NBA AM: Waiters Striving For Greatness
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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There were a lot of people who questioned the Cleveland Cavaliers decision to draft Dion Waiters fourth overall in last year’s draft. After all, Waiters didn’t even start at Syracuse and wasn’t ranked anywhere near that high at the beginning of the predraft process. However, with his rookie campaign in the books it’s more than clear that Waiters was deserving of such a high selection. He averaged 14 points, two rebounds and three assists a game, very respectable numbers for a rookie. That taste of success has left Waiters hungry for more.
While most NBA players are enjoying their time off and on vacation right now, Waiters has already been back in the gym for over a week. He spent most of last week at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas, getting in the gym as early at 7:30 AM some days to work on his game.
“There’s always motivation, just finishing where I finished at and not making the playoffs,” Waiters said. “I’m just trying to get after it. I still feel like I have a lot to prove. At the end of the day I want to be great, so that’s what I’m trying to do.
“Just by watching the playoffs motivates me. I actually went to the New York game, it was unbelievable. Just the energy, the fans, the excitement of the game too was just unbelievable, motivating me more. I was like I gotta get back in there.”
One of the areas that Waiters could stand to improve the most in as a sophomore is with his three-point shooting efficiency. He only made 31 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc this year, making it one of the areas he’s focusing on the most in his offseason workouts.
“I’m just really trying to perfect my craft, propel my game, taking a lot of shots,” Waiters said. “Sometimes if I go in the gym I shoot 1500 jump shots, try to work in the post, trying to take my game to another level.”
Waiters was one of the few pros training at Impact Basketball at this early junction of the offseason. The rest of the players working out were primarily draft prospects. Waiters really embraced the mentor role with them, looking to lead by example with the way he approached his workouts.
“You can just tell when I’m out there, I just don’t go through the emotions like I used to,” Waiters said. “Everything is game speed. I do everything like I do in the game. I just try and teach them so they can get an early jump before they get to the league, I’ve already taught them a couple of things.
“It’s important for me to just come out there and play, knowing that if I can put myself in that position to be one of the top players in the NBA, I have to work hard for it. Nothing comes easy. And you have to work hard for your respect in the league, and that’s what I’m still trying to do.”
Nothing would help Waiters and the Cavaliers earn respect more than getting into the playoffs next season. They are going to have ample opportunities to improve this offseason with another high lottery pick and cap space to speed in free agency. Add that with the internal development that they should have as a young team and cracking the top eight in the East may be a realistic goal for the young Cavaliers. That’s what is driving Waiters just as much as his aspirations to be great.
“Coming in next year I’m going to try and be more of a leader, more of a vocal leader even though it’s going to be my second year, I think we need that,” Waiters said. “Especially with the young guys, we have to step up and be better leaders for each other. With the coaching system, Coach Brown is a great defensive coach. It’s up to us to come in and really lock in on the defensive end.
“Nobody wants to keep missing the playoffs or keep going through the motions out there. I think if we play hard, work together, and come together as a unit I think we can be really special.”
Thoughts On The Draft Combine: Yesterday the NBA released the participants list for the 2013 NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. Every team across the league votes on the top 60 players who they want to be there and the list is put together by whichever players end up with the most votes total. At the combine players will undergo full medical exams, have the opportunity to interview with a select group of teams at their request and get put through workouts.
Once again, some of the top international talent like Dario Saric, Mahammadou Jaiteh, and Giannis Adetokoubo will not be attending because they are still playing with their club teams overseas. Typically international players represent the bulk of players who get drafted but did not attend. Last year only 11 combine participants went undrafted.
There were a few surprises in this year’s combine list, starting with the exclusion of Florida State’s Michael Snaer, one of the best defensive two guards in the draft, and Gonzaga’s Elias Harris, a versatile forward with good size and skill. They’ll face an uphill battle to get back into the top 60, but with the combine being two weeks earlier this year they’ll have plenty of time to do so.
The list was filled with obvious choices, like Nerlens Noel, Cody Zeller, Trey Burke and the other players who are locks to go in the first round. However, Duke’s Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly, Arizona’s Grant Jerrett, prep prospect Norvelle Pelle and USC’s Dewayne Dedmon were not looked at as top 60 players by many prior, so their invitations indicate that they are a bit underranked.
The inclusion of BYU’s Brandon Davies would have been unexpected prior to his strong showing at the 2013 Portsmouth Invitational. Davies helped lead his team to a perfect record en route to earning the tournament’s MVP honors. His performance, in an event many seniors opted to pass on, solidified him as a legitimate NBA prospect and undoubtedly played a big role in his inclusion of this important event.
HOOPSWORLD will be in covering the 2013 NBA Draft Combine, so make sure to stay tuned next Thursday-Friday as we bring you video interviews, measurements, and all of the most interesting stories from the camp.
Ainge Talks Celtics’ Offseason: Earlier this week HOOPSWORLD’s Stephen Brotherston made the case for the Boston Celtics delaying a rebuilding process that has seemed to be inevitable for the last few years. The team is currently in a state of uncertainty, but Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge recently gave his thoughts on head coach Doc Rivers and All-Star big man Kevin Garnett, two core pieces who may or may not be back next year, in a radio interview with WEEI.
“Doc is always unsure [about his future],” Ainge said. “Coaching is very, very draining. Every year with Doc, he’s had to go home and sort of recharge and ask himself that question, ‘Is this something that I’m passionate about and want to continue doing?’ I understand that. And we sorta give him time to unwind and relax, and after a couple of 92s on the golf course, he usually comes back.”
The same can pretty much be said for Ainge’s plans for Garnett.
“I do the same thing as I do with Doc: I give him some time away and I’ll touch base with KG probably sometime next week,” Ainge said. “He’s put so much into the game, he invests as much as any player I’ve ever seen. And he just needs time to chill and contemplate his life and then we’ll talk at some future time. But I do anticipate that KG will play. Just like I did last year, I feel the same this year. I don’t know for sure, but we’ll know more in the next couple weeks.”
The timetable for a decision is a little bit more pressing with Paul Pierce, who could be bought out next year as only $5 million of his $15.3 million salary is guaranteed. Ainge has been frank when talking about Pierce’s potential departure, but admitted he believes he’s far from done.
“There’s a lot that will go into it, but it hasn’t even started yet, we have until June 30 to make any decision,” Ainge said. “Listen, Paul’s been one of the greatest Celtics of all time and that will play part in it. We love what he’s done for us, but ultimately we have to do what we think is the best for us from this point forward. And I think that Paul still has a lot of basketball left in him.”