December 20, 2014

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Waiters move to the bench has paid off for Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers' Dion Waiters shoots over Miami's Ray Allen last week in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Cleveland Cavaliers’ Dion Waiters shoots over Miami’s Ray Allen last week in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

INDEPENDENCE — Dion Waiters may not have been thrilled when the Cavaliers initially told him he was going to come off the bench, but the plan appears to be working to his benefit.

In six games as a non-starter, the shooting guard is averaging 16.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

“I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do,” Waiters said. “That’s all. I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do for the team, whatever my role is.

“I love passing the ball. I love making my teammates better. It’s more than just scoring with me.”

Over his last three games, however, it has been about scoring, as he’s put up at least 20 points each night.

In that span, the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder is averaging 21.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists while shooting .524 from the field, .467 on 3-pointers and .700 at the line.

Of course, the Cavs lost the first five games Waiters came off the bench before defeating Chicago on Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena. They’ll try to make it two in a row tonight when the Denver Nuggets visit The Q.

“I love winning,” Waiters said. “That’s the best thing about it. When you’re winning, everybody’s happy. … You don’t have to go home frustrated and miserable.

“At the end of the day, I love winning. I’m passionate. That’s what it’s about.”

Waiters, who averaged 13.3 points in nine games as a starter before missing two due to illness, was not happy earlier in the season.

When point guard Kyrie Irving called a team meeting following a 29-point loss in Minnesota on Nov. 13, Waiters questioned why Irving passed the ball to Tristan Thompson, but not to him. That led to Thompson confronting Waiters and the meeting became quite heated.

Not long after that, reports surfaced that the Cavs were shopping Waiters, who is one of their more tradable commodities despite the fact he still sometimes floats around the perimeter when Irving has the ball.

Whether it was losing his starting job, the team meeting, the trade rumors or just stepping up his game, something lit a fire under Waiters, who was the Big East Sixth Man of the Year as a sophomore at Syracuse before the Cavs took him with the fourth pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.

In fact, Waiters, who will turn 22 on Dec. 10, has been playing so well off the bench, he’s not about to get his starting job back anytime soon.

“Dion is very comfortable where he is and we’re comfortable as a team where he is,” coach Mike Brown said. “He’s played some good basketball for us.”

For the season, Waiters is averaging 14.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists. He’s shooting .419 from the field, .412 on 3-pointers and .678 at the line.

“He’s always scored the ball well,” Brown said. “Because he’s moving the ball well and he’s attacking, he’s able to get to the free throw line. He’s able to make his teammates better.”

Brown also praised Waiters’ rebounding, which has allowed him to play a decent amount of minutes at small forward, with Jack
and Irving in the backcourt.

“He keeps doing those things, he’s going to make our team very good in a different, unique way,” Brown said.

That’s a start — even if it has occurred with Waiters coming off the bench.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.