Cavs Double Down on Draft Night

June 28, 2012
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

The only experts who accurately predicted the results of the 2012 Draft were those who said that it’d be impossible to predict the results of the 2012 Draft.

The Cavaliers were maybe Thursday night’s most unpredictable team – stunning the NBA world at No. 4 for the second straight season – selecting rugged two-guard Dion Waiters from Syracuse.

After tabbing Waiters, the Wine and Gold had three more selections remaining – Nos. 24, 33 and 34. But midway through the first round, Cleveland made a deal to send those choices to Dallas in exchange for North Carolina center Tyler Zeller.

Waiters had been rising up boards in the days before the Draft and the 6-4, 210-pound combo guard eventually landed at No. 4 on Cleveland’s radar. The Philadelphia native didn’t start a single game in two seasons at Syracuse, but he was the Big East’s Sixth Man of the Year and the Orangemen’s second-leading scorer at 12.8 ppg.

Blessed with a great NBA frame, Waiters is known for his aggressive play – getting to the heart of the defense and to the rim with regularity. Though not a true combo guard, Waiters is still capable of creating for his teammates and is known as a dogged defender. He doubled his production from his freshman to his sophomore season and scouts feel Waiters still has a significant upside.

“As we went through the process, we kept coming back to this guy: Dion Waiters,” praised Cavs GM Chris Grant. “He just did all these things. He could run pick-and-roll, he can play multiple positions. He’s big, he’s strong. He gets to the foul line, he makes his teammates better, he’s efficient.

“We add him to our backcourt and we have an enormous need for playmaking besides Kyrie and so for us, as we went through the process, he just emerged with the things we were looking for. And he was the right fit for our team.”

Waiters described his game for fans who haven’t had a chance to watch him.

“Physical, athletic, competitive,” explained the former Orangeman. “(I’m a guy) with a lot of confidence – a guy who plays with ‘swagger’ – as people would call it. An all-around player, I feel like I don’t have any weaknesses in my game. (I’m) a hard worker, a guy who plays every game like it’s his last.”

The man who’ll be working closely with the new two-guard, Byron Scott, was effusive in his praise of Waiters.

“When he came in the game, he pretty much controlled the game,” said Scott. “He’s able to get to the basket, he’s great off pick-and-rolls, three-point shooting, gets to the basket, finds his teammates. He can do a little bit of everything.

“I’m very excited that he’s here. I’m looking forward to seeing him (Friday). I’m looking forward to working with him. I think we got a steal.”

ZellerZeller – selected with the No. 17 overall pick – comes to Cleveland with a fuller resume than the player picked 13 spots above him.

The 7-0, 250-pounder was the ACC Player of the Year as a senior at Chapel Hill, the first Tar Heel senior to do so since Phil Ford. In 2011-12, Zeller averaged 16.3 points, 9.6 boards and 1.5 blocks per contest. He was part of North Carolina’s National Championship team as a freshman and was Academic All-ACC in each of his four seasons at UNC.

Zeller has a solid offensive arsenal and is known as a cerebral and instinctual defender. He joins a team that certainly needs some help in the middle.

“You always hope you’re a lottery pick and I had a couple teams that were interested,” said Zeller. “At the same time, wherever you go you have to make the best out of it. I think Cleveland’s a great situation and there’s definitely playing time available. I’m obviously going to have to work for it. It’s definitely a great opportunity and I’m looking forward to playing for them.”

The Cavaliers also received shooting guard Kelenna Azubuike in the Zeller deal. Azubuike was actually in the Cavaliers training camp in 2005 before being released. He spent part of four seasons with Golden State, averaging a career-high 14.4 points in 2008-09. A knee injury has limited him to just a dozen games over the past two seasons.

At No. 24, 33 and 34, the players Dallas eventually chose were guard Jared Cunningham, center Bernard James and forward Jae Crowder, respectively.

The Cavaliers were looking to upgrade on the wing and in the middle and they did both on Thursday night. Both players should see plenty of action as rookies, similar to the fast-track Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson were on as freshman a year ago.

The process for the Wine and Gold continues, with a pair of new pieces to take into the future of the franchise.