Dion Waiters Finds Right Fit with Cavaliers
The 2012 NBA Draft went about as well as possible for Dion Waiters.
The Syracuse product and Philadelphia native could have gone to any number of teams such as the Sacramento Kings, who had an overcrowded backcourt, or the Portland Trail Blazers, who didn’t have any guards until they drafted Damian Lillard with the sixth overall pick.
Instead Waiters went fourth overall to the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team that had an elite point guard, Kyrie Irving, and a former elite guard in head coach Byron Scott.
It was the perfect balance of opportunity and structure for Waiters, who never started a single game in two seasons with the Orangemen. He hasn’t been asked to carry the load as a ball handler, but he’s also started 36 of the first 45 games this year, and that has allowed Waiters to average 14.2 points per game.
In short, it’s been a chance for Waiters to become a major part of an NBA team without having the burden of being its “franchise guard.”
“We’re forming a great group, feeding off each other, learning from each other, all that,” Waiters told HOOPSWORLD prior to scoring 23 points off the bench at the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge. “How can we feed off the guys who have the ball? When to cut, when to shoot, things like that. I mean, we’re still building and it takes time, but we’re getting better each game.”
It hasn’t all been pretty. Waiters has made just 39.6 percent of his overall field goals and is shooting 30.9 percent from downtown. However, the 6’4 combo guard has been able to run the offense for stretches of time, which has allowed Irving to push his scoring to 23.5 ppg this season, a five-point increase over his rookie season.
So far Waiters is only averaging 3.2 assists, but that figure should increase as he begins player over 30 minutes per night.
Of course, that can’t happen until he becomes a more reliable shooter, which is an aspect of Waiters’ game that Scott discusses frequently.
“We always go at it, about shooting competitions, things like that, what he shot [in] his career,” Waiters said, adding that Scott can “still” shoot.
Scott is a good fit for Waiters as a coach because he was a combo guard, like Waiters, for the Lakers and the Pacers, and he has lot of first-hand experience to give to the rookie.
“He always talks about his time in the league,” Waiters said before joking that, “Old guys like that always like to bring up their past.”
Scott is also similar to what Waiters experienced in college with Jim Boeheim. The two are known for holding players accountable and, as Waiters said, they’re both “hard-nosed coaches” who are “hands on” and offer “tough love.”
If Waiters had a perceived weakness entering the NBA, it was his conditioning.
It’s not that he wasn’t a good athlete, but he weighed over 220 pounds and averaged just 24.1 minutes over 37 games last season. In other words, he hadn’t really tested his body.
Waiters, who described the rookie wall as a “myth,” doesn’t think he’ll slump in the second half of the season (who would say that about themselves?), but he readily admits that he’s still learning how to take care of himself.
“Getting your rest,” Waiters said. “Learning to get your rest, get your little cat naps and just eating right. Just really taking care of your body. Traveling, all that takes a toll on your body.”
As for the team, the Cavaliers and Waiters have modest goals this year. They’re only 16-37, but they do have a core group of young players that include center Tyler Zeller and power forward Tristan Thompson, so Waiters thinks they can be competitive as long as they have the right attitude.
Specifically, Waiters said, the Cavs need to focus on “really closing out games.”
“Coming out and playing every game like it’s our last,” he continued. “Don’t just get up against good teams.”
Waiters has already played more games as a pro than he did in two seasons of college, so he’s into uncharted water from this point until the end of the season. Nobody expected much from the team or him personally this year, so wins and losses won’t matter as much.
What does matter is that he improves so when the team is ready to compete, he can handle the backcourt duties alongside Irving.
“I’m just worried about continuing to better myself,” Waiters said.
Scott would probably agree.