The Cleveland Cavaliers, who started Thursday night with four draft picks, ending up selecting Dion Waiters at No. 4 and trading pick Nos. 24, 33 and 34 for Tyler Zeller, who went at pick No. 17 to the Dallas Mavericks. The Cavaliers also acquired small forward Kelenna Azubuike from the Mavericks.
While the Cavaliers couldn’t get a trade done with the Charlotte Bobcats to jump up to pick No. 2 and select Bradley Beal, Cleveland settled for their second option at the two guard in Waiters. The former Syracuse guard will be joining Kyrie Irving in the backcourt as his running mate, looking to speed up an offense that go increasingly faster from two seasons ago. Waiters is a player who has a lot of upside, as he increasing his average points from 6.6 points his freshmen season to 12.6 points in his final season at Syracuse.
Waiters also showed improvements in other areas, including field goal percentage (6.5 percent increase), three-point percentage (3.4 percent increase), rebounds (1.7 rebound increase), assists (1.0 assist increase) and steals (0.7 steal increase). He won Big East Sixth Man of the Year, while averaging 24.1 minutes off the bench. He didn’t start a single game in his collegiate career.
Another reason why this selection was so shocking to many is because the former Syracuse player didn’t work out for any team before the draft. His agent Rob Pelinka advised him not to. Pelinka is also the agent for Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant.
I think going shooting guard with the No. 4 pick was a smart move, as they addressed half of the backcourt problem last season when the Cavaliers front office selected Irving to be the point guard the team desperately needed. Waiters now takes scoring pressure off of Irving by becoming the Cavaliers new wing player. Like Beal, Waiters has the capability of being the all-around two guard that Cleveland missed having last year.
The confidence that Waiters had to not work out for any team and still land at No. 4 to the Cavaliers and by working out in the gym three or four times a day during the summer between his freshmen and sophomore season is a huge reason why Chris Grant was able to pull the trigger on him so early.
“We don’t really care where a guy gets picked as long as he’s the right pick for us,” Grant said. “If we feel good about it, we’re going to take the player.
And that’s why I trust the Cavaliers organization with this pick, a player who has drawn comparisons to Dwyane Wade. GMs from around the league were praising the Cavaliers for the moves they made in the draft.
The second move in the draft had the Cavaliers sending three picks to a team that wasn’t the Charlotte Bobcats. The Cavaliers were presumably going to send picks four, 24 and 33 to the Bobcats for the No. 2 selection, but a deal never got done.
Instead the Cavaliers sent picks 24, 33 and 34 to the Dallas Mavericks, who selected Zeller at pick No. 17, for the North Carolina center and small forward Kelenna Azubuike. With that said, the Cavaliers addressed their three biggest needs: an explosive two guard, a true center and a small forward. They just did it a different way than fans expected them to.
I wasn’t totally satisfied with the Waiters pick, but once the Cavaliers selected Zeller my mood started to change. The Cleveland centers last year included Semih Erden, Ryan Hollins (who later on became a Boston Celtic) and Tristan Thompson (who filled in pretty nicely even though he is a traditional forward). Landing a true center like Zeller in a league that is slowly watching the center position deteriorate is going to put the Cavaliers at a huge advantage matchup wise.
The 7’ 0”, 250-pound center shot 55.3 percent from the field in this senior season at North Carolina while also shooting an impressive 80.8 percent from the free throw line, something you don’t see in centers nowadays. Zeller also averaged 16.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. He has shown a lot of upside throughout his four seasons at North Carolina, getting increasingly better in almost every category each year.
Like Waiters, Zeller also received a top honor, being named the ACC’s top player last year. But as head coach Byron Scott hinted last night, it is not certain that Zeller is going to be the starting center once the 2012-13 season rolls around. But the way he can run the court will put him at an advantage over some of the flat-footed Cavalier big men.
If the Cavaliers can develop Zeller into a franchise-type player, someone who will be around for 10 or more years, trading three picks will have been worth the risk. Zeller will fit right in with the core that Cleveland is trying to build with players such as Tristan Thompson.
Overall I would give the Cavaliers a solid B for their draft. Waiters is definitely a player with high risk/high reward, but Jim Boeheim, his coach at Syracuse, said he was one of the most NBA-ready guards he has coached ever. I think Waiters is a great compliment to Kyrie. I also like the big trade for Zeller. I believe he is the perfect player for the Cavaliers to build their inside game around. He will come in and make an impact right away.
What did you think of the Cavaliers draft?