INDEPENDENCE: When the Cavaliers began winning with Dion Waiters in the starting lineup, coach Byron Scott stuck with it. Now after a brief stint on the bench, Waiters is entrenched again as the team’s starting shooting guard — despite posting better numbers as a reserve.
Waiters averaged 17.1 points and shot 44 percent in nine games off the bench, compared to averaging 13.5 points and shooting 37 percent as a starter. Scott believes there is a simple explanation for the discrepancy.
When Waiters was coming off the bench, Scott immediately put the ball in his hands and told him to be aggressive. When he’s in the starting lineup, that role still belongs to Kyrie Irving.
“He probably gets into a better rhythm coming off the bench because I put the ball in his hands,” Scott said. “Off the bench, he comes out there and it’s like, ‘I’m going to give you the ball, this is what we’re going to run, put you in pick and rolls and be in attack mode.’ Whereas at the beginning of the game with Ky, I’m telling him to be in attack mode and with Dion it’s, ‘Hey, we’ll find you a way.’ Trying to create some things for him is a little bit different.”
The chemistry between Waiters and Irving has been a work in progress. It has been fluent at times and clunky at others. The Cavs are at their best when the ball is in Irving’s hands, but that means it is out of Waiters’ for the first time in his life.
“We talk to each other on the court almost every possession trying to figure out spacing, when it’s time for one another to take over,” Waiters said. “Just [try] to give him enough space to operate and do what he’s doing on the floor and vice versa for me and knowing where to be on the floor.”
Scott thinks Waiters has adapted better in recent weeks to playing without the ball. He made his first five shots and six of his first seven in the big win Wednesday over the Charlotte Bobcats. He is attacking the basket and driving the lane more frequently, which is where he is at his best.
“In the last two to four weeks he’s really starting to grow just from a maturity standpoint,” Scott said. “He’s really starting to understand what being a pro is all about. He’s really starting to put in the work before and after practice and it’s really starting to pay off. He’s playing with a lot more confidence right now. He understands what his role is, even as a starter.”
The Cavs believe the formula for a championship team includes two players who can create and an All-Star caliber big man. Irving has already proven capable of filling one of those slots, and the team remains confident Waiters could evolve into the other playmaker.
“When I was bringing him off the bench, it was just basically, ‘I need you to be aggressive and score,’” Scott said. “Right now he’s sharing the ball, getting to the basket and making some good decisions. I think right now he’s really starting to grow and hopefully he can continue to play this way for the rest of the season.”
Irving in 3-point shootout
Kyrie Irving was one of six players selected for the 3-point shootout during All-Star weekend. In a bit of a surprise, he was selected third overall in the draft between Team Shaq and Team Chuck for the Rising Stars game.
Irving will participate in the Rising Stars game on Friday, the 3-point shootout on Saturday and the All-Star Game on Sunday.
Irving is shooting .429 on 3-pointers this season, tied for ninth in the league. He will compete against the Knicks’ Steve Novak, the Pacers’ Paul George, the Hornets’ Ryan Anderson, the Spurs’ Matt Bonner and the Warriors’ Stephen Curry.
Irving falling to third in the Rising Stars draft behind Portland’s Damian Lillard and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis was a bit of a surprise, but the possibility he may not play heavy minutes due to his obligations on Sunday may have played a role.
Irving played for Team Chuck last year when he won the MVP award. He will be joined on Team Shaq by teammates Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller. Waiters was selected 13th overall, while Zeller went undrafted and was assigned to Team Shaq on a blind draw. Tristan Thompson was the 12th overall pick to Team Charles.
The full rosters for the Rising Stars game are:
Team Shaq — Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Andre Drummond, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Chandler Parsons, Dion Waiters, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Tyler Zeller, Kemba Walker.
Team Chuck — Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried, Kawhi Leonard, Bradley Beal, Ricky Rubio, Tristan Thompson, Nikola Vucevic, Brandon Knight, Isaiah Thomas, Alexy Shved
The Cavs are 8-9 since the start of January and 6-3 over the past three weeks. After a miserable November and December, Scott is beginning to see light.
“It’s way down there, but it’s getting a little closer,” he said. “I can see it without squinting.”
The Cavs are enjoying a six-game homestand to close the first half of the season before the All-Star break. Scott met with the team before the homestand to give them a number of victories he thought they should reach during this stretch. He won’t share that number until the break, but the Cavs are already 2-0 with four to go.
“We have [six] games before the All-Star break, let’s focus on that,” Scott said. “This is a number we feel we should hit as far as wins and losses before the All-Star break, and right now I think that number is directly on their minds. Every single day I bring that number up.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.