Waiters Wants Playoff Berth, ROY Award
In the weeks leading up to the 2012 NBA Draft, Dion Waiters’ representatives heard from a new executive every day. Even though Waiters left the NBA’s pre-draft combine in Chicago after one day and canceled all of his individual workouts once he received a promise from the Phoenix Suns, teams remained intrigued by the 20-year-old. Waiters wasn’t doing workouts or interviews, but it didn’t matter.
Rather than scaring teams off, Waiters’ disappearing act had the opposite effect on executives around the league. They wondered what they had missed. They re-watched his game film from Syracuse and looked into his background to see what the buzz was about. By becoming the draft classes’ mystery man, Waiters’ stock improved significantly and it became clear that he wouldn’t last to Phoenix at No. 13.
The general consensus around the league is that Waiters’ game is better suited for the NBA than college. When teams started to do their homework on Waiters, they saw a tremendous athlete who could create his own shot and put up points in a variety of ways. Clip after clip showed the 6’4 guard beating his man off the dribble and scoring at will. Executives fell in love with Waiters without ever meeting him.
While most prospects were traveling the country and working out for teams, Waiters trained at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas and watched as his name climbed draft boards. The strategy worked to perfection, pushing Waiters into the top five after he was originally projected as a mid-to-late first-round pick. The Cleveland Cavaliers selected Waiters with the fourth overall pick, even though he didn’t work out for them at any point during the pre-draft process. Waiters admits that he didn’t anticipate the meteoric rise and he was surprised when he heard his name called on draft night.
“I can’t say that I saw it coming,” Waiters told HOOPSWORLD. “I didn’t see it coming. I can’t even tell you how everything went down. I was surprised a little bit. I thought it’s a great fit and a great opportunity. I was excited to go top five. The draft process was cool. I think I was only in Chicago for about five or six hours, but I enjoyed it a lot. Going through that process, it was a great experience for me. Being able to meet with some of the teams and being able to tell them a little bit about myself and learn about them, it was a good situation. I’m happy that I went through it, but it got cut off really fast. It was crazy. I kept hearing about different teams that were calling about me and asking about me. It was good and it worked out. It still hasn’t hit me yet. I think once I play in my first game, it’ll finally hit me. When I’m running through that tunnel and hear that crowd, it’ll really sink in.”
While Waiters had an unusual draft experience, he feels that everything worked out for the best. He’s thrilled to join the Cavaliers and begin his NBA career in Cleveland.
“The city is great,” Waiters said. “It’s a laid back city with very passionate fans. Everything about Cleveland is great, especially the facility and all of the people that are involved and around the building. It’s nothing but love. I couldn’t be happier. I couldn’t be in a better place.”
Fortunately for Waiters, he already knows at least one of the people around the building. Kyrie Irving has been one of his good friends since tenth grade. Irving and Waiters grew up within an hour of each other and became close after repeatedly running into each other at camps, tournaments and other events. Over the years, they stayed in touch and now they’ll play alongside each other and Waiters couldn’t be more excited about the duo’s upside.
“Potential wise, the sky is the limit for us,” Waiters said of Cleveland’s backcourt. “We’re still young and we’re still getting better every day. We’re building on the bond that we already had. 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. When we get on the court, it’s all about how we can make each other better. We’re going to push each other.”
Entering his rookie season, Waiters has high expectations for himself and the team as a whole. The Eastern Conference’s last few seeds will be up for grabs and Waiters wants the Cavaliers to qualify for the postseason for the first time since LeBron James’ departure following the 2009-10 season.
“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.”
As far as individual goals go, Waiters hopes to take home the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award, which isn’t out of the question considering he may start and get plenty of touches in Cleveland. While some rookies will enter the season buried on the depth chart, Waiters will have every opportunity to succeed.
“I try not to talk about my personal goals, but that’s definitely one of mine,” Waiters said of winning the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award. “Making the playoffs is the biggest thing, but I’m definitely thinking about [winning Rookie of the Year]. I have to put the work in and earn it though. It’s not just going to be given to me. I have to earn it and that’s something that I’m going to try to do, game in and game out.”
Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott made headlines when he compared Waiters to Dwyane Wade and he can’t wait to add the rookie to his rotation. Waiters will have to earn the starting shooting guard job, but it sounds like he’ll have a large role this season regardless.
“They just want me to come in here, play my game and be able to help this team,” Waiters said. “I think [my game translates well to the NBA]. There’s more space and you have to be able to break your man down and get to the basket, which I can do well.”
Training camp doesn’t start for another week and a half, but Waiters and his teammates are already working out together and preparing for the upcoming season.
“We’re all working out together,” Waiters said. “Everyone is out here in Cleveland working out right now. We’re getting after it early. Everyone is here playing pick-up, working out and things like that.”
Waiters has set the bar high for himself entering his rookie season. Now, he just has to live up to the hype. He’s determined to prove that the Cavaliers made the right decision on draft night and silence the critics who say he shouldn’t have been selected in the top five.
“I have something to prove,” Waiters said. “That’s something that motivates me every day when I wake up. At the end of the day, that motivates me and adds more fuel to my fire.”