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It was the type of performance the Cleveland Cavaliers wanted to see from Collin Sexton.
It was the performance of a point guard with All-Star potential, the performance of someone who can make an immediate impact with a franchise that suddenly could use one.
Was it just a summer league game? Of course. There’s no debating, for the most part, that this was a meaningless 96-84 win over the Sacramento Kings in the opener of the Las Vegas tournament Wednesday. (The Cavs, by the way, advance to face the Houston Rockets on Saturday).
Still, Sexton’s showing shouldn’t be totally dismissed, either.
He erupted for 25 points, seven assists and four rebounds — displaying exceptional speed with the ball, superb confidence and a sharp mid-range game.
With LeBron James off to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cavs are on the lookout for someone who can fill the seats with a little flair. Maybe the No. 8 overall pick of the 2018 NBA Draft can be their man.
“Collin’s been very good,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said in an exclusive interview with cleveland.com. “I like the way he attacks the basket. He’s good in the pick-and-roll. He’s got a good pull-up jump shot, and he’s just making the right play.
“There are some things he still needs to work on, but I am very, very pleased with the way Collin’s been playing.”
If the Cavs intend to compete next season, and shock the skeptics (as guard Jordan Clarkson suggested they will do), they will need to do so as a team.
They will need to play with some swagger. They will need someone who doesn’t back down, someone who doesn’t play soft, someone who doesn’t shy away from playing with lots of passion and drive.
Yes, it’s only summer league, but Sexton is showing those characteristics. And those are all things that tend to carry over to the games that matter.
How badly did the Cavs want Sexton?
According to cleveland.com, they had a chance to trade with the Atlanta Hawks to acquire the third overall pick and shooting guard Kent Bazemore on the night of the draft. They stuck with Sexton instead.
Now, he doesn’t have the handles or range of a Kyrie Irving, or needless to say, the size and skill of a James. As Lue pointed out, Sexton has a ways to go.
But there are worse things than for the Cavs to believe in something good, even if it is just July — and even if many of Sexton’s current opponents will be playing in Belgium or some other far off place next season.
This is about promise, and right now, Sexton is providing plenty.
“He’s been showing it from day one, just his toughness,” Cavs summer coach James Posey said, via the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “He’s going to get better, but right now he’s doing a great job.”
Small forward Jamel Artis, who appeared in 15 games for the Orland Magic last season, added 14 points and seven rebounds for the Cavs. Big man Okaro White tacked on 13 points and also had seven boards.
Swingman Cedi Osman and center Ante Zizic, two forces for the Cavs’ summer team, sat out to give the other guys a chance.
Justin Jackson led the Kings with 20 points. Second overall draft pick Marvin Bagley III has a pelvic bone bruise and did not play.
As for Sexton, well, even the Cavs who played with James are taking note.
“I really like how he plays,” Osman said. “He’s going to help us a lot this year.”