Collin Sexton has been one of the NBA’s 10 best scorers over the last month. What’s changed for him and the Utah Jazz?

The Jazz beat the Toronto Raptors 145-113 on Friday night.

(Rick Bowmer | AP) Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, left, defends against Utah Jazz guard Collin Sexton (2) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday.

Collin Sexton has started the last 17 games for the Utah Jazz.

In that stretch, the Jazz are 13-4, having completely turned around their season from worst-in-West to currently sitting in a Play-In Tournament slot. Once again, they blew out an opponent on Friday night, this time beating the Toronto Raptors 145-113.

The single biggest change, according to team star Lauri Markkanen? The night-and-day difference in the play of their new starting two-guard.

“Collin’s been playing really well, at a high level. He’s really picking his spots, when to attack, when to facilitate, and when to slow down and when to use his speed,” Markkanen said. “I think he’s playing a really high level right now and we need him to keep it up.”

It’s true — Sexton has been the Jazz’s brightest spot. Once someone the Jazz were “making available in trade talks” this summer, according to Yahoo! Sports, the 25-year-old has exploded onto the scene in a big way. It’s just a month of play, and so perhaps too early to say that this is a new permanent level — but the Jazz are hoping it is.

Here’s what happening with Sexton.

An elite level of play

Since Sexton moved into the starting lineup, here are the highest per-possession scorers in the NBA.

So you have three literal MVP candidates, the best prospect of all time, the best player on the team with the best record in the league and then you have ... Collin Sexton. Sexton’s scoring more recently than Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, you name it.

And once known as an inefficient scorer, Sexton’s doing so on pretty incredible shooting splits: 50.8% from the field, 39.7% from deep, 89.5% from the free-throw line. If he’d hit just one more three and one more free-throw, he’d be in the 50/40/90 club over the month.

This is a pretty insane jump from a sixth-year player — but not a totally unprecedented one. After all, Markkanen did the same in his sixth year after coming to the Jazz. Is Sexton making the same leap?

A new approach

The biggest difference for Sexton is that he’s started to vary his speeds more. Take this play from the Jazz’s 145-113 win over the Raptors:

It’s as simple as can be. Sexton sees he has a one-on-one opportunity to attack. But instead of putting his head down and going to the rim by using his elite end-to-end speed, he’s shifting gears, switching between fast and slow twice. He’s playing with Scottie Barnes’ expectations, trying to get him off balance. He’s playing with Jontay Porter’s expectations, baiting him into helping down low too much.

But most impressively, in the end, instead of forcing the issue, Sexton backs it out, notices Kelly Olynyk is open, and hits him for three.

That’s an easy play, but previously one Sexton would have missed a layup on. Now, it’s three Jazz points.

Becoming a more frequent passer has opened up driving possibilities for Sexton too. Instead of multiple defenders collapsing on him in the paint, now it’s frequently just one player guarding him down low — and Sexton can usually finish against just one guy thanks to his mix of shiftiness and bruising physicality.

Speaking of which, Sexton’s most efficient shot is the free throw, and he’s always been adept at drawing them. Take this play for example. R.J. Barrett probably has the advantage throughout the possession, but Sexton drives with contact the entire time, tangles his arm with Barrett’s, and then uses the final bump to go to ground ... it’s textbook foul drawing.

All of a sudden, you have a player who’s a career 37% 3-point shooter who can drive to the rim and finish, get to the free-throw line, and make the right read in pass-out situations. What’s not to like?

“Collin’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever been around. He gets incredibly low to the floor when he drives, he’s very strong, very explosive, and he’s able to play through contact,” head coach Will Hardy said. “We know can get in the paint at will — maybe not every time, but most times he can get into paint, and his decision making has really improved in those spots.”

Unmatched work ethic

It’s possible Sexton wants to be good more than any other player in the NBA.

His in-game determination is the stuff of legend — watch his bulging eyes on every possession, even when he’s on the bench.

How many of the league’s players are forcing 8-second calls like this?

But his off-court work is famous, too. No player I’ve covered in Utah has matched Sexton’s work ethic in terms of hours spent in the team’s practice facility.

Where does that drive come from? I asked Sexton.

“Honestly just growing up, it’s how I was raised. When my family worked in the janitor business, we were cleaning toilets till three o’clock in the morning, me and my brother. We were doing it every week,” Sexton said.

“It drives me just to keep pushing, knowing where I came from and not forgetting about the struggles that we had growing up,” Sexton said. “I just work hard. This is easy work compared to what we used to do back in the day.”

Toronto Raptors guard Dennis Schroder (17) defends against Utah Jazz guard Collin Sexton during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 12, 2024, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

In fact, Sexton’s drive has gotten to the point where the Jazz’s performance staff literally have to beg him not to come to the gym so he can get in some rest.

“There’s all types of things that we have at the practice facility that can occupy some time and make you feel like you’re doing something without it being you know, benchpress and calf raises and have million shots on the court,” Hardy said. “I think we’re just trying to show Collin other ways that he can still be working and improving himself that aren’t necessarily physically taxing.”

On and off the court, finding the brake pedal has helped Sexton have the best stretch of his career — and has turned the Jazz’s season around.