Cleveland Cavaliers: Why Jarrett Allen is more important than Collin Sexton

Jarrett Allen (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jarrett Allen (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Why Jarrett Allen is more important to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ build than Collin Sexton. 

The 2021 NBA offseason will end up being both the most important one of both the post-LeBron James rebuild but also of Koby Altman’s tenure as general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

With both Jarrett Allen and Collin Sexton looking for extensions north of $100 million, the odds of both of them staying in Cleveland long-term with the team not in contention mode yet seem pretty slim at this juncture.

With all reports indicating that the Houston Rockets prefer to take Jalen Green with the second overall pick over Evan Mobley, the Cavs have a chance to add an Anthony Davis type of player to their roster (and the guy who many, including me, consider being the best long-term prospect in this draft).

Pairing Mobley with 2020 first-round pick Isaac Okoro and Jarrett Allen would give the Cavaliers one of the most versatile, switchable defensive frontcourts in basketball.

With Darius Garland already a liability on the defensive end, the Cavs’ would be wise to not commit a sizable financial investment into a backcourt made up of two 6-foot-1 players that struggle to defend both on-ball and in the pick-and-roll.

Based on the NBA’s three-man lineup stats this season, the Cavs’ had a net rating of -10.4 during the 846 minutes that the three-man lineup of Sexton, Okoro, and Allen was on the floor together. Among three-man lineups that played at least 350 minutes for the Cavaliers this season, this is the third-lowest net rating, only being beaten out by the lineups that featured combinations of Cedi Osman, Okoro, and Sexton/Allen in them.

On the contrary, while only playing 305 minutes together, the combination of Garland, Kevin Love, and Okoro featured a net rating of 3.1 with a 59.6 percent true-shooting percentage.

While the lineup of Garland, Okoro, and Allen did not perform particularly great, it is important to note that their net rating of -6.2 in 817 minutes together is still significantly better than when Sexton was the lead facilitator with Okoro and Allen with him on the floor.

Building your backcourt around two 6-foot tall guards does not work without having another superstar/elite supportive talent around them – which the Cavs’ roster does not bolster at this point.

The list of star players in the NBA that are 6-foot consists of Kyle Lowry, Mike Conley Jr., Chris Paul, Donovan Mitchell, and Trae Young, and all of those players are high-IQ players who are lead ball-handlers/playmakers on offense. Garland fits the mold for that archetype, while Sexton, does not.

While the Toronto Raptors did win an NBA title with a backcourt comprised of Lowry and Fred VanVleet, who are both 6-foot tall, the combination of Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam (along with outstanding defense by Marc Gasol) were the main driving forces for the Raptors success, and the Cavs’ do not have a Kawhi Leonard-level in the prime of his career currently on their roster.

The closest comparison you can make for projecting Sexton’s ceiling is Jazz star, Donovan Michell.

One similarity between the two is that Mitchell found himself involved on average in 11.2 pick-and-roll opportunities as the ball handler per game during the regular season, the fourth-highest rate in the NBA. Sexton, meanwhile, found himself involved in 8.8 opportunities per game as the ball handler in the pick-and-roll, tied for the 11th-highest in the NBA.

With both Sexton and Mitchell, the question remains if either can be the best player on the title-winning team.

The Jazz is obviously better coached and has the greatest paint protector of the modern era. To this point though, the Jazz has not been able to get past the second round of the playoffs, even after getting the one seed this season.

Now with their cap space being non-existent after giving both Rudy Gobert and Mitchell max extensions, there is little reason to believe that their team-building decisions are ones that a rebuilding franchise should follow.

What makes Allen a better player for the Cavs’ long-term than Sexton?

One of the catalysts for what has made the Jazz’s offense so good despite a mediocre roster is also what has allowed Trae Young’s pick-and-roll game to open up to another level and also was a huge component in what made the Warriors so successful during their dynasty – having an elite screen-setter on the roster.

Players like Rudy Gobert, Clint Capela, and DeAndre Ayton have played crucial roles in transforming offensive systems in the NBA from good to great with their ability to free up shooters using screens.

Screens and screen assists play huge components in modern NBA offenses. Doug Eberhardt wrote an article for SBNation in 2014 detailing how important screens are in basketball.

"“In reality, the nature of setting screens has changed along with the style of NBA offenses. The full-body, bone-crushing pick that frees up a jump shooter isn’t always as important as forcing the screener’s defender to make a decision that will make the other players on the defensive string also make a decision. Who helps? Who helps the helper? Do I come off that corner shooter to deal with the ball handler or roll man? It always comes back to making the defense make a decision.”Eberhardt continues by saying, “But that’s the thing: you don’t always want to stop the on-ball defender. Sometimes, you want to force the defender to actually get over the screen and trigger the rest of the defense to react to your action. Rather than a lower-value medium-range jumper, you want to end up with a strong roll to the rim, a free throw, a pop for a jumper, or a drive-and-kick pass for an uncontested three.”"

An elite screen-setter on your roster can transform a good offense into a great offense. They can also cover up a lot of deficiencies on not as talented offensive units, like the Cavs.

Jarrett Allen finished tied for fifth in the regular season with 4.7 screen assists per game and seventh in the regular season with 10.6 screen assist points per game.

Allen was also a menace at contesting shots around the basket, finishing tied for seventh in the regular season with 11.8 contested shots per game. No one should be surprised though,  considering Allen’ finished tied for eighth in the league with an average of 1.8 blocks per game.

Another area of Allen’s game that he excels at is rebounding.

During the regular season, Allen averaged 17 rebounding chances per game, tied for 10th amongst all players. Allen also finished tied for tenth in contested rebounds per game with 4.6 and tied for 11th with 3.1 offensive rebounds per game.

While the offense is still a work in progress, Allen did shoot splits of 62/31/90 in his 51 games as a member of the Cavaliers on eight field-goal attempts per game. The next evolution for the 22-year-old will be to expand his range to be a more confident three-point shooter (averaged under one attempt per game) and to become a better passer to find corner shooters as a roll man.

When it comes down to it though, if you are trying to build a team and can only offer one guy $100 million, go for the guy that is the Rudy Gobert prototype over the Donovan Mitchell one.

Next. Giannis Antetokounmpo is making history in the NBA Finals. dark

An elite scorer is great, but a guy who can raise the ceiling of an entire group offensively is even better.