Using a fourth-overall selection on Dion Waiters, the initial beliefs were that the Syracuse Slasher1 would immediately step in to the starting shooting guard slot and he, along with the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year in Kyrie Irving, would slice and dice, and pick and roll their way to the promised land. Confetti would fall, parades would be had and the Scream Team would look to expand their number of FTEs as, well, the demand for more scream would be the next commodity boom.
There is no question that Waiters will have to be a big component of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ attempt at rebuilding toward perennial contention. But should he be slotted in next to Irving when Ahamad Crump belts out the starting five each time the Wine and Gold take to the floor?
A lot has been made of the Oklahoma City Thunder2 and their building through the draft to become one of the league’s most successful teams. What is not typically used as a focal point is how the Thunder execute given the talent they have; specifically with their rotations and usage of one James Harden. Prior to his epic collapse in the NBA Finals, Harden, the Thunder’s sixth man, was one of the more coveted players to be discussed as a legitimate option for a Cleveland team in dire need of play-making wings.
Thus far through the preseason, Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott has toyed with his starting lineups and rotations. For the team’s opening contest, Scott started free agent CJ Miles at the shooting guard spot with Waiters coming off of the bench. While Waiters struggled mightily (two points on 1-of-7 shooting) and would subsequently be pulled for an apparent lack of focus, Miles excelled, leading the team in scoring (18 points, four three-point field goals made), providing range as well as aggressiveness — the type of game that would allow enough space for Irving to work his way to the rim without drawing additional defenders, but also provide a relief valve of sorts in the event the shifty point guard opted to pass.
Since the opening game against the Bucks, the 6-foot-4-inch Waiters has been plugged into the starting lineup with Miles sliding over to the small forward spot and Alonzo Gee coming off of the bench. The rookie has responded with what could best be considered to be an up-and-down swing, putting up 18 points against the Chicago Bulls and four points one night later against the Washington Wizards.
Those who feel that Waiters has to start in order to make an impact may be treading in semantic waters. The guard’s role at Syracuse is well-documented and was used by many as means to detract from Cavaliers GM Chris Grant using the fourth-overall pick in order to obtain his services. Scott, Waiters’ new head coach, himself was the fourth-overall pick in his respective draft, played the off-guard position, and came off of the bench during his rookie season. And like the ever-impactful Harden, who provided a PER of 21.13 off of the bench for the Thunder — giving way to the more defensive-minded and taller Thabo Sefolosha — earning the 2011-12 NBA’s Sixth man of the Year award, it is conceivable that Waiters could play a similar role for the upstart Cavs.
When Irving, the team’s leading scorer and primary ball-handler, has been given a break during games, it is Waiters who dominates the ball. Though the term combo-guard can often be a negative connotation, the Syracuse product undoubtedly has the ability to control the basketball when called upon, allowing the team to have one of their backcourt stars on the floor at any one point in time. Last season, when Irving would miss time, the Cavaliers called upon Ramon Sessions to play the point; once the reserve guard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, the impact was unavoidable and the losses piled up. As injuries continued to arise, the Cavaliers were forced to take players who were once reserves and make them starters which led to mismatches that bordered on severe during certain portions of any given night.
Reserve scoring aside, if the Cavaliers opted to use Waiters in the sixth man role, it would allow Irving to be flanked by a 6-foot-6-inch shooting guard in Miles as well as the athletic prowess of Gee. One of the worst defensive point guards in the league during his rookie season, adding this size to the wing can serve to benefit the Cavaliers as a team.
As Waiters said during his press conference at Cavaliers’ media day, he is used to coming off of the bench. While it may have been a factor in his unhappiness as an 18-year-old freshman under Jim Boeheim, it could be something that the Cavaliers could exploit during the 2012-13 season and beyond if, in fact, their target model is that of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
There is no doubting that Harden would be a welcomed addition to the Cavaliers, and as his contract issues contiue to manifest themselves, what was once a delusion of grandeur could become considerably more possible given the cap space owned by Grant and Company. However, as Harden, starting a mere seven games through his entire career, averaged 9.9 points during his rookie year, an idea as bold as playing the fourth-overall selection off of the bench would have to result in winning to be received well by media and fans alike. But given the rookie’s skill set and the teammates which surround him, it could just be the idea — if executed properly — that continues to help the Cavaliers get back to a level of prominence.
Perhaps we could even talk Dion into growing a killer beard.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)