NBA PM: Dion Waiters To Prove His Worth?
When the Cleveland Cavaliers made Dion Waiters the fourth overall pick in this summer’s draft, it raised more than a few eyebrows. Most mock drafts had him going in the mid-teens, and none had him in the top five. His lackluster performance in the Las Vegas Summer League, where he averaged 12 points per game and shot 30 percent from the field, seemed to give credence to those who felt the fourth pick was too high.
“I learned a lot,” Waiters told HOOPSWORLD when asked about summer league. “First and foremost, I faced a lot of adversity, I think I needed that. It helped me take my work ethic to another level, just my game and my mindset. Some things, I mean, when you expect big things from yourself, you’re harder on yourself more than anybody else is. At the end of the day, it’s behind, it happened and I’m not looking back.”
While Waiters will not allow his body to look back, his head is actually using that early criticism as motivation as he works to prove everyone wrong.
“Yeah, I love it! I’m going to make everybody eat their words, man,” Waiters said. “That’s the biggest thing. I’m not worrying about anything that is going on. Like I said, I’m young, it’s a learning experience for me. At the end of the day, I’m just going to play my game and continue to work. The sky’s the limit for me.”
Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott has placed no unreasonable expectations on Waiters, and would like everyone else to just take a break from over-analyzing Waiters’ early play.
“These guys that are rookies, that are young like Tristan (Thompson) and Dion, you’ve got to give them time,” Scott said. “I heard after the scrimmage game, the Wine and Gold game, that everyone was so excited about how good Dion was. Then after the first preseason game, they weren’t so sure. He’s going to have his ups and downs. He’s a rookie, a 20-year-old rookie. He’s going to have his ups and downs. That’s the NBA. There have been very few rookies who have come into this league and just set it on fire from the start to the finish. People just need to relax and give the man some time. Just be patient, he’s going to be alright.”
Part of the reason for what might be premature anxiety on the part of Cavaliers’ fans is the way Kyrie Irving impacted the team as a rookie.
“I think people did get a little spoiled,” Scott said. “Kyrie is just so different, too. The kid is just so talented, but if people remember, he didn’t just set the world on fire in his first game against Toronto. It took him a while, too. First picks, fourth picks, it really doesn’t matter. As long as you’re a rookie it’s going to take some time to adjust to the NBA style of basketball, period.”
It helps that Waiters has already bonded with his new teammates and feels like they are going to be a solid, cohesive unit from the start.
“It’s great man, it’s a family bond, everybody, everyday, just joking and talking, just enjoying each other’s company,” Waiters said. “It’s going to be a long year for us this year, as a young team we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to play every game, every night real hard because that’s the type of team we have; we’re young. There’s going to be some games where we’re inexperienced for these type of games, you’ve seen how we can come together and got the stops when we need to, and that’s the biggest thing.”
Waiters really got it going on Friday night, when the Cavaliers took on the Chicago Bulls. He scored 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting and led the team in scoring in the 86-83 win. He then turned in another off night against the Washington Wizards on Saturday, going 2-for-9 in a loss. Still, Waiters’ confidence remains high, and that’s important for a young player.
“It felt good knowing that it’s going to come,” Waiters said of his great shooting night. “I wasn’t going to struggle forever. It’s more about me fading or leaning back on my shot, being off balance and keeping my follow through up. That’s the biggest thing with my jump shot, but I’m pretty comfortable out there now. I found myself rushing a lot and being impatient, but tonight I just let the game come to me, took what was there. I tried to attack, I got to clean up my turnovers a little bit, that’s something I can take care of easily, just take care of the ball and just make the right decision.”
“I haven’t really seen him where he’s not confident,” Scott said on Friday. “It’s just a matter of him getting more comfortable with what we’re doing and he’s getting more comfortable every day. As we keep saying, he’s going to be a good player. There’s no doubt about it. This is still a growing stage for him, he’s still learning, and he had his best night tonight.”
There will certainly be some 2-for-9 nights for Waiters this season, but the Cavaliers are confident that as the season moves along there will be many more of those 7-for-12 nights. If that’s the case, Waiters may look very much like a fourth overall draft pick after all.
The (Keith) Smart Approach To Improving Sacramento
When Keith Smart took over as head coach of the Sacramento Kings, he knew that there was more to the job than just putting talent together and making it work. He knew that there were hurt feelings and bad blood that needed to be soothed. The team took some important steps in the direction of redemption last season, but this year Smart took the team completely out of their element for training camp to make sure everyone was on the same page.
“I asked the Maloofs and Geoff Petrie about the possibility of taking the team out for a training camp,” Smart said in an interview with KHTK in Sacramento. “I thought it was very important for this team, me being here for a short period of time and seeing them, and knowing that some of the players did not see eye to eye … When they gave me a go-ahead to look for a place to take a team and kind of use that as a springboard to continue what we had already started … it all worked out. You saw what we were able to do on the basketball floor, but we spent time all week together. I thought it was important and we had a team mental exercise that we had when we were out there and that was a big key for us, too, because it was all about trying to trust one another.”
One of the biggest issues facing the team this season is what to do with Tyreke Evans, whose inability to consistently hit the three has been of such concern that he’s been on and off of the trading block. Smart still believes in Evans, and thinks he still has the ability to expand his game to the arch.
“I’ll tell you this man, he hit a jump shot, a three, the other night in practice,” Smart said. “He hadn’t been taking them in games, when we scrimmaged. And he finally hit one, so not only as a coaching staff were we all waiting for that to happen in a game more than anything else, but when he hit it in practice, the entire team erupted because of that. So, yes, you can see it. He has to do that in order for the defense to respect what he can do when he puts the ball on the floor.”
As for whether he’s a guard, a forward, or something in between, that is still to be determined.
“I told the players that I’m going to use the entire month to try and focus and find the right fit for this team,” Smart said. “I used Tyreke in training camp at the one, two and three. So I’m going to look and focus on what group of players can fit together and not over-step each other. But Tyreke was by far our best defensive player on our team during training camp. So I’m looking forward to him being able to fill multiple roles for our team.”
Smart’s biggest challenge when he took over the Kings last year was to gain the trust of DeMarcus Cousins and help him grow into a player and a person who is a franchise cornerstone. That process got off to a great start last season, and Cousins seems to have taken the next step heading into the new season.
“As we’re speaking, I’m getting ready to put together a tape from where we were last year, and how he performed defensively, to what he’s done in training camp,” Smart said. “The guy has shown that he wants to commit to that side of the ball. He came in camp in great shape, did a great job in everything we were doing and wants to take the next step. He’s got to be consistent in his play every night. I said to him that he should be an all-defensive player.”
Last season was about chemistry, now Smart wants his players to focus on putting the team above the individual.
“What I’ve tried to do, one, from talking to them all throughout training camp, is I’m looking for our team to develop, for our team to have the right kind of chemistry, which is going to help us win,” Smart said. “I used different lineups in camp. I said the goal for us is for our team to succeed more so than any of you individuals. We have to buy into that if we’re going to win, and you guys communicated to me that you want to win, it’s going to take an abundance of sacrifices for our team to have a great, winning season. You guys have to make a decision that that’s the way we’re going and you can handle it. If not, you know where my office is. You can come talk to me and say, ‘Hey Coach, I can’t handle this. Can you and Geoff do something to change my address?’”
More importantly, Smart believes the players he has under his guidance are tired of losing and ready to put the Kings back on the map, which currently has them in Sacramento.
“Without question,” Smart said. “Based on how they made the decision and effort to come back and train throughout the summer and how early they all came back three weeks before training camp, and then coming to camp in great shape and going out to Colorado Springs and doing the job.”
The Kings aren’t getting much love as a playoff team this season, but if things come together the right way they could very well be knocking on the door come April.
Tracy McGrady Heads To China
According to reports out of China, it’s official. Tracy McGrady, having exhausted the possibility of returning to the NBA this season, will take his services to the Qingdao Double Star Eagles.
Over the weekend a special press conference was held to announce the McGrady signing, in which a team representative held up a picture of the signed contract to prove it:
According to Qingdao’s general manager, Sheng Xishun, the Eagles’ goal with McGrady is to win a championship. But with the idea that his new signing will stick around for three years to rival Beijing’s Stephon Marbury as the CBA’s most popular foreign player, the goal for this year is to just make the playoffs. Good call when you consider the team saw a whopping seven players leave the team in the off-season, including the top Chinese scorer in the entire league in 2011-12, Li Gen.
There are some concerns about McGrady’s conditioning, which may hold him back initially, but otherwise the Eagles expect that the addition of McGrady will make them the championship favorites. As for McGrady, he would probably be happy to play a significant role on a team that gets out of the first round of the playoffs.
HOOPSWORLD Season Previews
The 2012-13 NBA season is rapidly approaching and there are plenty of early storylines emerging.
Can the Miami HEAT repeat their championship quest from last season? Is this the final championship run for the aging Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs? Will Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks finally put all of their talent together and join the league’s elite? Can the new-look Los Angeles Lakers, now boasting Dwight Howard and Steve Nash unseat the Oklahoma City Thunder as Western Conference champions? Is this the year the Minnesota Timberwolves reach the playoffs behind All-Star Kevin Love? Likewise, the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors are poised to make playoff runs of their own, but can they seal the deal? Are the Dallas Mavericks toast, or will their new group of hungry veterans surprise us all?
The HOOPSWORLD team has these questions and more all covered and you can find season previews for all 30 NBA teams by following this LINK.
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