The Cleveland Cavaliers may finally have their James Harden. If we want to use a more modern analogy, the Wine and Gold may have their very own Jamal Crawford, albeit a rookie who still has plenty of room to grow.
In a surprise move prior to Wednesday night’s contest against the Sacramento Kings, Cavs head coach Byron Scott made a decision that some were clamoring for prior to the start of the 2012-13 NBA season: bringing fourth-overall draft selection Dion Waiters off of the bench.
The move just makes too much sense. Waiters came off of the bench in Syracuse, so the fear of early-game rust is nullified. He would provide a scoring punch to an admittedly thin reserve unit, one that to this point in the season has proven to be an inconsistent link. Starting CJ Miles at the off-guard would allow for a taller compliment to the defensively weaker Kyrie Irving. Waiters, when in the game, would then allow Scott to give Irving a rest without worrying about a primary ball-handler.
The end result was a loss to the Sacramento Kings, who would go on to win what was just their second road game of the season. This would be no fault of Waiters’, however, as the scowling rookie came out swinging once unleashed on to the court, finishing with 20 points on 8-of-19 shooting, adding two boards, three assists and a steal. He would go 6-for-6 on his shots at the rim — a welcomed change from some of his numbers from earlier this season — and add a three-ball. In one sequence, Waiters would strip the ball from the opposition, tipping it into the hands of a waiting Luke Walton who would quickly advance the ball back up the floor to the rookie guard for the right-handed slam.
“I just put up shots,” said Waiters of the sixth-man role. “My teammates found me when I was open. I should have knocked down a couple that I missed, but I was just being aggressive.”
Those shots that Waiters admits to have missing out of aggression were likely ones that Coach Scott would like to have back. While the hard-nosed Waiters would aggressively finish his six shots at the rim, he would also settle for 10 shots beyond 16 feet, hitting only two of them — both of which were assisted. As a rookie in what amounts to being his 33rd game as a professional, Waiters is obviously still finding ways to create at the next level. On a night when Kyrie Irving had a negative point differential of seven, it was Waiters who had a net positive of one1.
For all of the good amassed the lineup change, Waiters, who was shooting 36 percent from the floor heading into the night, was not the most elated member in the Cavaliers locker room once made aware of Coach Scott’s change. He would not elaborate on his feelings, instead offering the token 110 percent-type lines in response to post-game questioning.
“I’m just here to do whatever the team needs me to do.” said Watiers. “That’s what it was tonight. Coach made a change. I can’t say nothing. I just have to go out there and play.”
If Waiters was indeed frustrated — he rarely shows any emotion off of the court — he took it out on the Sacramento Kings. While his counterpoint in Miles, among the starting five, would score 12 points in the first quarter. Waiters started the night out going 2-for-8, but sank six of his last 11 shots after settling in and playing off of his teammates.
It was a move that Irving aptly stated was “very different,” but one that will only be judged by the future. The Cavaliers, for all of their struggles this season, have either led or been within six points in the fourth quarter in all but four games this season. They lead the league in games decided by three points or fewer. Regardless of the opponent — the Miami Heat or the Sacremento Kings — the Cavaliers have shown that they can play with every team in the NBA.
Of all of the moves that Byron Scott has made in hopes of finally putting his team over the top, moving Waiters to the bench is merely the latest. Whether it’s the one that works or not remains to be seen. He still settles for too many jump shots, he’s still learning to play his game at the NBA level. But given the team’s current win total and make-up, it’s one that makes the most sense.
Photo: David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
- This may seem marginal on the outside, but if the Cavaliers can consistently add to their would-be margins when the reserve unit is on the floor, it’s fairly substantial [↩]