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Sexton could rival best PG in NBA Draft — for what it’s worth

Zach Harper

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Jan 9, 2018; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide guard Collin Sexton (2) drives to the basket against South Carolina Gamecocks guard Wesley Myers (15) during the second half at Coleman Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The Collin Sexton legend grew quickly this season.

Just six games into the 2017-18 season, Alabama lost its first game under the most insane circumstances. A bench-clearing kerfuffle ejected the team’s entire bench. Left with just five players in the final 13-ish minutes of the game, Bama had no margin for error.

Then one of the five remaining players fouled out. Another suffered an ankle injury, leaving the Tide to play 3-on-5 against Minnesota over the final 10:41 of the game. Sexton nearly led them to the most improbable come-from-behind victory in college basketball history.

Sexton scored 19 of his 40 points in the game with just two teammates on the floor. He dropped 31 in the second half and nearly brought Alabama back from an 18-point deficit. The Tide actually outscored Minnesota with just three people on the floor, but couldn’t eventually take the lead. They lost by five points. But that game bumped up the early-season profile of Sexton quite a bit. Since then, things have subsided as his team has struggled to flank him most nights.

Overall on the season, Sexton has played or scored well: 18.3 points per game on 54.9 percent true shooting. That’s not bad considering how poorly he has shot from 3-point range (30.6 percent). He also averages 3.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. Mostly, his scoring catches the eye on an Alabama team that can’t really keep up with him on offense. The Tide rank just 224th in the country in offense (out of 351) while 73rd in defense. They need him to score most nights and the opponents know this is required for Alabama to have a chance to win.

Collin Sexton Per Game Table
Season School G MP FGA FG% 3PA 3P% FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
2017-18 Alabama 28 29.3 13.0 .431 3.9 .306 7.6 .770 1.0 2.6 3.6 3.6 1.0 0.1 2.5 2.4 18.3
Career Alabama 28 29.3 13.0 .431 3.9 .306 7.6 .770 1.0 2.6 3.6 3.6 1.0 0.1 2.5 2.4 18.3
Provided by CBB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 3/6/2018.
Collin Sexton Advanced Table
Season PER TS% eFG% 3PAr FTr PProd ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG% OWS DWS WS WS/40
2017-18 23.0 .549 .477 .297 .585 508 4.0 9.5 6.9 27.9 1.9 0.4 13.1 32.5 2.5 1.1 3.7 .178
Career 23.0 .549 .477 .297 .585 508 4.0 9.5 6.9 27.9 1.9 0.4 13.1 32.5 2.5 1.1 3.7 .178
Provided by CBB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 3/6/2018.

 

Sexton projects in the top 10 of most mock drafts right now. He ranks behind Trae Young on most draft boards as the second-best point guard in the 2018 class. But what exactly does that mean for Sexton or any team considering him? In a league full of great point guards with the influx of high potential prospects at the position last year, point guard looks a bit saturated. So if you’re going to pick one in the top 10 in any draft, you need to be sure it has the potential to matter at the position. He impressed the basketball world on one random, insane night early in the college season. But what does that mean?

In this light, how should teams view Sexton as a prospect? Where does he struggle and succeed? What aspects of the game could determine his fate? Let’s take a look at the Alabama point guard.

STRENGTH: Scoring in the pick-and-roll

Collin Sexton slithers a lot through the defense. He doesn’t receive a lot of help from his teammates on offense. This team doesn’t shoot well from the outside, so teams can pack it in against them a bit. That makes creating in the pick-and-roll a bit harder than it should be for Sexton. He still manages to create and create well within the confines of a constricted college basketball environment. Executives have to figure out how much they trust his potential of doing this at the NBA level.

Sexton, despite issues shooting the ball (more on that in a bit), has a nice rhythm to how he scores in the pick-and-roll. He manages to balance his attack between setting up for others, taking and making jumpers out of PnR action, or getting into the lane to cause some havoc. Sexton often uses the pick instead of rejecting it or trying to split hedge actions, but he’ll still vary it up depending on the look of the defense. Once he gets into the lane, he has the ability to get to the rim in a gliding motion or use a floater that can be pretty effective. He isn’t afraid to shoot jumpers in the PnR, which works out for him.

Sexton scores 93.9 points per 100 possessions in the pick-and-roll on a 49.2 effective field goal percentage. Those numbers don’t blow people away but rank really well in college basketball. He has 164 possessions in the PnR as a scorer. His 93.9 points per 100 rank 282nd out of 1,727 players with at least 150 possessions. Sexton shoots 39.3 percent on jumpers off the dribble in the PnR. He also gets to the basket nearly 40 percent of the time.

Most NBA teams will just dare him to shoot at the next level and prove he has that in his bag. But his ability to snake through defenders smoothly as he gets to the rim has a little bit of Damian Lillard to him. It’s just figuring out exactly how valuable Damian Lillard would look without a highly weaponized 3-point shot.

WEAKNESS: Outside shooting

Speaking of that jump shot, it looks pretty bad and the numbers across the board don’t lend a lot of optimism regarding its ceiling. Sexton shoots 30.6 percent from deep on nearly 4.0 attempts per game. In his first nine games of the season, Sexton shot 47.1 percent from deep on 3.8 attempts per game. I’m not sure anybody bought that Sexton all of a sudden could shoot from deep. Everybody started waiting to see what the regression to the mean looked like with his accuracy. It looks pretty brutal. Since then, Sexton has made just 23 percent of his 3-pointers on 3.9 attempts per game. He has made 17 3-pointers in his last 19 games.

The problem with the shot starts and ends with the shooting form. His shooting form doesn’t remain consistent depending on how he’s gathering the ball (off the catch or off the dribble). It doesn’t seem to matter which form is used during his jumper. Each iteration looks pretty bad. Sometimes his off arm does a weird bend into his other arm on the follow-through. Sexton brings the ball right in front of his chest when pulling off the dribble, leaving it open for a hand to swipe it away. It’s possible he can draw some fouls with that, but it mostly just exposes the ball. It often looks like he’s pushing the ball instead of just a normal shooting motion.

Synergy Sports has Sexton at 35 percent on jumpers this season with a 45.3 percent eFG. He has made just 25 percent (3-of-12) of his guarded catch-and-shoot jumpers. The unguarded catch-and-shoot jumpers have a worse success at 18.2 percent (2-of-11). It’s an extremely small sample size but it might be a small sample size because he just can’t shoot. Then again, we have to remember there isn’t much offense on that team outside of him, so who’s going to set him up?

He also 37.2 percent off the dribble with an eFG of 46.3 percent. Sexton could very much be a rhythm shooter in which he needs the dribble to set up a better shooting motion. If that’s the case, it’s easier to feel like he has a higher shooting ceiling than what his current numbers suggest. But some team or shooting coach will probably need to rework the majority of that shooting motion.

STRENGTH: He gets to the free throw line

Sexton finds his way to the free throw line 7.6 times per game. He shoots a respectable 77 percent from the line, but that probably needs to creep toward the mid-80s for the majority of his NBA career. That doesn’t seem like an unreasonable expectation to set for him in that respect. But the encouraging part of his game is he doesn’t just rely on jacking up shots all over the place. He finds a great balance in how often he manages to draw contact to get a chance at earning some free points.

His free throw rate (free throw attempts per field goal attempts) sits at 58.5 percent. To put that into context, James Harden had a free throw rate of 57.5 percent last season and currently holds a 49.4 percent free throw rate. Sexton draws fouls at a really high rate. How well will this translate to the NBA level? Sexton doesn’t exactly excel at finishing around the rim (more on that in a bit) and hunting contact doesn’t mean he’ll receive a friendly whistle at the NBA level. Unless someone reworks that shot immediately, Sexton will have a lot of open space in front of him as teams pack the paint and dare him to shoot.

That makes the slithery nature of Sexton and how he attacks in the pick-and-roll above so important. We know he can get into the lane quite often. He’ll just have to make sure he’s adjusting his body enough to remain under control while still creating misjudgments by defenders inside.

WEAKNESS: Scoring around the basket

Sexton doesn’t have a problem getting into the paint at the college level, but once he’s there, it isn’t a guarantee he’ll get a good shot off. Synergy Sports has Sexton finishing around the basket 47.7 percent of the time, which gives him a scoring efficiency of 99.1 points per 100 possessions. There are 390 players in college basketball with at least 100 possessions trying to score around the basket. Sexton’s efficiency (or lack thereof) ranks 363rd. So what’s the issue with finishing around the basket?

Let’s take a look at a few failures there.

Too often, Sexton drives into the paint without a plan. While he has a great first step for blowing by defenders, he doesn’t have much explosiveness in traffic. That can cause that gliding motion of his to be easy to track for rim protectors inside. Now, he’s also playing in that compacted college environment I mentioned earlier. Things should be more open at the NBA level, which allows his craftiness inside to come through a bit more. He’ll really have to absorb contact and shield the ball better.

Establishing that floater early on will force defenders to step out toward him a little bit more. If that’s the case, he’ll have more room to operate around the rim. He just has to be quicker than what he’s showing and less nonchalant.

SOMETHING TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Perimeter defense

At around 6-foot-2 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan, Sexton has solid size for the point guard position. His athleticism won’t remind you of Russell Westbrook, but he also looks like a good athlete with quick feet. So how do we think he’ll defend at the NBA level? I pulled some clips of him defending the other top point guard prospect, Trae Young. Defenders have to approach Young differently than any other college player because of the way he bends the floor. Only a couple of players at the NBA level create that same attention at half court.

It shows a good example of the mistakes and the good decisions he makes on the defensive end of the floor. He can apply good pressure but has to remain balanced in adjusting to counter moves.

This is just an example of some of the defense Sexton can play. He could really excel as a help defender at the NBA level, but he has a low steal rate — something that tends to translate from college to the pros. If Sexton can’t shoot at the NBA level, he’ll have to find a way to be a plus-defender in order to truly prove he can justify being a top-10 pick and a starter for a decade-plus. There’s plenty to work with there.

SOMETHING TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Playmaking for others

It’s tough to figure out how good a playmaker Sexton is for others. His assist rate is low but his turnover rate is quite manageable. His teammates don’t give him a ton to work with in terms of converting plays he sets up, but he also doesn’t show a ton of overt playmaking instincts. Sexton often makes the simple play with the ball, which could be a limit of skill set/creativity or a product of his team environment. The one thing that makes people feel pretty good about his NBA playmaking is how easily he can get into the middle of the floor with a live dribble.

Once he makes the defense collapse or commit to him, he has pretty good vision to find an open shooter. He has the ability to drop off passes inside to rolling big men. Threading the needle doesn’t happen too often.

While it’s uncertain how high his ceiling is, there could be value in how solid Sexton can be. Assuming the shot never becomes league average, Sexton as a plus-defender, a solid scorer in the pick-and-roll, and an average to above-average player at the position. Maybe not a star, but he could be a reliable point guard at the NBA level. From there, teams wouldn’t have to extend gigantic contracts to him throughout his career. He could be paid more in the second contract range of someone like Kemba Walker or Ricky Rubio (plus market inflation). That allows teams to allocate funds elsewhere.

That isn’t the most exciting way to write about a top-10 prospect in the draft, but it certainly factors into decision-making. And if he overplays that expectation, teams will be fine committing to him. He may not look like the superhero basketball player we saw in the 3-on-5 situation, but a lot of scouts love his tenacity and aggressiveness. He just needs to find a way to not be so severe in his flaws. Everything is workable for Sexton.

Being a top point guard prospect in a draft class has become highly skewed because of the positional depth and firepower. That hurts Sexton now more than it would have a few years ago. He can still be a good pick for a team and provide a lot of options. That will allow his legend to grow at a much more reasonable pace.

Zach Harper is a basketball obsessive with a penchant for outside shooting and high volume scorers. He believes in living life 3-point line to 3-point line. Zach has worked for ESPN, Bleacher Report, and CBS Sports since 2010. He's as interested in exploring the minutiae of the game of basketball as he is in finding the humor in it. Basketball in previous eras was fun, but it's much better now. Embrace change.

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