November 27, 2014

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Cavaliers Wine and Gold Scrimmage: Rookie Dion Waiters still trying to get comfortable with system

CLEVELAND — Right now, it’s a good thing Dion Waiters is thinking while he’s on the basketball court.

It will be an even better thing when the No. 4 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft doesn’t have to think while playing shooting guard for the Cavaliers.

Waiters had some good moments and some not-so-good moments Saturday night as his Wine team lost to the Gold squad 54-44 in a free scrimmage that drew 12,230 fans to Quicken Loans Arena.

“He’s not 110 percent comfortable yet,” Cleveland coach Byron Scott said of the rookie from Syracuse. “It’s going to take some time. This is a whole new system for him.”

The 6-foot-4, 221-pound Waiters played on the same team as reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving. The Cavs’ starting backcourt of the present and future combined for 25 points, but the two young guards did so almost totally exclusive of one another.

Irving had a game-high 13 points, five rebounds, five assists and was clearly the best player on the floor all night, though he was just 5-for-13 from the floor and committed three turnovers.

Waiters started slowly but got going in the second half, finishing with 12 points on 4-for-9 shooting, four rebounds, no assists and two turnovers. All Waiters’ field goals came on drives, but he was 0-for-4 from the perimeter.

“There is so much to gather in a short period of time,” the 20-year-old said. “Every day I ask the coaches what I’m supposed to do and try to better myself, so when the time comes, I won’t have to ask.”

Waiters wasn’t exactly going against a lightning-quick group of shooting guards, as small forwards Omri Casspi, C.J. Miles and Luke Walton actually spent large portions of the 40-minute game playing the position for the bigger Gold team.

Waiters also got the majority of his points over the last quarter and a half, after the Wine had fallen behind by 16 points, but he and Irving at least showed signs they can become an explosive backcourt.

“Right now, it’s about slowing down,” Irving said when asked about Waiters. “I think Dion is acclimating well.”

Aside from Irving and Waiters, no one did much of anything for the Wine, as projected starting small forward Alonzo Gee went scoreless in an almost totally invisible performance and rookie center Tyler Zeller managed just two points and three boards.

The Gold had a lot of steady performances but no remarkable ones, yet led throughout because it played together and with more intelligence.

Casspi had nine points on 4-for-5 shooting, point guard Jeremy Pargo had seven points and just one turnover and undrafted power forward Kevin Jones had six points and five boards.

Perhaps most impressive, 10th-year pro Walton, who will earn $6.1 million this season whether he makes the team or not, had five points, three boards and an assist while willing a bit of everything out of his 32-year-old body.

“He’s a guy who knows how to play the game of basketball,” Scott said of the oldest player in camp. “He has a high basketball IQ.

“His experience will be pretty valuable,” the coach added. “He’s a guy who’s won some championships (two with the Los Angeles Lakers).”

While Walton isn’t a lock to make the team — he probably will, if for no other reason than his salary might come in handy at the trade deadline — second-year big man Tristan Thompson is.

The No. 4 pick in the draft the year prior to Waiters, the 6-9 Thompson is still listed at 227 pounds, but he’s actually about 245 — and most of it seems to be in his suddenly ample backside.

“I think it’s good weight,” Scott said. “He still has the explosiveness we need him to have.”
Thompson finished with four points and five rebounds, but made no impactful plays other than a swat of a Waiters drive and a left-hand spin move late in the game.

Scott, however, remains high on the 21-year-old from Texas.

“The one thing he needed to do was get stronger,” the coach said. “He still has his athleticism.”

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