Waiters’ move to reserve is long overdue, but in a good way

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

  1. 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 []

  • I sort of got the impresison Kyrie didn’t seem very happy with the move either. His body language seemed a little off to me. Maybe I’m just reading too much into it, but I thought both Kyrie and Dion seemed to have a chip on their shoulders.

    Either way, kudos to Byron for stirring the pot and trying to light a fire under his team.

  • Maybe they should start playing with chips on their shoulders.

  • Yup

    The problem with this move is that Miles is not as good a defender as Dion and while Miles started the game out hot, he allowed Garcia to basically score just as much. Next gain? Pretty much nil.

    I’m not sold on this move. The fact is that Gee is the clear bench guy but if we start Miles at SF, we will get killed defensively; worse than normal, btw.

    Oh, and Zeller was basically the reason we lost last night. His inability to finish and his silly TO’s were more than the difference in a game we lost by 3. That’s not to mention his general softness. Andy can’t come back soon enough…

  • I’m not sure I would describe Zeller as soft. He’s a rookie. Rookies have games like last night. You’re spot on that he was a major reason for the loss. But even as much as he struggled he still finished with 8 and 8. Not horrible.

    Zeller isn’t the most aggressive or athletic guy in the world, but I don’t see him backing down and wilting against stronger players. He’s trying to hold his own and I think calling him soft is probably the wrong word to use. He’s limited athletically. That’s how I’d put it. If he can put on some muscle in the offseason it will really pay off for him.

  • Harv 21

    I keep only seeing the ends of recent games but didn’t like Kyrie’s end-games the last week. Turnovers with the game on the line – last night 2 in the last crucial minutes. It’s clear he’s suffering without Andy, because there’s no other teammates who know how to close out. But I still think Byron should not wait until the 5:00 or 6:00 minute mark to reinsert him. By the time he warms back up it’s already do or die and they look out of sync.

  • I think you’ll appreciate the article I have coming tomorrow morning. It compares the Cavs (and Kyrie’s) 4th quarters this year to last year. Some fascinating numbers.

  • Roosevelt

    Wait, so our top rookie pick, controversially taken at #4 is definitively compared to Jamal Crawford, and that’s a good thing?

  • Vindictive_Pat

    They were both in there together in the 4th quarter… not sure why Kyrie would mind during the rest of the game because Scott was already staggering their minutes so that they weren’t directly overlapping on substitutions. I think Kyrie has just had a couple of mortal games here, and when he’s mortal our team loses.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I think you’re hitting on something here. I was disappointed to see Kyrie and the rest of the team’s demeanor towards the end of that game. It was really happy-go-lucky… joking with Cousins, sloppy execution on offense, no real urgency in keeping the ball out of the high percentage foul shooters’ hands (how do you not double cover Jimmer… anyone else should be shooting those free throws). It really looked like they didn’t care if they won or lost.

  • You mean the guy who’s only .9 points per game behind Blake Griffin for team lead — and leading LAC in scoring on a per-36 minute basis — in scoring on the best team in basketball? Why, yes, it is a good thing.

  • Roosevelt

    Crawford is the third best player on the team. He is not a championship piece.
    Some recent sixth men of the year: Leandro Barbosa, Lamar Odom, Manu Ginobili, Jamal Crawford, James Harden.
    Some second-best players on championship teams: Paul Pierce, Tony Parker,Jason Kidd, Dwayne Wade (The Lakers had three players – Gasol, Bynum, and Artest, who might have filled that role) Note how none of the players on one list are on the other, and how much better the second best players on championship teams are than sixth men of the year.

  • Leroy

    A scoring punch off the bench! Waiters only scores a lot because he shoots a lot. Too bad he does it very inefficiently. Harden had a TS% over 55% his rookie year. Waiters is at 45% rounded up. That comparison must be a joke.

    And although you wouldn’t know it reading the analysis at this site, the rate at which players accumulate numbers other than points matters, too. Waiters isn’t good at any of it. I hope he improves, but right now he’s a bum.

  • FleaFlicker

    All the second best players are starters. Makes it impossible to be 6th man of the year. Those second best players could be the best player on one championship caliber team or 6th man on another(Jason Kidd (champion) wouldn’t start in LA(either) or Chicago(healthy D. Rose) Manu is just as important to San Antonio as Parker or Duncan, which is why-even in their dominant years- when he was hurt they went nowhere. Kevin McHale was 6th man of the year on a championship team (’83-’84,) and champion caliber team (’85-’86) and could easily be argued as the 2nd best player on that team. Its rare but not non existent. Players have too much pride, greed, or talent to do that these days. Another team will quickly take them and make them a starter just like they did Harden.

  • Wow

    Based on their record so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t care.

  • Coach G

    I think Irving and Waiters both play better when the other is not in the game, kinda like Lebron James and Dwayne Wade play much better when the other is not in the game. I also think Tristan has trouble playing at the same time as Wild Thing as it must be very difficult to stay aggressive and not be in Anderson’s way. So down the stretch you might see Irving and Varejao as power forward on the floor together with Zeller as Center, and I have no doubt Tristan will slam many, many times playing with Waiters. When everyone gets healthy (we hope) and things gel, we’ll need a nice draft pick and one more decent free agent to win many games that are now close losses.

  • Coach G

    Opposing teams have heavily scouted Kyrie and he is being double and triple teamed every time the ball comes to him. Shortly he will adjust with more assists when this is happening but other players need to punish opponents when they double or triple Kyrie or that is all that is going to happen.

  • Coach G

    Zeller looks like he is just used to having to catch the ball, not snatch it out of the air and grip it like your little brother is trying to steal your favorite toy. A couple weeks of rip away practice would help. Until he gets more aggressive and securing the ball every night will be an exercise in learning how strong, aggressive, and my ball, you ain’t playin with it selfish every good NBA rebounder has to be.

  • mgbode

    Our bench lacks a ballhandler and distributor. At least waiters gives it a gunner.

  • Absolutely. That’s definitely part of the problem. I hate using the word ‘problem’, because Kyrie is not a problem. I just mean that there has been a regression in 4th quarter performances this season.

  • TV63

    I’m almost getting to the point whereas if Scott is coaching Cavs; I’m not watching . He is so detached from theses young players in the game. You just want to scream, “Scott, unfold your arms and coach the dam team!”

  • Steve

    I guess I should wait till tomorrow to read, but how much is just natural regression to the mean. We shouldn’t have been expecting to repeat last year’s 4th quarters.

    It can be difficult to remember the spellings of “complement” and “compliment.” They’re homophones—one is spelled with an “i” and the other is spelled with an “e,” and they mean different things.
    A compliment, with an “i,” is a kind or flattering remark. If a guy says he likes your dress, he’s giving you a compliment. He’s complimenting you.
    A complement, with an “e,” is a full crew or set, and when something complements something else, it means they go well together. You might talk about a picture frame that complements a photo or the crew complement needed to operate a ship.