With Waiters and Zeller, Byron Scott’s Dreams Become Reality

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.

“I can’t let go of my roots,” said Scott. “I want to run [on offense]. We’ll still run some Princeton but emphasis is to get up & down floor.”

The only hurdles were the names which littered the roster he had just inherited. Anthony Parker and Antawn Jamison were veterans who, despite careers which extended into their mid-30s, simply were not of the transition basketball mold. The options at small forward were Jawad Williams, Jamario Moon and (eventually) Joey Graham. Mo Williams, though having made an All-Star game alongside LeBron James, was not a player who was known for creating his own shot.

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.

Every player who had his name called on Thursday night has a fault or question mark of some sort — Waiters and Zeller are no exceptions. There were no private workouts to be had when it comes to last night’s fourth-overall selection. Though he hit 36 percent of his three-pointers during his sophomore campaign, can he be a threat at this distance in the NBA? We won’t know for sure until the team’s newest lottery addition takes the floor. What we do know is that his body and game are NBA-ready and that Byron Scott sat proudly during his post-draft address with general manager Chris Grant, stating that he was ecstatic that the Syracuse product was available to them on this very evening.

“Ultimately, we had to make a decision what was best for us and best for this organization,” said Grant. “With all the information, we felt very comfortable.

“We had a very good day today in Cavalierland.”

Grant, though chasitized by some for taking a player who never made the trip to Cleveland1, confirmed that he did more homework on Waiters — game, personality, desire — than any player who he has ever had a hand in selecting for an NBA employer. He has close friends at various levels, all of whom were of the iteration that the 6-foot-4-inch wing was just what the numbers-savvy general manager needed to continue the ascent back up the Eastern Conference standings.

A 20-year old who is praised for his ability to get to the rim but can also run the offense in times when Irving is given rest, Waiters — and all of his four percent body fat — will arrive as a phyisically gifted player on the offensive end and an opportunity-creating defender. Boasting a much-needed mean streak, Waiters will compliment his high-level abilities during pick-and-roll and transition situations with a disruptive, constant-motion brand of defense. Running a fast-paced offense with a player like Waiters in tow versus the catch-and-shoot stylings of an Anthony Parker, should only serve to provide higher levels of not only excitement, but execution.

Certainly, fans who are not blown away by Grant’s decision will monitor the box scores of the high-powered Golden State Warriors offense to see what Harrison Barnes did the night before. Proponents of Thomas Robinson will watch to see if his game can develop in Sacramento2. Even the one Andre Drummond fan will say “I told you so” at the first sign of life. But with Anthony Parker’s retirement, Daniel Gibson’s contract status and Anderson Varejao’s age, selecting  players who draft pundits had as the second-best players at their respective positions is barely a “reach” when you factor in team need as well as style of play3.

On Friday afternoon, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller will both make their first visit to the city of Cleveland. Two summers ago, Byron Scott verbally depicted the architecture which would be put in place for his basketball team, an increased pace of play that focuses on work ethic and execution. The two worlds will collide in just a few short months as the confident Waiters and the NBA paint-ready Zeller become two intergral pieces in this team’s long term blueprint.

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  1. Even though, you know, Waiters didn’t travel to see any teams []
  2. Though one can argue that Cavalier fans should want this to happen given the protected future draft pick []
  3. We don’t really care where the guys get picked, as long as they’re the right pick for us,” Grant said on Thursday night []

  • Natedawg86

    In strolls Lighty…

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’m willing to let all these kids play before skewering people. Grant bought alot of space from me with his selection of the ROY last season so I’ll be patient. I’m not as high on Thompson but he has a role to play and who knows with work could develop into more. As far as this draft goes the Cavaliers certainly got more athletic and dynamic. I’m not up on Waiters as much as others but I liked his athleticism and ability to get to the basket. I loved Zeller when I heard he was obtained in a trade the loss of both MKG and Beal wasn’t as great. It still stinks that one of them didn’t fall because I can’t help but imagine them and Zeller but oh well. With Zeller you have a rock steady solid not flashy but skilled and polished big man who can score inside, rebound and get out in transition. He allows Varejao and Thompson to move back to their natural PF spot and also probably make Thompson a sixth man which is exactly what I thought he needed to be right now.

  • Hypno_Toad

    It just kills me. When it’s football season we want the front office to draft guys that fit our system and complain when they don’t. Well that is exactly what Chris Grant did last night. He got two players that fit in great with our needs and our system. I think the quote of “We don’t really care where the guys get picked, as long as they’re the right pick for us” is perfect. But now all of the twitter GMs are whining because Waiters isn’t more of a household name.

    You just can’t win with this fan base sometimes.

  • I will ignore the crowd and will attempt not to judge Waiters fully for a couple of years. I’m curious to see how he and Scott coexist, and if this kid is coachable.

  • Andrew

    Cleveland fans… check that… fans in general are generally idiots. I think that’s part of the definition of being a fan though.

    The masses will all be buying Waiters and Zeller jerseys if they are playing well. We’ll see what happens.

  • floydrubino

    I don’t hate the picks and I don’t care about where players are picked. Waiters reminds me of Vinnie Johnson a little and Zeller is an athletic big man. Any players we got were going to make an improvement and I am so happy that Grant figured out that Barnes was way over hyped. I feel better that Byron Scott was on board with the Waiters pick. I still hate the TT pick from last year so much that I’m hoping we didn’t pass on T-Rob this year and he turns out to be a beast. I’m hoping they were right to pass on T-Rob.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Not sure about the comparisons to The Microwave I mean Waiters is much bigger, explosive and dynamic. The Cavaliers will need much more then a Johnson redux and I think they’ll get it. As far as Robinson goes I was shocked Charlotte passed him by which is a bigger ? then the Cavaliers not taking him. I’m not sold on Thompson myself but he played way to much a year ago and out of position. The addition of Zeller and a healthy Varejao should only help Thompson’s game.

  • Harv 21

    I’m also thinking Scott/Waiters is going to be an interesting dynamic. Just one year before he was 4% bodyfat he was at 10%, and very stubborn. Sounds like he’s a rough-edged, competitive kid who’s about to get a boatload of money, so we’ll see how that goes. Glad he’ll be under Byron and not Mike Brown, and that the locker room seems devoid of knuckleheads. Swagger, properly chaneled, is not a bad thing at all in your scorer. But won’t be surprised by some early hiccups as the coaches try to mold his game into their system.

  • pat

    yea…draftexpress had him at 8.5% body fat at the combine.

  • I’ve said of the NFL draft that it is nearly impossible to judge after the first round, despite all the so-called experts. I know far less about Waiters than I did about most NFL guys this year. All I can say is that I was pleasantly surprised by Grant’s pick of Tristan Thompson last year. I will also say that I love his philosophy that there are good players available at every pick. You just have to pick the right guys. Until he picks a Luke Jackson or Trajan Langdon, I’ll give him the wait and see, bordering on benefit of the doubt.

    The one thing that he and Heckert both seem to have in common is that they get a guy they really want. Those trade-up scenarios will never be 100%, but you also will never get the feeling that they were “stuck” with a guy who was left when they execute a trade up.

    Of course, sometimes you have to try and live down a Montario Hardesty. We’ll see with Tyler Zeller for Grant.

  • saggy

    imagine what JJ Hickson would do in this offense. 15 dunks a night.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    You know, if he was intelligent enough to understand this offense. Okay there I said it… just never thought Hickson was very bright. Thompson seems like a much more intelligent player and seems like he’s willing to learn the offense.

  • saggy

    Yeah. And he’d be on the bench anyways, since he CERTAINLY doesn’t understand the defense.
    Dan Segelin
    Director of Athletic Performance
    The New York Fitness Institute

  • mgbode

    bad comp though. hardesty was a known risky pick with an injury history. zeller is seen as a safe pick with a low ceiling (though I think higher of him than many)

  • mgbode

    I see that you’ve had time to reflect more on the draft. Good.

  • mgbode

    Grant is all about the advanced metrics, obviously. TT and now Waiters were way higher on them than they were on “traditional metrics” Sort of fun that the Cavs have become a major mark for the advanced metrics now (either positive or negative).

    If we traded all our picks for 6/11 and made the same picks, would have been much better received if they were taken there. To me, I’m very happy we got 2 of my favorite 10 players in this draft. Yeah, I preferred Barnes (as a SG) and Ross over Waiters, but I’ll trust Grant on it.

    And, another good value trade. We get a legit 7fter for a 50/50 pick and 2x2nd rounders. Nice.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    not me i’m there with you on Zeller.

  • mgbode

    and if we could get his brother next year 🙂