I was at Quicken Loans Arena the night Dion Waiters became a Cleveland Cavalier. In my days as a Clevelander, rarely have I seen a group of Cleveland fans so disgusted. The whole arena let out a chorus of boos at the announcement of the pick, and many fans left the arena all together. It was reminiscent of the night LeBron James took his talents to South Beach, just without the jersey burning.
It should be noted, however, that the booing of Waiters was not over the fact that he is not a talented player. It was over the fact that he was their pick at No. 4 overall. Players popular with the fans (Bradley Beal and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) had already been taken. Other possible picks, like Thomas Robinson and Harrison Barnes, were still on the board. Barnes, in particular, was intriguing, as he is a friend of Cavs star Kyrie Irving.
Personally, I would have preferred Barnes myself. Above all, I would have preferred Kidd-Gilchrist, who went No. 2 to the Charlotte Bobcats. Waiters, who didn’t start in college and had some conditioning issues, wasn’t even on my radar when the draft started. So when he got picked, I too was shocked. I wondered why neither Barnes nor Robinson was picked. But when you break down Waiters’ game, it’s obvious there is potential there, especially if he can be in shape.
Last season, while a sophomore at Syracuse, Waiters averaged 12.6 points, 2.5 assists, and 1.8 steals in 24.1 minutes. He also shot 47.6 percent from the field and 36.3 percent from three-point range. He did this while coming off the bench and was the Orange’s sixth man. These stats aren’t all that impressive, but like a good sixth man should, he provided an instant spark off the bench for Syracuse. He wasn’t their best player, but he fit in, played a role, and helped Syracuse reach the second round of the NCAA tournament. At the end of the season, Waiters was named an AP Honorable Mention All-American.
As far as we know, Waiters will be a starter on the Cavs this season. Byron Scott has indicated as much to the media, and what Coach Scott says is usually pretty accurate. If that holds true, I’m expecting a hard transition for Waiters. First off, he’ll be transitioning from a 2-3-zone defense at Syracuse to the NBA man-to-man style. That’s not an easy transition to make, as the 2-3 doesn’t require a player to lock down an opposing player all by himself. In the NBA he’ll be moving all around the court, defending shots and being responsible for an opposing player at all times. The other concern about Waiters is that he never started in college. He’s not used to playing right away; he’s used to coming off the bench, making an impact, and then going back to bench to rest. He’s not going to have that luxury in the NBA. Ideally, the Cavs would have added a veteran two-guard like Michael Redd to ease Waiters into the NBA. Chris Grant and company did not go that direction, so we’ll what happens.
Overall, I’m expecting Waiters to have a solid rookie season, but it will come with struggles. He’s still raw in aspects of his game, and he’s not used to starting, so the first month or so will be rough, but I expect it to get better from there. He’s drawn comparisons to Rodney Stuckey, and if so, that should help Cavs fans accept the pick, and put those boos in the past. Truth be told, as long as Waiters isn’t a bust like Luke Jackson or DuJuan Wagner, he’ll be worth the number four pick.