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.

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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.

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