INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue has settled on George Hill as his starting point guard to open the season, opting to bring prized rookie Collin Sexton off the bench.
“I think Collin has done a great job and I want him to understand the game, understand running our offense and understand picking and choosing his spots and G Hill is a great veteran to learn from,” Lue said following Thursday’s practice. “Watching him and talking to Collin every day and just teaching him is good for him.
“His day is going to come. His chance is going to come. His opportunity is going to come. Just learning the game and not putting so much pressure on him to start right away I think is good for him — even though he’s probably ready. From my mindset, I just want to make sure we ease him into it and he’s comfortable and he’s going to have his chance.”
Lue said there is no specific target date for when he would like Sexton, the eighth-overall pick, to become the full-time starter. Lue wants to “see how it goes.”
Like the players, Lue has been incredibly impressed with the growth Sexton has shown in such a short time. Seeing Sexton work on a daily basis gives Lue plenty of belief that Sexton will excel in any role, alongside any combination of teammates.
“The biggest thing is he’s very smart. He picks things up quick,” Lue said. “He knows when he makes a mistake and that’s good. When you make a mistake and you’re like, ‘Oh I made a mistake,’ you know that and he’s catching himself. Biggest thing is being smart and having the work ethic that he does. I mean, that’s a big advantage.”
All signs were pointing to this. The Cavs haven’t been rotating teams very much during training camp. Lue has wanted his groups — starters and reserves — to build chemistry ahead of the regular season opener in Toronto on Oct. 17.
While Sexton started back-to-back preseason games against Boston and Indiana, a bulk of his practice time has come with the bench group, running alongside Jordan Clarkson, Kyle Korver and Sam Dekker in a fast-paced unit that features constant movement. Sexton smiled when talking about playing with Clarkson in a speedy backcourt together and the possibilities it creates.
Clarkson, who was second in the NBA in bench scoring last season, should lift some of the rookie’s offensive burden, keeping him from being the primary playmaker. It will also allow Sexton to evolve his off-ball game. Maximizing his time with Korver should help open the paint for Sexton to attack off the dribble while also helping his evolution as a passer — an area where the teenager still needs to improve.
“I think just because he’s a natural scorer, being aggressive, getting to the basket and getting to the free throw line, but just talking to him, picking and choosing his spots when Korver, JR (Smith) and those guys are running and being able to see those guys,” Lue said. “They are specialists and they can knock down shots. He’s done a good job controlling the team, controlling the game and picking and choosing his spots. He’s only going to get better.”
For Sexton, it doesn’t matter if he’s starting or coming off the bench. Being around Hill has helped and he will continue to soak up all information.
“I know I can go to him about pretty much anything and I know he’s going to have my back and have the best interest for me,” Sexton told cleveland.com about the relationship. “It’s good to have that veteran, older guy to lean on, especially so young so I can lean on him and he helps me out. That’s pretty cool.”
Last season, Utah began with rookie Donovan Mitchell in the starting lineup for three of the first four games. After struggling early, they moved him to the bench for the next seven games before he forced his way into the starting lineup once again and never looked back.
Mitchell went on to become Utah’s leading scorer and Rookie of the Year runner-up to Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons while guiding the Jazz into the playoffs.
In a few weeks (or days), Lue may have a change of heart. He may feel Sexton is ready for more responsibility. But Hill, who Lue has repeatedly praised, allows the Cavaliers to take this slower approach.
Sexton feels he’s better for it.
“Becoming more of a leader and being more calm,” Sexton said when asked how he has changed since the start of camp. “When I was out there, at first you get a little jittery because it’s your first time experiencing it. Now I’ve calmed down a little bit.”