On June 8, 2018, the Cleveland Cavaliers were defeated by the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals for the second year in a row. This time, the defending champs only needed four games to take out LeBron James and co., leaving James' future with the franchise in jeopardy as he entered the 2018 NBA offseason as an unrestricted free agent.
On June 21, 2018, the Cavaliers selected Collin Sexton with the eighth overall pick in the NBA Draft. In his first interview after shaking commissioner Adam Silver's hand, Sexton had a clear-cut message for the Cavs' star entering free agency: "LeBron let's do it. I saw you needed that one extra piece this past season. Let's get back to The Finals, let's do it."
It wasn't long before a rookie anxious to become the missing piece on an NBA Finals team saw his role for his first season change right before his eyes. On July 2, 2018, just 12 days after the draft, LeBron signed a four-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. At that very moment, Sexton went from being a third-option rookie just filling a role to the floor general and secondary scorer to All-Star forward Kevin Love.
Immediately, this has the feeling of something Cleveland has seen before. In 2010 when LeBron signed with the Miami Heat, the Cavs were left with a depleted roster that won 19 games the following season. In the 2011 NBA Draft, they selected Kyrie Irving, a 19-year-old kid who was called on to clean up the mess left behind from James' departure. Irving was a 6-foot-3, 190-pound do-it-all type guard who had the talent to make an immediate impact at the NBA level.
Sexton stands in at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds and is known for his ability to completely take over games. In his first moment in the national spotlight, he nearly defeated a ranked college basketball team on his own, scoring 40 points while playing three against five for the final 10-plus minutes of the game.
He continued to show that type of domination in the NBA Summer League Playoffs, where fans got to see what "Bull Mode" is all about. Through the first three rounds, Sexton was averaging 20 points, 5.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game, carrying Cleveland to the semi-finals.
In the semis against LeBron's Laker young-guns, Sexton almost pulled off the upset with an insane 27-point performance that had everyone buzzing about this kid's potential.
The situation Sexton inherits is far-and-away better than the fire that Irving was thrown in to. Kyrie was unable to lead his team to a successful year in his first season, but he still took home the Rookie of the Year and All-Rookie First Team honours.
Who's to say that Sexton can't do all the above?
Irving joined a roster that had two total All-Star appearances in a time where the conferences were not nearly as lopsided as they are today. Sexton joins Love, a five-time All-Star, among other veterans who have played in countless big games, playing in an Eastern Conference that is as open it has been since LeBron entered the NBA.
He is tied for the third-best odds to win the 2018-19 Rookie of the Year. At +750, he and New York Knicks guard Kevin Knox trail Phoenix Suns centre DeAndre Ayton (+375) and Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (+350). He has higher odds than other big names like Marvin Bagley III (+900), Jaren Jackson Jr. (+1100), Trae Young (+1100) and Wendell Carter Jr. (+1500) who were all drafted before him.
In the annual NBA rookie's survey, Sexton and Doncic tied for "who will be the 2018-19 Kia Rookie of the Year?" each receiving 18 percent of the votes. It's clear Sexton's draftmates think highly of the Alabama-product, as he tied for third in "best career" and "best playmaker" voting and tied for fifth in being the draft classes' best defender.
With Doncic, Ayton, Bagley and Jackson Jr. playing in the brutal Western Conference, it's unlikely that any of their teams could crack the top-eight spots. Knox will have a great opportunity to solidify his rep in New York, but without Kristaps Porzingis, the talent around him doesn't match Cleveland's. Young has the chance to own the spotlight in Atlanta but the Hawks are still a ways away from becoming a playoff team. Carter Jr. is in an intriguing situation with all the young talent in Chicago, but the Bulls still seem to be a year or so away from seriously competing in the East.
Yes, all of these players are capable of having breakout rookie seasons, but if Sexton were to have a breakout year as well as a competitive team, that could put him over the top.
The Cavaliers are projected for 30.5 wins, five shy of the eight seed in the Eastern Conference based on Vegas odds. Hear me out: Sexton flirts with the 19 points per game he averaged in college and the Summer League. He increases his three-plus assists per game surrounded by better talent than he's ever played with before. And he helps the Cavs compete with teams like the Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets who will also be fighting for the final playoff spots in the East.
Does all of that sound that ridiculous? It sounds like a Rookie of the Year campaign to me.
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