CLEVELAND, Ohio – The comparison game is tempting.
Kyrie Irving and Collin Sexton were both drafted by the Cavaliers.
Both came to the Cavs not long after LeBron James left.
Both played only one year of college. Both are blessed with immense physical gifts.
Both even wear Number 2.
But when they face each other Friday in Boston, some context is needed.
Odds are Irving will be at his best. Not because he has anything against Sexton. But he has issues with the Cavaliers, his old team. He’ll go hard at Sexton because the rookie was part of the deal sending Irving to Boston.
Irving is 26 years old. He’s in his eighth NBA season. He’s a 5-time NBA All-Star. He helped the Cavaliers win the 2016 title. His shot late in Game 7 against Golden State is the biggest in franchise history.
Assuming Irving avoids some of the serious knee injuries that have haunted his career, he’ll be a Hall of Famer.
THE DRAFT COMPARISON
Irving was the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft by former Cavs General Manager Chris Grant.
Sexton was the No. 8 pick in the 2018 draft. He won’t turn 20 until Jan. 4.
In the NBA world of men, Sexton is just a kid.
That’s why his overall stats are impressive: 14.4 points, .451 shooting and .419 on 3-pointers.
He doesn’t know how to consistently set up an offense. Like many modern players, he is lost when trying to figure out how to throw the ball to a big man in the low post.
But he’s 19. He had to carry the offense in his one year at Alabama.
With Kevin Love injured, the burden of creating a shot with the 24-second clock ticking down too often has fallen to Sexton.
At times, he’s been asked to do too much for the 4-15 Cavaliers.
STILL FIGURING IT OUT
I was recently talking to an NBA executive about Sexton.
Our consensus was Sexton really doesn’t know what he’s doing in terms of the NBA game.
But he plays so hard. He is so quick. He has so many physical gifts – he’s already effective in many games.
He is not the polished shooter or ball handler that Irving was when entering the NBA.
In one year at Duke, Irving shot 53 percent from the field, 46 percent on 3-pointers and 90 percent at the foul line.
From the moment he stepped on the court at Duke, Irving had an incredible knack of changing direction and speeds when driving to the rim. He could make layups with either hand from outrageous angles.
And he also was a superb outside shooter.
I’ve seen every guard in Cavs history. None have been as skilled as Irving.
Cavaliers General Manager Koby Altman was under pressure last season to trade the “Brooklyn pick” in an attempt to add talent and perhaps win one last title with LeBron James.
Altman correctly saw that dealing that pick as part of a trade for DeAndre Jordan.. or about anyone else on the market in the middle of last season... was not going make a major difference.
In the summer of 2017, Irving demanded the Cavs trade him. That led to a deal sending Irving to Boston. The Cavs received Isaiah Thomas, Ante Zizic, Jae Crowder and the “Brooklyn pick.”
Thomas, along with a 2018 first-round pick, was part of a deal bringing Larry Nance and Jordan Clarkson to the Cavs.
So there are other players in the Irving deal, but Sexton has become the main face of the trade in Cleveland.
WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW?
Irving had two knee surgeries last season. He missed 20 regular season games. Boston was 13-7 without him and then lost to the Cavaliers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Irving is having an excellent 2018-19 season: 22.0 points, 6.4 assists, 4.9 rebounds.
But the Celtics have been floundering with an 11-10 record.
They seem to have trouble incorporating both Irving and Gordon Hayward into their offense. That could change over time, but Boston is a major early-season disappointment.
Meanwhile, Sexton should be considered an early-season encouragement for Cavs fans.
He has so much room for growth. His outside shot has improved considerably since the Las Vegas Summer League. He is a relentless worker.
A shoulder injury to veteran point guard George Hill led to Sexton starting earlier than planned.
So Sexton has had superb games (29 points vs. Houston) and stinkers (11 points, 5-of-19 shooting vs. Minnesota) in a 3-day span.
But the talent, the promise and the hope for the future are obvious when looking at Sexton.
Just don’t view him as another Irving.
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