Thursday, June 13 2024

Key Highlights

    • Since entering the starting lineup, Collin Sexton is averaging 21.9 points (65.2 percent true shooting) and 4.8 assists
    • The Utah Jazz are 15-4 over their last 19 games since making Sexton a starter
    • According to Cleaning the Glass, Sexton is shooting 75 percent (89th percentile among combo guards) at the rim and 42 percent (81st percentile) beyond the arc over this span

This past summer was one of introspection for Utah Jazz head coach Will Hardy. After a successful first year as Utah’s lead man in which he guided the revamped, rebuilding Jazz to a surprising 37-45 record and top-10 offense, Hardy wondered whether he was doing enough for his young, talented guard, Collin Sexton.

Under Hardy, Lauri Markkanen had earned his first All-Star appearance and emerged as one of the game’s most lethal off-ball scorers; Walker Kessler showcased eye-popping rim protection savvy and finishing chops to nab an All-Rookie First Team berth. Both were clearly headlining, worthwhile returns in trades that saw Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert dealt elsehwhere.

But he wasn’t sure if he’d given Sexton —  a former 20-point scorer who was still just 24 and another integral part of the package for Mitchell — a fair shake. Was he letting rumors of hollow scoring and tenuous prior relationships affect his view?

A new team is supposed to indicate a fresh start. Was Hardy truly granting Sexton a chance at that?

All of this weighed on him during those six months away from NBA action.

“I’ve learned a lot about coaching through dealing with Collin because I think he was someone who really came in with a lot of narrative around the type of player that he is and I probably let that impact me too much last year,”  Hardy told reporters after a win Monday over the Indiana Pacers in which Sexton logged 30 points and five assists. “But he’s somebody that has shown me that you don’t need to listen to any of that at all. You need to just take people at face value for how they are when they get here and what they do when they’re with our team, and he’s a big reason why we’re playing well right now.”

Why Are Sexton And The Jazz Playing So Well?

Sexton is absolutely a catalyst behind Utah’s five-week surge — a surge “playing well” doesn’t fully capture. Since he entered the starting lineup on Dec. 13, the Jazz are 15-4, featuring victories over the New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets.

They’re ninth in the West at 22-20, have won six consecutive games, and are 2.5 games behind fifth-seeded Dallas.  Over that span, Sexton is averaging 21.9 points and 4.8 assists (1.6 turnovers), while shooting 41.5 percent from deep and 56.8 percent on two-pointers (65.2 percent true shooting) — all in just 27(!!) minutes a night. Up that to 32 (Markkanen’s minutes load), and we’re looking at 26 and six for the former Alabama standout.

Utah is seventh in offensive rating (122.3) with Sexton as a starter. Its attack is predicated on abundant floor-spacing, off-ball screening/movement and connective playmaking. It ranks top 10 in three-point frequency, assist rate and passes per game. Sexton enhances these pillars.

He’s netting 46.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot triples, including 51.9 percent during this 19-game stretch, and is a perceptive cutter. Give him space to rev up and he’ll take any possible chance to immortalize defenders onto the ugly side of a poster.

His burst and wide-ranging off-ball skills have enabled him to thrive in Hardy’s system. Whether it’s schemed reads or organic decisions, Sexton is flourishing without lording over possessions.

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All of that real estate he enjoys rocking out as an off-ball scorer extends to his creation chances. Although a career-high 57 percent of his field goals are assisted this season (his first time north of 50), he sees ample opportunities to break down defenders on his own.

Aside from Kessler and Kris Dunn — who has canned 37 percent of his 46 long balls this season — Utah’s rotation is flush with players who warrant defensive concern beyond the arc. As help stays tethered to the bevy of shooters around Sexton, he largely faces single coverage and capitalizes on it to bludgeon his way inside.

Since joining the starting unit, 36 percent of his attempts (85th percentile) are coming at the rim, where he’s shooting 75 percent (89th percentile). Sexton’s acceleration is very good, but he doesn’t really elect to leave defenders in the dust so much as he instead engages in a game of bumper cars.

Despite his 6-foot-2 stature, he loves overwhelming opponents with physicality using hip and shoulder bumps — evidenced by his .400 free-throw rate. There’s a suddenness in his athleticism reinforced by sharp changes of pace and direction to forge angles. Even if he has no issue burning past dudes, he prefers to go right through their chest. A slalom skier, he is not.

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No offensive tactician maximizes spacing with a non-shooting center better than Hardy. Kessler has made five threes in 108 career games, and it barely matters. He usually stations himself in the weakside corner (sometimes, it’s on the wing or slot) and dives inside upon any paint touch. Finding him for lobs and laydown feeds feels like a prerequisite for any ball-handler in Utah’s offense, and Sexton has certainly passed that test.

His playmaking discernment and talent are blossoming. As a starter, his assist rate is 27.2 percent (74th percentile) and his turnover rate is 8.8 percent (74th percentile). Both rout his previous best marks of 21.9 and 11.7 percent in 2020-21. He’s a creative, cunning and cognizant interior facilitator.

These days, more often than not, when the ball is in his hands, the Jazz are content with the outcome.

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Sexton celebrated his 25th birthday two weeks ago. He is burgeoning as a wonderful jackknife scorer alongside the sweet-shooting Markkanen, who is just 26 years old himself. They’re a harmonic pairing entering the primes of their career together in an offense accentuating everything they do well. Markkanen first experienced it last season. Sexton is now joining him.

“I needed to take Collin at face value and just go, ‘Hey, whatever happened before he got to Utah means nothing to me.’ And how has he been with me every day? How has he been with our team every day? And he’s always done everything that I’ve asked,” Hardy said. “That doesn’t mean Collin doesn’t drive me crazy at times. He does, and he knows that. And I’m sure that I drive him crazy, too. But we’ve recently had a conversation where I’ve told him, ‘I’m not gonna stop being a pain in the ass. That’s my job.’ “

Sexton and Hardy probably won’t stop being a pain in the ass for the teams they face either. They’ve been doing a damn good job lately, and it’s rewriting the narrative on both this Jazz squad and who Sexton is as a player: a good team with a really good starting shooting guard.

Source: Basketball Insider


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