Sky’s the Limit for Irving, Waiters
The Cleveland Cavaliers have one of the most promising backcourts in the league. That was evident last night, when Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters combined for 52 points in the team’s second win of the season. Irving and Waiters form a scary one-two punch, taking turns dominating and embarrassing opponents. Both players can score at will and they’ve done just that through four games.
On some nights it’ll be Irving who carries the scoring load, as was the case in the season opener when he dropped 29 points in the win over the Washington Wizards. On other nights it’ll be Waiters who takes over, as was the case on Monday night when he had 28 points in the win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
“I feel like we’re just playing off of each other, just taking what the defense gives us,” Irving said of the duo. “That definitely works well for us. We take turns. I play off of him and he plays off of me.”
“We can both play with the ball and we can both play off the ball,” Waiters said. “We make each other better.”
In the first week of the season, Irving and Waiters have been one of the most productive backcourts in the league. Irving is averaging 23.7 points, 6.0 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals while Waiters is averaging 16.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.2 steals. In Cleveland’s wins, they’ve combined for an average of 48 points.
These numbers are even more impressive when you consider that both players are just 20 years old. Waiters, born in 1991, will turn 21 next month and Irving, born in 1992, will turn 21 next March. Even though they’re often the youngest players on the court, Irving and Waiters are fearless, refusing to back down from anyone. The duo is old enough to torch your favorite team, but not old enough to order a drink afterwards.
“Potential wise, the sky is the limit for us,” Waiters said. “We’re still young and we’re still getting better every day. When we get on the court, it’s all about how we can make each other better. We’re going to push each other. We just have to keep working with each other every day.”
Irving and Waiters have been pushing each other for years. They met in high school, when they were two of the top-ranked prospects in New Jersey. They grew up within 55 miles of each other – Irving starring at St. Patrick and Waiters starring at Life Center Academy. They would see each other at all of the local AAU tournaments and high school camps, where they would usually dominate their peers. At some events, they would go head-to-head. At others, they would play on the same team. Irving and Waiters met as sophomores and became close friends, before going off to Duke and Syracuse respectively. The chemistry that has been on display this season in Cleveland has been in the making for years, which is why they’ve been able to experience success so quickly. While other young backcourts are still trying to get on the same page, they’re ahead of the curve.
“We’re building on the bond that we already had,” Waiters said of his relationship with Irving. “Coming out of high school together, we clicked right away and we were always together. We met in tenth grade and from that day on, we’ve been close friends.”
Cleveland has high hopes for their young backcourt. They selected Irving with the top overall pick last year and picked Waiters with the fourth overall pick in June, making them the cornerstones of the franchise. Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott has been extremely impressed with each player, so much so that he started both Irving and Waiters from day one even though they had starting-caliber veterans behind them on the depth chart. Irving started all 51 games that he appeared in during his rookie season, getting the nod over Ramon Sessions. Waiters earned his place in the starting lineup during the final week of training camp, keeping C.J. Miles on the bench.
Scott has said that he thinks Irving and Waiters can be one of the best backcourts in the league over the next decade.
“They can create for themselves and they can create for their teammates,” Scott said of Irving and Waiters. “You can put the ball in their hands on just about every play and they’ll do something good with it.”
“It just depends on who has it going,” Scott said. “Sometimes we’ll have Kyrie run the high pick-and-roll and we’ll have Dion go the corner and vice versa. It helps us offensively and makes us tougher to guard, having two guys who can not only make plays but make shots as well.”
Scott is confident that Irving and Waiters will get better over the course this season, as they continue to play together.
“They’re still getting better and they’re still getting used to each other,” Scott said. “As much as they want to talk about how they’ve known each other since AAU, they still haven’t played together that much. They’re still getting used to one another, but they’re starting to come along.”
While the future is certainly bright for Irving and Waiters, the guards want to win now. Both players believe Cleveland has what it takes to make the playoffs this season. Right now, the Cavaliers have the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference and they’ll likely be in the playoff hunt for much of the year. If Irving and Waiters can elevate their games, they may be able to sneak in as the eighth seed over other fringe teams like the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors.
“If we come to play every single night, I feel like we can play with the best of them on both ends of the floor,” Irving said. “We have the aggressiveness. We have the confidence. Whether anybody else believes it doesn’t matter. It’s just about us, everyone in the Cavaliers organization, believing in ourselves. I believe we are a playoff team.”
“Hopefully we can make the playoffs,” Waiters said. “We want to achieve that. We have to work our way up to that next level. That’s the main thing. For us to do that, it’ll take hard work, dedication and sacrifice. Everybody has one goal in mind and that’s to make the playoffs. We’re young, but we’re going to do whatever it takes to get there and keep building off of each other. Hopefully we can get there.”
If Irving and Waiters continue to play at a high level and deliver performances like the one we saw on Monday night, the Cavaliers may have a two-man game that makes them a playoff team this year and a contender for years to come.