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Know The Prospect: Collin Sexton

Could the Knicks haul in Collin for ballin’?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Deep within each of us resides our own private Dr. Frankenstein, seeing some way the world is and imagining it as it could be. Take Jello 1-2-3.

Jello 1-2-3 is so good it’s literally like nursing at God‘s tit. What a childhood memory (the food, not the suckling). Your preferences in taste per layer shaped your overall feelings on the dessert. I like things that taste like what I imagined clouds tasted like when I was four, and the top layer did, so the dessert as a whole was right up my alley. If the middle had been my thing, I might have found the whole thing disappointing. My Dr. Frankenstein would’ve made the whole dish out of the top layer. Inelegant, perhaps, but true to itself.

Collin Sexton will still be a teenager come 2019 — a 6‘2“, 183-pound teenager with a 6‘7“ wingspan, but a teenager nonetheless. Nobody knows how he‘ll fit in the league next year, much less five years from now. One thing we do know: he’s competitive. Inelegant, perhaps. But true to himself, as UCLA’s Jaylen Hands learned.

Your feelings on what Sexton brings to the table and fails to will shape your overall feelings on his value. The energy he brings is mos def a make-things-happen energy.

Yang rather than yin.

There are things Sexton does well, or shows glimpses of maybe doing well with more reps. Shot selection at the rim is an issue for Sexton. But look at the fancy finish here (many of these video clips thanks to @nba_scoutreport):

Sexton took a lot of tough shots like that because he took a lot of shots, period, leading the Crimson Tide in field goal attempts. A little more than a third of all his looks came at the rim, and he hit 62.2% of them. Where does Sexton’s rate in college compare to what today’s premier point guards put up in the pros?

These are the career shooting percentages at the rim of every ostensible point guard picked top-10 the past five years. I see you, Frank.

Some notes of note while researching these numbers: Trey Burke had been a lifetime .510 shooter at the rim until hitting an absurd 73% of such shots in his Knick run last season. Without that performance anomaly, he’d be down in Emmanuel Mudiay territory. Speaking of Mudiay, while his career .503 mark is low, it’s risen every year of his career, beginning at .475 his rookie season and peaking at .647 in New York.

Despite occasional struggles finishing at the rim, that didn‘t stop Sexton from trying to get there: he reached double-figures in free-throw attempts in one-third of his games. The Knicks as a team are deficient in this area, so this would qualify as one of those things Sexton brings to the table. Perimeter shooting is one of those things Sexton does not bring to the table. He hit just 36% of his two-point shots and 34% from three.

This is especially troubling to imagine on a team whose current guards haven’t shown they can shoot, either. Burke was the most encouraging backcourt bomber last season, but his aforementioned spike in efficiency at the rim and seemingly unsustainable rate on long twos suggests regression is a‘comin‘. Guards who can’t shoot negatively impact everything and everyone else. Here’s an example. Look at Burke getting a pick from Lance Thomas at the top of the arc against Golden State.

If Burke is a threat from deep, David West would have to show out instead of hanging back in the lane, which would open up the middle of the floor for cuts and movement. But West doesn‘t fear Burke from deep, so he hangs back, conceding the long two. Defenses today will always concede these looks. Not only are they high-risk, low-reward relative to other shot types, but check out the other Knicks as Burke rises to shoot.

None of them are in a threatening position. There’s really no off-ball movement, exacerbated by the lack of space created by the man with the ball. Ntilikina and Mudiay are out behind the arc, where generally neither is willing to shoot or seen as a threat. Michael Beasley is in his wheelhouse on the baseline, but he’s too far from the ball to really register any danger. Thomas appears to have a step on Quinton Cook, but look what happens once the shot goes up.

West is in perfect position to box out Lance. All five Warriors are at or below the free-throw line extended. Three are in the paint; the other two are just outside it. Beasley, inexplicably except for the fact that he’s Michael Beasley, waits until Burke puts up the shot and then immediately begins drifting away from the rebound and back toward the weakside corner, even more removed from the action. The success of this possession is dependent on one player’s ability to do something relatively difficult and non-impactful.

At this point in time, Burke is Steph Curry compared to Sexton. The spacing with him leading the offense could (again, “could“ — he‘s 19) become straightjacket-tight. One reason Sexton sometimes struggles at the rim: he‘s not an explosive athlete.

The athleticism and size he’ll face on a nightly basis in the pros will continue to test the limits of an aggressive player whose ideals sometimes write checks his ass can’t cash.

In fairness, it’s worth remembering how much of the offensive load Sexton hauled at Alabama. He was far and away the primary scorer and distributor. Only 25% of Sexton‘s baskets at the rim and 32% of his three-pointers were assisted by teammates, the lowest rates on the team. Among Alabama players who attempted at least 67 two-point jumpers — two per game, basically — just 6% of Sexton‘s were assisted. 6%!

In transition Sexton’s better at the rim, hitting a niiiice 69%, but his accuracy on twos and threes drops. On shots at the rim taken in the final 10 seconds of the shot clock, his percentage fell to .429. My kingdom for a Knick guard who can get to the rim or bust out a floater from 3-5 feet out.

To this point, Sexton has not revealed himself to be an exceptional playmaker. He averaged 3.6 assists per game against nearly 3 turnovers. The instincts appear to be there: 40% of assists led to three-pointers, 42% came in transition, and 51% were at the rim. But sometimes when he drives he appears to get tunnel vision, preventing him from seeing how the other bodies on the floor have adjusted to his movement.

He’d fit right in with the Knicks.

Defense is a thing the Knicks need help with that Sexton might be able to help with. He moves his feet! He goes up vertically but doesn’t break the invisible plane. The plane! The plane!

Watch Sexton contest without overselling against Auburn. He’s not trying to eat his man’s soul. Just looking to make things difficult for him. Basketball IQ is a thing.

Sexton is highly competitive, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t sometimes treat a pick-and-roll like an existential threat. The clip below begins with him guarding the ball-handler. Look what happens.

¡Que Knicks!

If Sexton can cut this sort of nonsense by like half, that alone might make him a worthy pick.

What if Sexton turns out to be Patrick Beverley, only with the offensive aggression dialed up a bit and the defense slightly lesser? What if he’s a rich man’s Marcus Smart: deficient in isolated skills, yet combining to be something greater than the sum of his parts? Is he worth it at #9? How does the Knick front office judge lower ceilings versus higher floors this summer? If they’re unsure how Kristaps Porzignis returns from his ACL injury and unsure what they have still in Ntilikina, then there’s incentive to take the best player available. Of course, “best” is a subjective concept, and not everything can be quantified. Take will, for example.

Last November, Alabama trailed Minnesota 57-50 when beef started on the floor and the entire Crimson Tide bench was ejected for stepping onto the court. Alabama was left with five players, but soon injuries reduced them to three. The trio trailed 67-54. From that point on, led by Sexton‘s 40 points, the Tide went on a 26-16 run to cut the deficit to three.

The two teams were both ranked at the time, a combined 12-1, though the Golden Gophers, perhaps shook by the Sexton insurrection, would finish the year below .500 and tied for the 2nd-worst record in the Big Ten, with Alabama tying for 9th in the SEC (or 10th, if you’re a glass half-empty kinda girl). Watch Sexton balling out when all hopes is lost. There’s a freedom in his play. Does that suggest he’s able to relax when the lights are brightest, when hope seems dimmest? Maybe. Where there‘s a will there‘s a way, and there’s an audacity to Sexton that appeals.

Of course, audacity without results looks like Nate Robinson tomfoolery.

You can’t win if you don’t play the game. In that sense, Collin Sexton is most certainly a player. He’ll come to play and he’ll come to win. I was struck looking at the graph of point guards drafted the past five years by how virtually none of them have established themselves as an All-Star going forward, much less as All-NBA. That’s because talent evaluation is more a question of alchemy than straight math (also ‘cuz “24 is the average age active point guards are named to their first All-NBA team.”)

Does Sexton make sense going forward alongside Ntilikina? Maybe. If Frank develops as a shooter, they could be an interesting backcourt. If Frank keeps adding muscle and grows another inch or two and settles in as more of a point forward on offense who can terrorize 3-4 positions on defense, that’d make Sexton’s job easier.

I try not to settle on a fixed opinion when scouting prospects. It’s impossible for anybody to project how a player’s future will unfold; when question marks include asterisks like “if he learns how to shoot” and “if the other young players on the team recover from devastating knee injuries or they learn how to shoot,” projection is no longer simply absurd, it’s obscene. Whether Collin Sexton makes sense for the Knicks in this year’s draft in many ways boils down to realities that have nothing to do with him and that nobody can forecast. But we can’t help imagining. Our Dr. Frankensteins insist upon it. Sexton could turn out to be a horror show at #9. Or he could become a monster who terrorizes the rest of the league.