Usually, a tanking team has a few bright spots, players who are still part of a long-term blueprint for success.
For the 23-win Suns in 2015-16, it was Devin Booker.
For the 28-win 76ers in 2016-17, it was Joel Embiid.
For the 27-win Kings in 2017-18, it was De’Aaron Fox.
The 2018-19 Cavaliers have no bright spots, as Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman -- the original centerpieces to their rebuilding plan -- are among the worst players in the NBA. Although Kevin Love is not returning to the court anytime soon and Tristan Thompson, Larry Nance Jr. and David Nwaba are nursing injuries, the organization’s primary problem lies in its underperforming youth.
It might take another year for general manager Koby Altman to launch Cleveland’s return to basketball relevancy.
Sexton failed to record an assist in 29 minutes, Osman failed to record a rebound in 32 minutes and the Cavs lost for the 16th time in their last 17 games -- an embarrassing, wire-to-wire, 104-88 blowout against the fourth-worst team in the league. Not only did the Wine and Gold lose to the Bulls, but they also shot 35.6 percent against a roster that just lost its best defender -- Wendell Carter Jr. -- to a season-ending injury.
Osman and Sexton play more minutes than any other player not named Love on the Cleveland roster. Since the inception of the season, the pair has been the focal point by taking on such substantial roles. As a result, the front office has moved on from George Hill, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver and Sam Dekker.
Building a team around Sexton and Osman would make sense if Sexton and Osman were playing well -- the opposite is true.
Sexton is dead last in the NBA in defensive win shares (-0.5), win shares (-1.6), value over a replacement player (-1.7) and box plus/minus (-6.9) among players with at least 39 games played. His turnovers per game (2.3) nearly matches his assists (2.9) and rebounds (3.0) per game, while his overall production is far below the rest of this year’s rookie class in terms of total points added…
Osman is right behind Sexton in these same categories…
- Fourth-worst in defensive win shares (-0.1).
- Seventh-worst in win shares (-0.5).
- Seventh-worst in value over a placement player (-0.7).
- Eighth-worst in box plus/minus (-3.9) among players with at least 39 games played.
If analytics are not your cup of tea, then just look at Osman’s field-goal percentage (40.5), 3-point field goal percentage (30.4) and turnovers per game (1.7). Like Sexton, Osman’s offensive and defensive numbers fall well short of a league-average starter (or player, for that matter).
The Cavaliers have fired their coach, traded three players and waived five guys during the 2018-19 campaign. The idea was to give Sexton and Osman extended run, speed up their developmental timelines and plant the first seeds to the future of the roster. Instead, these first- and second-year players have immensely struggled, leaving many to wonder if they will be pieces of the franchise’s future.
Neither player has much experience, and neither player has much of a supporting cast around them. Development takes time, but impact players should have something to show for in their first two seasons.
If Love can return to the frontcourt and either Zion Williamson or R.J. Barrett join the rotation, then maybe things will change. Until then, the Cavs’ rebuild is still waiting to start.