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NBA PM: Waiters Accepts Bench Role, Tunes Out Critics

Dion Waiters has accepted his role as the Cleveland Cavaliers’ sixth man, and he’s tuning out his critics.

Alex Kennedy

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Waiters Accepts Bench Role, Blocks Out Critics

The Cleveland Cavaliers will obviously take time to jell and realize their full potential as a team. Everyone knew this entering the season and it’s evident five games into the campaign.

However, with the Cavs struggling early on, people are looking for someone to blame. Many have pointed at Dion Waiters – who was recently moved from the starting lineup to a sixth man role – and that’s perfectly fine with the 22-year-old. Waiters is essentially Cleveland’s Mario Chalmers since he’s the top player outside of the Big Three, he’s young and extremely confident, and he’s an easy target for criticism when things go wrong.

“They got to find somebody to point the finger at,” Waiters said with a smile. “I’ve been getting fingers pointed at me all my life, but I find ways to rise up above it and just go out there and play my game.

“I don’t really read the blogs and I don’t even have anything like that on my phone, so it’s not something I care about. It’s he said, she said. I don’t read that stuff because I know I’ll get mad and I’ll be wanting to say something. Before I do that, I’d rather not even look at it. If I find out, I find out. But I don’t even watch TV. I didn’t even watch ESPN the last five days.”

Waiters’ numbers are down, but there’s plenty of blame to go around in Cleveland. He’s certainly not the only player responsible for the Cavs’ early-season struggles. The team’s ball movement, defense and chemistry have left a lot to be desired through five games. Waiters has admitted that he “found himself shooting in the wrong situations” and that’s something he wants to correct going forward, but he doesn’t deserve the attacks he has received since the start of the season. As a team, Cleveland currently ranks 27th in points allowed per 100 possessions (108.6) and 15th in points scored per 100 possessions (102.1), so their issues can’t be blamed on a single individual.

The third-year guard is one of the most misunderstood players in the NBA. His unwavering confidence has led some people to label him arrogant and selfish. He has an intense passion and desire to win, which has prompted criticism that he’s too emotional and has a bad attitude. While Waiters could do a better job dealing with his frustration, it often stems from the fact that he cares so much and hates to lose. Sources within the Cavaliers organization told Basketball Insiders that during last year’s disappointing campaign, Waiters was bothered more than any other player by the team’s struggles. In fact, this is what led to some of the tension between Waiters and his teammates since he felt like the others hardly cared about the losses, which he made clear was unacceptable.

There was some talk that Waiters was upset about being moved to the bench, but that’s not a surprise since every player in the NBA wants to be a starter for their respective team. Waiters was initially unsure of the move to the second unit because he thought he could help the team more as a starter. However, he did what head coach David Blatt asked of him and has thrived in the sixth man role thus far.

In the Cavaliers’ win over the Denver Nuggets, Waiters had his best game of the season, contributing 17 points and two steals in 24 minutes off of the bench. Even more impressive is the fact that he was able to post these numbers after he suffered a lower back contusion in the first quarter due to a shove from Nuggets forward Darrell Arthur (who was ejected and suspended an additional game). After the game, Waiters was satisfied with the team’s performance and said he felt comfortable leading the second unit.

“We moved the ball, we got open looks,” Waiters said. “I didn’t hesitate, I wasn’t out there thinking too much. I was in attack mode. Most importantly, we made the extra pass. ”

“I thought he had a terrific game today, and I told him so in the locker room,” Blatt said of Waiters. “Because he came in and did exactly what we needed him to do from the bench, score the ball, he played hard and right, defended his position, he made some big plays at the right times, he took the challenge and was definitely one of the main reasons we won the game.”

Waiters has accepted his new role, because he understands that championship-caliber squads can’t succeed unless everyone on the roster makes sacrifices and puts the team first.

“I’ll do whatever I’ve got to do,” Waiters said. “I’ll do whatever I’ve got to do for the team, for the betterment of the team. Whether it’s starting or coming off of the bench or being the water boy, I’ve got to do it. Whatever is better for the team.”

The third-year shooting guard believes that this tough stretch will help the Cavaliers in the long run.

“We need this,” Waiters said. “We need to face this adversity early to become a better team. We know we’re under the microscope, we knew coming in that all eyes were on us, and I think we want that, especially the guys who haven’t really been around the spotlight. We’ve got to embrace it, we have to know what comes with it, and just play through it.”

It seems that the new role is better for Waiters since it allows him to have the ball in his hands much more and get more shots since he’s not sharing the floor with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Last season, Waiters and Irving both played significantly better when the other was out since both players are at their best when they have the ball and are able to create.

“I think it’s best for the team, that should be Dion’s role,” James said. “Dion comes off the bench and brings that scorer’s mentality and, more than that, he also gives us another defender off the bench, which we need – someone that’s tough, someone that can guard one-through-three. It’s a new role, but it’s a good role for him. He came off the bench at Syracuse as well, and he was a very impactful player then as well. He found his niche and I think this was the best game he had all season.

“I think [we have to do] whatever benefits the team, and that’s with everybody. We have guys who have been starters in this league for multiple years [coming off the bench] and I think whatever benefits the team, we should all be comfortable with that.”

As James said, this isn’t Waiters first time coming off of the bench for the good of the team. In his second (and final) year at Syracuse, Waiters averaged 12.6 points in 24.1 minutes off of the bench even though he was talented enough to start.

The reserve role in college didn’t hurt Waiters’ draft stock. Executives fell in love with his game and confidence, and he kept climbing draft boards throughout the pre-draft process. The trainers at Impact Basketball, where he was working out, were receiving calls about Waiters from NBA teams every day in the weeks leading up to the draft. Just about every team picking in the lottery expressed some level of interest in the shooting guard, and he ultimately went fourth overall to the Cavaliers.

At 22 years old, Waiters is very young and still has plenty of room to grow as a player. Even though he’s playing Waiters with the second unit, Blatt clearly has a lot of respect for his shooting guard. When he was recently asked about “moving Waiters to the bench,” Blatt got frustrated and said he didn’t like the wording of the question.

“We didn’t ‘move him to the bench,’” Blatt said, clearly annoyed. “I’ve never seen a ‘bench player’ play as many minutes as Dion has played. To me, they’re just second starters. No disrespect to you, I just don’t like the term ‘bench player’ because I don’t think that’s what he is. He’s a player who plays important minutes in the game when we need them. To me, whether he begins the game [as a starter] or not is less significant. It’s about the minutes he plays and what he does in those minutes.”

He made the most of those minutes in his first game as the Cavs’ sixth man. Many fingers will point at Waiters throughout the season, especially if Cleveland continues to lose games, but he’s just focused on producing on the court and helping Cleveland become the legitimate contender they’re expected to be.

Williams, Curry Named Players of the Week

The Brooklyn Nets’ Deron Williams and the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, Nov. 3, through Sunday, Nov. 9.

Williams led Brooklyn to a 3-1 week that included wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder and New York Knicks.  He averaged 20.8 points (eighth in the conference) on .569 shooting from the field (seventh in the conference) and added 7.0 assists (tied for fourth in the conference).  Williams, who shot .500 or better from the field in each of the Nets’ games, tallied 29 points on 10-of-15 shooting and added six helpers on Nov. 7, during a 110-99 win over the Knicks.

The Warriors posted a 2-1 week behind Curry, who along with the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant paced the league in scoring at 30.0 ppg.  Curry’s 3.33 steals were also tops on the week, and his 7.3 assists were good for fifth in the Western Conference.  Curry connected on 14-of-27 (.519) three-point field goals on the week, including 6-of-9 from distance en route to 34 points on Nov. 8, during a 98-87 win over the Houston Rockets.

Other nominees for the Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week were Chicago’s Pau Gasol, Houston’s James Harden, Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, Miami’s Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic, Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge, Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, and Washington’s John Wall.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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