reading and reacting. Especially like, we go over a lot of pick-and-roll stuff in practice, so I’m starting to just understand where I get my shots and stuff,” Sexton said Wednesday at Cleveland Clinic Courts.
Due to the success of that aforementioned floater, teams are prepared to pack the paint when they see Sexton going inside with a head of steam. Beilein’s noticed most of his players’ difficulty in seeing who’s out on the perimeter while maintaining eyes on the rim.
Though he’s still had bad moments in numerous situations to try and finish over multiple defenders, Sexton has seemed to discover a solution.
“When it’s like that, I’ve just got to make sure I keep spraying out and keep trying to get assists for my teammates. And making the right play, don’t try to force anything,” Sexton said. “If I don’t have it, then make the right play and hopefully my teammates knock it down.
“It’s tough,” Sexton admitted. “Just because at the last second, they might slide over and then I may have to pump a little bit and then pass it. But it’s tough. I’ve just got to make the right play. If I feel like I have the floater, just float it and don’t even think about it.”
It’s even tougher with Cleveland’s current roster, which isn’t exactly built for catch-shooting and hesitates to take them. There are only a handful of perimeter shooters — Love, Garland, Cedi Osman, Larry Nance Jr. — that the team can depend on. This goes without mentioning a sub-30 percent conversion rate that his teammates have when they attempt a triple off of one of Sexton’s passes. Maybe they aren’t put in the best spots or aren’t spacing the floor well-enough to help his case. Regardless, those shots have to fall.
As Garland’s confidence as a floor general has increased, so has his usage, leading Beilein to play Sexton off the ball, a role that the coaching staff believes suits his game despite necessary adjustments to get him to that point. We saw a different version of Sexton last week on the road — and even early on Monday in a 106-86 clunker against the New York Knicks.
“What we’ve been telling Collin is, he creates so much attention and can score the ball at such a high clip that so much is going to be there for him,” Love said of Sexton at Thursday’s morning shootaround. “He’s so fast, he can get into the paint so well and he puts such pressure on the defense — just looking at where he can make reads, that’s a combination of film, a combination of a willingness to find guys and just picking it apart and seeing it.
“He’s done a lot better job. (There were) a couple of quarters, a few halves where he was able to really see what he was capable of and setting up his teammates and then the game just opened up for him, and I think that’s going to continue to happen for him…He’s only going to get better.”
Perhaps his role should be brought up as well. Sexton isn’t a traditional point guard, as detractors would like to use against him when bringing up assist numbers. Rather, he’s a score-first combo player that Beilein wants to see continue hunting for buckets. That should not excuse hurtful mistakes during the course of games, though, and both the player and the coach know it.
“Just try not to force it. If it’s not there, don’t even pass it,” Sexton said. “If it’s like in-between, don’t even try to force it or anything like that. So we’ve just got to make the right passes when it comes to that. (Stop) trying to make the hero pass, maybe like a no-look or a little pocket pass when you don’t got to force it, you’ve just got to make the right play.”
In three of the last five games, Sexton’s dished out at least four assists. Sure, it’s a meager number to some, but it’s still progression — especially for somebody who’s spending time getting to his spots without the ball in his hands. When he’s brought it up the floor to start games, there’s been a concerted effort to find Love and others on the perimeter. The sooner Sexton realizes the ball will come back to him after initiating an action of some sort, the better off he and the Cavaliers will be.
“I think he’s seeing it,” Beilein said of Sexton’s vision. “I think we all will go back to our instincts, especially in tough times and he’s getting better at understanding that, because we want him to keep trying to score, now. He’s got really good 2-point numbers in some situations. It’s that fine line for him to discern, ‘Is this the best shot, is this the best play?’ And he’s very receptive of learning that.”
There seems to be a common misconception that Sexton doesn’t want to pass the ball. Should we really buy that? Or should it be taken in consideration that:
Cleveland is telling him to be the hunter? That he legitimately doesn’t see his teammates with defenses hounding him in the moment? That he doesn’t want to push his own possible limitations? That there’s not too much strength behind those passes in the first place?
These sound like excuses, yes, but if you counted how many times Sexton’s said “caught in-between” this year, you might be able to see it from that perspective. When you overdrive into traffic, you usually get into trouble. There have been quite a few instances where he, and Garland, have put themselves into a winless predicament. That shouldn’t be seen as somebody who will never get it. It should be seen as one-half of a combined 40-year-old backcourt with less than two seasons of experience trying to figure things out.
“It’s the NBA. You have to adjust,” Sexton said. “That’s how it is. You have to make sure you do that on the fly. And when it’s like that, you’ve got to really lock-in and really focus on different players and making sure you’re reading them.”
As Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor asked a local frustrated fan, “Why do we take near-20-point scorers who just turned 21 for granted and say, ‘Well those guys are a dime a dozen?’”
(If you’d like a personal opinion on that, refer to this Tweet.)
It’d be foolish to say that these same miscues won’t repeat themselves. It’s bound to happen with the high usage he has on this team. He has to be better, and he has to be smarter. However, if the progression comes in those areas little by little, then Sexton’s development will still be right on track regarding this embryonic point of his career.
You can demand that he uses his quick burst of speed and knack for getting into the paint to get others involved, but you can’t act as if points don’t matter — even if it’s not by the most efficient means of scoring. Some guys aren’t aggressive without being told to be. He is not one of those players because failure isn’t a fear of his.
His work ethic is matched by few. His desire to be great is palpable. His attitude is exceptional.
Sexton broke out with loads of confidence in the second half of his rookie campaign.
If history repeats itself, Cleveland will have to acknowledge Young Bull’s sophomore surge.
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