When you see Luka Doncic on a regular basis, it’s easy to get spoiled.
And easy to overlook a lot of other NBA rookies.
But on Saturday night when Doncic was benched by a right knee contusion, Maverick fans got to see one of the other strong rookies that came in with the Mavericks’ star in the 2018 draft.
And we’re not talking about Jalen Brunson, although he had another big-time showing, which has become routine for him since the All-Star break.
But Cleveland’s Collin Sexton, the point guard out of Alabama, got hot from 3-point range in the third quarter and showed the sellout crowd why, in most seasons, he would be considered the steal of the draft with the No. 8 overall pick.
He rolled to 28 points, 18 of them after halftime as he tried to keep the Cavaliers in the game that in the end became a watch party to see if Dirk Nowitzki could pass Wilt Chamberlain and move into the No. 6 all-time scoring slot.
Nowitzki didn’t, even though he had a 10-point fourth quarter. He finished with 14 points and will need four points on Monday against New Orleans at American Airlines Center to pass Wilt.
Meanwhile, the rookies who played on Saturday put on a great show. When eyes weren’t on Dirk, they were watching Sexton run wild and Brunson put together a 16-point, seven-assist night. Since the All-Star break, he’s averaging 16.4 points and is hitting 40.4 percent of his 3-point tries.
Maverick fans know that Doncic is a cornerstone for the franchise. What they also are finding out is that Brunson may very well be a foundation piece for the Mavericks’ future, too.
“He’s certainly building a case that he’s a big part of our core of young guys moving forward, for sure,” coach Rick Carlisle said of Brunson. “Whether he’s a starter or rotation guy, he’s a winner.”
Meanwhile, Doncic’s knee problem, which is not believed to be serious, sabotaged a meeting with Sexton that would have featured two of the marquee point guards from last summer’s draft.
But it opened the door for Sexton to shine. He’s averaging nearly 16 points per game in his rookie season. Only Doncic, No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton of Phoenix and Atlanta’s Trae Young (No. 5 overall) are averaging more.
“Collin has been playing well,” Cleveland coach Larry Drew said. “The game is starting to slow down for him a little. He’s really doing a good job of picking and choosing his spots. He’s going to make mistakes. He’s still a rookie. But it’s our job to help him grow, and he’s definitely doing that. He’s had a phenomenal year.”
Carlisle couldn’t agree more, mentioning that Sexton, Doncic and Brunson are part of a terrific overall rookie class.
“He’s good,” the coach said of Sexton. “And he’s improved tremendously since the beginning of the year. He’s got a much greater understanding of NBA spacing. He’s picked up his 3-point shooting in a big way and his drive game has been there all year.”
Sexton helped quiet a boisterous crowd as Nowitzki was making his run at catching Chamberlain. He had scored 10 quick points to put the Mavericks up by 16. Sexton had six points in the final six minutes as the Cavaliers made their run.
“We let Dirk get going a little,” Sexton said. “They started getting that energy. When we started making that run, we took Dirk out of the game and tried to limit the crowd.
“I’m just trying to go out there and let the game come to me and play relaxed.”
Just as for Doncic and Brunson, losing games as a rookie has not been easy for Sexton. He was used to winning a lot at Alabama under Avery Johnson, just as Doncic was in winning a European championship last season with Real Madrid and Brunson was when he won two NCAA titles in three seasons with Villanova.
But Brunson, Sexton and Doncic – along with Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson and Wendell Carter, among others – are proving that the learning curve for this rookie class will be a fast one.