Rumored to be available this offseason, Collin Sexton makes sense for a Knicks team looking to add a point guard who can pressure the rim.
The New York Knicks have several needs this offseason, but none bigger than the hole at the point guard position. Elfrid Payton has reached free agency. The Knicks have Luca Vildoza on the roster and Derrick Rose waiting in the wings as an unrestricted free agent, looking to return to play for the orange and blue. New York would benefit the most from upgrading the point guard position.
Earlier in the week, former TKW writer Ty Jordan wrote about Lonzo Ball. I want to share my thoughts on another potential target, Cleveland’s Collin Sexton.
Drafted eighth overall in 2018, one pick ahead of the immortal Kevin Knox, Sexton went to a Cleveland team fresh off of the loss of LeBron James. As such, Sexton assumed a large offensive load from day one, averaging 16.7 points and shooting 40% from the floor. That didn’t stop Cleveland from taking another point guard, Darius Garland, the following draft, giving the Cavaliers two small guards.
Fast forward two years later, and Garland seems to be the team’s future, while Sexton feels like someone on the way out. The Cavs have the third overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, a Kevin Love dilemma, and Sexton wants a max contract. The Cavaliers don’t feel excited about that prospect, creating speculation that Sexton could be on the way out of Cleveland.
I wasn’t a fan of Sexton on the surface. The prospect of giving up assets for Sexton wasn’t exciting, while the thoughts of extending him to contact somewhere between the $18-20 million range made me a bit nauseous. However, Sexton does fit the Knicks…in two ways.
Collin Sexton, monster scorer
Scoring the basketball is undeniable, and Sexton does that in bunches. Last season, the former Alabama guard averaged 24.3 points and shot 37.1% from the outside on 4.4 attempts per contest. Sexton was viable at the rim along with the good outside shooting, scoring on 61% of his attempts. For at least the 2020–21 Cleveland Cavaliers, Sexton was an offensive engine.
For the Knicks, his ability to provide and offer pressure at the rim would be vital. Among players who averaged 10 or more drives, Sexton finished ninth in the league at 16.8. While his 47.3% shooting is close to average, the ability to attack the basket is an element the Knicks lack on the roster. Derrick Rose did a good job last season with New York—11.9 drives last season—but the lack of explosiveness and burst on the roster was apparent in the playoffs.
Add Sexton into the mix, and you give New York’s offense some juice. The ability to attack the basket opens up more passing lanes and creates a bit more pressure on opposing defenses. The most intriguing part of adding Sexton is Julius Randle and R.J. Barrett, two players who fit well with Sexton. Barrett would benefit the most from Sexton’s driving ability, while Randle would have another player he can work with as a cutter when he’s running the offense.
Imagine taking Sexton’s 24.3 points per game and dropping it into New York’s offense.
Collin Sexton: The Trade Target (and trade question)
The question is, is Collin Sexton the best player the Knicks can acquire without giving up R.J. Barrett?
It’s a bit of a weird ask, but based on the recent discussion between Barrett and a Damian Lillard trade, it’s one to ask. Based on three players who could potentially be on the table, Barrett would be involved in a deal for Lillard, Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Washington’s Bradley Beal. Just this fan’s take: I’d 100% include Barrett in a Gilgeous-Alexander trade, you can sell me on Lillard trade, and I would pass on a Beal deal.
The next tier has some players that could intrigue the Knicks: Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon and Portland’s C.J. McCollum. Brogdon was just offered alongside a first-round pick to Philadelphia for Ben Simmons, offering an insight into what the Pacers aim for this upcoming season. McCollum, rumored to be viewed as a negative contract to some, could offer to help improve the ceiling of several teams in the lottery and on the verge of the play-in game.
Also, have to factor in age; McCollum is 30, while Brogdon is 29. Giving up players and picks for this gain while teams like Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, and Atlanta are better than you feel shortsighted. Sexton could be the best trade target that doesn’t lose Barrett while also having a bit of a long-term gain.
So the answer might be: maybe? Sexton somehow fits the Knicks without giving up their top asset, and at $6.3 million next season, Sexton doesn’t hurt New York’s offseason hunting in free agency.
Is Collin Sexton the “right” point guard for the Knicks?
One of the biggest issues for the Knicks this past year was that the offense was too Randle-heavy, as evidenced by the team falling off a cliff as Randle struggled in the playoffs. There are plenty of reasons for that, but the Knicks went as far as Randle went in the regular season, so by the time we got to the postseason, no one was able to assert themselves as the first-time All-Star struggled with Atlanta’s coverage.
The same concerns I have for Sexton are the same I have for Dallas’s Jalen Brunson. Can they provide the proper balance for the offense? Scoring the ball is fine, and both players do it in droves, but can they balance the offense and trim some of the bad possessions out of Randle’s game while also funneling them to someone like Barrett, who can use more off-dribble opportunities? What about getting Mitchell Robinson a few more post touches and oops? There are different ways to help elevate New York’s offense.
Sexton saw his assists per game jump to 4.4 per game while also seeing his assist rate jump to 22.6%. His VORP went from 0.1 in 2019–20 to 1.0 in 2020–21. Warts in all, like he might be just a small shooting guard, he’s a poor defender, and questions about his ability to run the offense are all legit. However, the biggest question for New York will be as they continue to move forward with this roster, is Sexton more of a point guard option who can help remodel the offense, or is he, on a good team, more of a Lou Williams type?
I think Collin Sexton is a good player. The ability to create your own offense is valuable, and Sexton does it both at the rim and from the outside. Even on a lottery team, 24.3 points is an impressive total for Sexton, and a team trading for him could use him for an additional scoring punch. On the Knicks, it’s about give-and-take involving Sexton, taking his offensive value and success while taking his defensive shortcomings (though it should be stated that he’s a normal bad defender, not a lazy bad defender). Tom Thibodeau can cover those issues, but he can and will be targeted when the opponents are better.
If the Knicks can acquire Sexton, he would be a fine player for the Knicks, thanks to the foundation. Thibodeau and Mitchell Robinson can cover for him on defense, while the offense has some room for improvement, and he can offer the shooting and driving element it needs. However, the concerns about how he impacts the team’s creativity while taking over a sizable chunk of the team’s ball-handling are a concern—also, the imminent contract extension.
Sexton at a hair under $7 million works, but even a deal around $18 million, for me, is a concern because the Knicks are committing money at that point outside of Julius Randle and R.J. Barrett off a hypothetical 82 games. With Barrett entering year three of his rookie contract, a contract, potentially a max contract, is looming. We’ve discussed the parameters of a Randle contract; those three players being locked in before any big-money deals would be a bit concerning.
In the long list of Knicks 2021 offseason targets, Collin Sexton hits the “need” and is cheap for this year, but the future concerns of the contract could be just enough to avoid.