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.
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.