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George Hill has more than likely never heard of Wally Pipp, but he may soon.
Pipp, for reference, was a solid first baseman for the New York Yankees when a raw rookie named Lou Gehrig filled in for him in a game played on June 3, 1925… and stayed there for 2,130 straight games over 14 years.
Hill, the starting point guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers, has missed the team’s last four games because of sprained right shoulder late in a loss at Orlando on Nov. 5.
In his absence, rookie Collin Sexton has stepped in at the point for Cleveland and has thrived, averaging 18.0 point on 48.4 percent shooting from the field, including 70 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, along with 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
The No. 8 overall pick of the draft out of Alabama, the 19-year-old Sexton has appeared to be much more comfortable as a starter than he was coming off the bench.
“Some guys are just like that,” Cavaliers coach Larry Drew said after practice Friday. ‘They develop a rhythm to playing. There are just guys who feel more comfortable starting than coming off the bench.
“I think everybody wants to start, but everybody’s production as a starter is not very good. As a coach, what I try to do, I try to look at what a guy does as a starter versus what he does off the bench. Certainly, with G-Hill out, Collin has definitely stepped up to the plate and made his presence felt and has made a major impact to what we’ve been doing.”
Drew, himself a guard during his playing days, appreciates the fact Sexton has clearly found some rhythm, even though he’s been matched against the likes of Dennis Schroder of Oklahoma City, Zach LaVine and Ryan Arcidiacono of the Chicago Bulls, Kemba Walker of the Charlotte Hornets and John Wall of the Washington Wizards during this stretch of emerging play.
“He’s still a work in progress and he understands that. But right now it really looks like he’s got into a rhythm, he’s got into a groove as far as his play,” Drew said. “Last couple games, he’s played against two premier point guards and I would say he’s held his own. That’s a huge sign of growth. Looks like he’s in a pretty good rhythm as a starter.”
What does that mean, for Hill, the starter in Cleveland’s first 10 games? Does he reclaim his starting spot or be relegated to playing behind a rookie on the team with the NBA’s worst record (2-12)?
“I’ll have to look at things, I’ll have to assess things and make a decision,” Drew said. “I’ll make that decision when George is ready to come back.”
No matter what, Sexton blossoming while Hill is out has made the decision for Drew that much more difficult.
“That’s fair to say,” Drew said. “The kid’s played well. The team has played well and I’m just not talking in terms of wins and losses. The team has played well overall. Yeah, I think that’s a fair assessment.”
Veteran sharpshooter Kyle Korver, who has missed the last two games because of soreness in his right foot but could return for Monday night’s game at Detroit after returning to practice Friday, has been impressed by what he’s seen by Sexton during this recent stretch.
“I think in a short period of time he’s doing better. He still has a ways to go and I think he would tell you that,” he said. “But just his approach and his willingness to be coached, especially in these last five or six games, I think he’s really turned a corner.
“It’s exciting to watch him. He’s a really talented kid.”