WFNY Top 10 Cleveland Sports Stories of 2012: #6 The Cavaliers draft Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller

draft picks

2012 was one crazy year in the wild wacky world of Cleveland Sports. Some would tell you 2012 was as bad as it has ever been here. As the year comes to a close, like we have done the last four years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the 10 biggest sports stories affecting our local sports scene. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from ten to one. We started the Buckeyes Final Four trip. Number nine is something that happened just a short two weeks ago. The Ohio State perfect 12-0 season was number eight while Chris Perez’ harsh and honest words clocked in at number seven. Our sixth-biggest story came around the same time of the year, but for a completely different team.

#6 The Cavaliers draft Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller

Cloaked in speculation and fan in-fighting, the mid-summer NBA Draft was undoubtedly one of the biggest nights of the 2012 calendar year in the city of Cleveland. What would take place on this night, however, would wind up being even bigger.

After multiple mock drafts and rumor mills had the Cavaliers leaving Secaucus, New Jersey with either Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, fans were treated to a curve ball when their fourth-overall selection was on the clock. Kidd-Gilchrist, one of the team’s admitted targets, was selected two picks earlier. Kansas’ Thomas Robinson was, per many draftniks, the top player on the board. Some were beginning to sour on the lack of aggression possessed by Barnes. So the Cavaliers did what every other team would do in their position: they took the player rated the highest on their draft boards.

They selected Dion Watiers, a shooting guard out of Syracuse University.

Fans immediately took to Twitter and comment fields alike. What was Chris Grant thinking? After all, this one mock draft on the Internet had Waiters not being selected until the seventh pick! SEVENTH! Chris Grant reached!! He reached I tell you! Uneducated talks of Waiters being a sixth man and selective analysis of empty statistics would soon follow. But the general manager who was being chastised for his wingspan was not done. All of the selections he had acquired over the course of the last two years were put to work when the Cavs traded up with the Dallas Mavericks to select a player who would immediately become their best true center in Tyler Zeller.

Here’s what we had to say immediately following the draft…

Take it away, Kirk:

To me, the most comforting thing with this draft (and last) was just how sure the Cavalier front office has been of themselves. In the end, maybe Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters don’t work out, but it won’t be because the Cavaliers got caught unprepared. At the four slot for two straight seasons, the Cavaliers essentially got the guy they targeted. [...]

There are concerns with Waiters, as with all picks, but one of them certainly isn’t the fact that he wasn’t a starter at Syracuse. Ask any Orange fan, and they’ll open laugh in your face if that’s your greatest concern with Dion.

The Zeller trade was a no-brainer for me. A guy who could’ve been a Top 10 pick in this draft slipped, and the Cavaliers were prepared and had the ammunition to make that trade up. If Zeller can be a longterm solution at the center position, he’s worth that trade and subsequent pick three times over.

You’re up, Ben:

Waiters has been compared to Dwyane Wade, which sounds a bit nuts (although it sounded nuts last year when Kyrie Irving kept being compared to Chris Paul) but he’s a 6-4, athletic two-guard who can get to the hole and finish inside. The Cavs certainly need more playmakers (as they currently have one) but an undersized scoring shooting guard? Forgive me for having Dajuan Wagner flashbacks.

The grades for the Cavs ran the gamut from A-to-F. Clearly, the Waiters pick was the biggest surprise and most polarizing selection of the draft. But after MKG went to Charlotte and Bradley Beal landed in Washington, the Cavs were somewhat stuck. Do they take a guy they don’t like (Harrison Barnes)? Do they take a guy who plays the same position as last year’s No. 4 selection (Thomas Robinson)? Do they trade down and hope Waiters is still there at 6 or 7? Roll the dice with Andre Drummond?

While I’m decidedly underwhelmed at the Waiters selection, I have a hard time for killing the Cavs for the pick.

And yours truly:

During the summer of 2010, as the drill sergeant of a head coach in Byron Scott was being introduced to the Cleveland media, he envisioned a Cavaliers team that would get up the floor and do so with the utmost efficiency. Surely, it was an indirect sales pitch at LeBron James who, entering free agency at the time, was said to be deflated by the half-court sputtering of former head coach Mike Brown. Nevertheless, Scott had a utopian scenario where his team would hit the ground running; they would never lose a game due to fatigue. [...]

When I asked him point blank if he felt these players could fit the mold he desired, Scott confirmed. Call it company line, misjudging, or simply not wanting to suck any remaining life out of the situation at hand, but the new head was assuredly wrong. This team would go on to set depressing records, producing efficiency figures that were essentially compounded by increased pace of play. Needless to say, if Scott was in fact of the belief that his inherited team could meet his expectations, he found out the hard way that this was certainly going to take some time.

Enter Kyrie Irving. Enter Alonzo Gee. Enter Tristan Thompson. And now, enter Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller, one of the best shooting guards in the 2012 draft class as well as a big man — a much-needed one at that — who can run the floor as well as any of his peers. A vision was there at the start, and now, a mere two drafts (and a D-League gem) later, the core of the Cleveland Cavaliers is starting to take shape.

Surely, Chris Grant had not had the chance to work Waitiers out — he had not even been afforded the opportunity to speak with the kid from Philly. But every chance he had to watch Waiters practice or play, Grant took it. Every person he could speak with who knew the shooting guard, he had them on the phone. Grant would say that he did more homework on the Syracuse guard than any player he had ever analyzed  or selected.

Even Kyrie Irving approved. The fact that no one at all landed any heavy debate on the selection of Zeller — after all, how often does one call a help line to discuss how good things are going ? — shows just how solid of a move the three-for-one trade was.

Waiters and Zeller would go on to have some heavy polarity in their summer league stints. Waiters’ was cut short as his offseason involved little in terms of working out — recall, his agent adivised he not work out privately for teams. Zeller, however, showed that he has what it took to be an NBA center and left fans wondering if as much of a question mark as the Waiters pick was perceived to be, did Grant strike gold with Zeller?

Both players would go on to have crucial roles with the upstart Cavaliers. The ultimate grade given the Chris Grant’s 2012 draft night cannot, and will not, be handed out for many years to come. What can be stated with certainty, however, was that the night the Cavaliers added two key players in a few-minute span was easily one of the biggest stories of the 2012 sports year in the city of Cleveland.

Photo: Scott Sargent/WFNY

  • Harv 21

    While I’m still waiting for Dion to use his strength and aggression to go to the hole as regularly as he did in college, I’m still not clear why Zeller wasn’t grabbed by a team earlier. This kid has so many skills and skilled centers are at a premium.

    Draftniks were saying that he was devalued because he was a senior. I still don’t get that. As if the 3rd and 4th years of college coaching pull your ceiling way down, while the drafted freshmen still have the potential to be NBA stars.

  • Lunch

    My guess it’s the Anderson Varejao effect, aka being devalued due to age. Because Zeller played all four years in college, that means that’s less time as a serviceable player, in his prime, in the NBA. Notice the Varejao trades that some of the fans want to see. They probably feel that the Cavs could get a huge deal off of Varejao if traded now, verses three or four years from now, where the fans assume that Varejao’s performance will be next to poor because of how old he will be by then. It’s interesting the fans haven’t talked about trading Kyrie Irving. After all, Irving will reach Varejao’s age some day. Might as well see how much we can get back from him before that time comes.

  • NamedMyKidPrice

    Is this #7 or #6? Perez was 7. Or was there a tie?

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    It was sixth. I got lost in the shuffle. My fault.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Completely agree. Perhaps its a lack of sexiness; the upside is obviously lower. Either way, I’m glad it happened.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    kirk: “To me, the most comforting thing with this draft (and last) was just how sure the Cavalier front office has been of themselves.”

    yes.

    chris grant has trusted himself and yeah sure it’s too early to know but so far his picks and moves (trading up for zeller) look great.

    apologies for brownsie thread-jack.
    i offer a heckert parallel here. i’ve been way out front bludgeoning heckert for ‘reaches.’ (catalogue of my draft night airing of grievances below.) and of course you can look back and there are always better picks. but heckert seems to target certain players and -this is key- then make sure he gets them (kendall wright notwithstanding). i have to respect that and more, admire that. afterall, you’re naked out there and going against dozens, hundreds of draftniks. takes a LOT of guts/self-confidence/pre-work/balls to stick to your guns and say, eg, ‘i think john hughes is 3rd rd talent.’

    clearly chris grant isn’t afraid to get his guys like TT, waiters, zeller. hell, even irving wasn’t a slam dunk at the time.. at least for some (me). (yeah derrick williams is 8 pts/gm.) seems like an easy pick but we’ve seen a lot of GMs overthink these things.

    [picks i killed heckert on:
    hardesty -- gave up 3 picks to move up for RB w knee probs. (fwiw, morgan burnett is starting at safety for pack.) but we're seeing promise from hardesty now.
    taylor -- not the pick, but the 3rd rounder given up to get him. fwiw, my guy gabe carimi.. err.. not productive for the bears as yet.
    trich -- not the pick, but poker playing against spielman.
    weeden -- seemed a reach; but heckert worked him out, interviewed him.
    hughes -- of course i was wrong on hughes. but i really hated that TRADED DOWN to get him. (i know. whut?) do you know that trade-down to broncos (ronnie hillman) turned into hughes AND james-michael johnson? could be one of his best deals.

    anyone curious about heckert's record, i tried to pull together draft pics, FAs, contract to look at and theyre here. note the 2011 2nd rd: sheard/little looks really good.]

  • Harv 21

    I’m completely on board with this outlook, Jim. Fearlessness is a common trait of good drafters. The opposite is the insecure GM concerned about covering his fanny who worries whether his picks will be defensible. As you imply, with a thousand self-published and blogging “experts” echoing Silly Season rumors and with hyperventilating radio show hosts and callers, it’s admirable when a GM shuts the door and trusts himself and his staff to figure out what they need and who they like.

  • Harv 21

    But a non-klutzy 7-footer like Zeller can be productive for a decade plus if he can pass and hit jumpers and free throws and shows an understanding of the game. These abilities are huge in a big long after the hops are gone. I’m thinking Laimbeer, Parrish, etc. Why not lust after a big who does these things even if he’s 22?

    Wonder what the Cavs would have done with the #4 pick if Zeller was a graduating senior before the ’11 draft: go with Tristan because he’s raw but more of a physical beast, or the polished Zeller. To me it’s a no-brainer.