July 29, 2014

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Cavs say they got their guy in Syracuse guard Dion Waiters

INDEPENDENCE — Cavaliers coach Byron Scott wouldn’t have taken Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal over Syracuse’s Dion Waiters. Ditto for Kentucky small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

In fact, Scott said Friday at Cleveland Clinic Courts that the only player he would have picked over Waiters was Kentucky big man Anthony Davis, who went No. 1 to New Orleans on Thursday in the NBA Draft.

“I had to keep watching tape,” Scott said a day after the Cavs shocked a lot of people by choosing the 6-foot-4, 221-pound Waiters with the fourth pick. “I didn’t want one game to trick me. … I kept coming back to the same thought: This kid is good.”

That opinion isn’t shared by everyone in Northeast Ohio, but the Cavs don’t care.

Though Waiters never started a game in two seasons at Syracuse, though he averaged 6.6 points as a freshman and 12.6 as a sophomore, though many so-called experts had him ranked as the third-best shooting guard in the draft behind Beal and Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb and though the Orangemen play almost exclusively 2-3 zone under Jim Boeheim, the Cavs are confident they got a great player to put next to point guard and reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving.

“The fact the guy didn’t start didn’t mean anything to me,” Scott said. “He finished pretty much every game of the season. When he finished, he had the ball in his hands and he was able to create for himself and his teammates.

“There was no game he was involved in where the moment was too big. He likes those situations.”

While statistics can be twisted around or downright misleading, the box scores appear to tell a slightly different story.

In seven games against ranked opponents last season, Waiters averaged 10.0 points and shot .348 from the field (23-for-66). He was 1-for-8 for two points against Florida, 3-for-12 for nine points against Georgetown, 3-for-10 for seven points against Louisville and 2-for-8 for nine points as Syracuse lost to Ohio State in the East Regional championship.

“I can’t blame it on the refs,” Waiters said of his struggles against the Buckeyes, when he couldn’t shake Aaron Craft. “We lost fair and square. But, obviously, we didn’t get a lot of calls.”

The big knock on Waiters is that he has an inconsistent jumper, which seems to be backed up by the fact he averaged fewer than one 3-pointer a game at the college level. It’s also been said that he didn’t do much without the ball in his hands at Syracuse, where he didn’t start because Boeheim liked the chemistry of the older players on his roster.

“It made me mature as a man,” Waiters said of coming off the bench. “It really helped me out.”

The shooting guard’s greatest strength is considered to be his ability to get to the rim, with some scouts going so far as to say he would have won a one-on-one tournament among the players in the 2012 draft.

That’s led him to be compared to Dwyane Wade on the high end, Rodney Stuckey in the middle and guys like Smush Parker and Flip Murray at the low end.

“I’ve got to work on every aspect of my game,” Waiters said. “If they say I don’t have a jump shot, it’s up to me to get up a thousand jump shots a day to make it better.”

In an ideal situation, Waiters will improve his jumper and ability to fit into an offense while maintaining his aggressive, fearless nature.

If that happens, he and Irving could form a lethal — albeit very small — starting backcourt.

“Dion knows he’s going to have to earn that spot,” Scott said. “Playing with Kyrie, they can be a dynamic duo.”

A Philadelphia native with overwhelming confidence, Waiters said he was “born that way” and is eager to share the backcourt with Irving, another player not lacking in that department.

“He’s one of those guys that doesn’t really have a lot of weaknesses, either,” Waiters said. “He can shoot, dribble and break down his man. He’s very efficient. I think he can help me in a lot of ways.”

Raised by a single mother, Waiters is equally confident he will justify being taken with the fourth pick by the Cavs, who apparently would have selected him with the second choice as well.

“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always dreamed about. I worked very hard to get where I’m at.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.