CLEVELAND, Ohio — Pull up any pre-draft scouting report on Collin Sexton and scroll down to the section of weaknesses.
The same one is listed repeatedly. Only it’s phrased a different way each time.
Streaky jumper. Somewhat mechanical release. Very streaky shooter. His balance on his jumper is not always consistent. Not a pure knockdown threat at this point.
Sexton was aware of it all.
“Coming out of college that’s all people kept saying was I couldn’t shoot,” Sexton told cleveland.com. “I shot probably 30-something percent from 3 so they were pretty much on top of that. Like, ‘Oh can’t shoot at the next level just because the 3-point line is further back.’ I felt like I had to improve on that and show what I can do.”
The disrespect started long before the NBA Draft process. At Alabama, Sexton noticed defenders consistently going under screens, seducing him into jumpers.
Head coach Avery Johnson kept telling Sexton to shoot, trying to inject confidence in him even when those jumpers weren’t always falling. Assistant coach Yasir Rosemond watched film with Sexton on how the ball was coming off his fingertips.
Sexton finished his freshman year averaging 19.2 points on 44.7 percent from the field and just 33.6 percent from beyond the arc.
When his college career ended with the Crimson Tide’s loss against Villanova in the NCAA Tournament, Sexton got some advice from his father, Darnell — the guy he’s been working with his entire life. This time, the two focused on Collin’s shooting mechanics and release. Then the father-son combo went into the gym to implement those changes.
“If I’m missing free throws he will tell me to back up or bend my knees. Stuff like that,” Sexton said. “Right after we lost to Villanova he came to me and was like, ‘You missed a few shots but we are going to work on it so that you will be able to knock down those shots when it’s time.'”
That time is here. He knows the evolution as an outside shooter will be the key to unlocking the more polished areas of his offensive game.
When asked by cleveland.com what specific tweaks he made, Sexton shook his head from side to side, not wanting to reveal his summer secrets. But it was clear some change was needed.
“Felt like I had to improve on that,” Sexton said. “My dad told me I need to make sure I can get to the basket and do other stuff like that. If I improve on the jump shot then I will be hard to guard.”
Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue has noticed the improvement. Lue says he wants Sexton to just play his game, not think about punishing defenses for going under screens. But if the jumper keeps falling, Sexton will be able to use his speed off the dribble and get into the paint, creating better looks for himself or his teammates. It will also pull bigger defenders closer to him on the perimeter, opening other areas for Cleveland to exploit.
The early results have been promising.
During Saturday’s preseason game, Sexton was 4-of-6 from the field. He buried both 3-point attempts. All four of his made baskets came outside the paint.
“He’s comfortable in taking it and believes in it so that’s the biggest thing,” Lue said. “He’s been shooting the ball extremely well.”
During the team’s get-together in Miami ahead of training camp, Sexton wanted the ball in clutch situations. In the preseason opener, he stepped into a jumper and halted a Boston surge.
Most of camp, Sexton has been playing with the second unit. It appears he will be the anchor of the newly-minted bench. That role has given him a chance to play alongside Kyle Korver, among others. It’s also provided Korver the opportunity to get a closer look at Sexton.
Korver, like other teammates, has been extremely impressed.
“Starting off, everyone was saying he couldn’t shoot,” Korver said. “He’s shooting the ball really well. It’s not just these two preseason games. He’s shot the ball pretty well every day. Aggressive with his shot and he’s still learning the game and all of his teammates. But he brings great energy and he’s a high-character guy and works hard. There’s not much not to like about him right now.”
Heading into the third preseason game, just one week away from his regular season debut, Sexton is brimming with confidence.
Then again, that’s never been an issue for him — even when others were picking apart his game and looking for a thesaurus to find unique ways to say he couldn’t shoot.
“Nah. I ain’t going to lose confidence. Once you have it, you have it,” Sexton told cleveland.com. “Just because confidence comes from within you and you just have to continue to push yourself. That’s what I kept doing. Don’t worry about it. Just make the next one.
“I feel a whole lot better, feel more confident shooting the ball and continuing to work on it so I can continue to improve on the offensive side.”