Season-in-Review: DION WAITERS

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/GettyImages
by Joe Gabriele
Cavs.com Beat Writer

Season Overview: The Cavaliers’ Draft class of 2012 – Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller – both wrapped up their sophomore seasons in style. The difference was that Waiters started strong and finished strong, completing the campaign as perhaps the Wine and Gold’s most consistent player all season long.

After being drafted No. 4 overall the previous June, Waiters hit the ground running – playing in 61 games, starting 48, and averaged 14.7 points per contest. Among first-year players, he ranked second in points per game, fourth in assists and fourth in steals – numbers good enough to land him on the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team and get him an invite to the U.S. National Team’s mini-camp in Vegas.

The South Philly native picked up where he left off the previous year, succeeding as both a starter and reserve as a sophomore. The statistics say it all. Waiters was the highest-scoring reserve in the Eastern Conference in 2013-14, averaging 14.7 ppg off the bench – which also made him the highest-scoring Cavs reserve since Hot Rod Williams in 1989-90.

Waiters notched double-figures in 34 of his 46 appearances off the bench, including 13 games of 20-plus points. He was one of the main reasons Cleveland boasted one of the best benches in the East all season long – finishing 3rd in scoring at 34.4 ppg. The Cavaliers bench outscored their opponents’ in 50 of 82 contests – combining for at least 40 points on 29 occasions and topping 50 or more 14 times.

After rejoining the starting lineup on March 18, Waiters posted the 6th-highest scoring average in the Conference over the final 15 games (21.2 ppg). The former Syracuse standout was stellar in that final month of the season. In his first start in that final stretch – he doubled-up with 17 points and 11 assists in a home loss to Miami. Waiters topped the 20-point plateau in nine of his final 15 games – including four straight contests in late March.

Waiters missed a dozen games due to injury this past season, but bounced back with a vengeance after his longest stint on the shelf, returning from a left knee hyperextension suffered on a massive dunk in a win over Philly on March 2 – and tallying double-figures in every game except one for the remainder of the season.

As good as Dion – a Cleveland crowd favorite – was in both halves of the 2013-14 season, he was equally good (and entertaining) in the middle of it. At All-Star Weekend, Waiters competed in his second straight BBVA Rising Stars Challenge and whipped the crowd into a frenzy – going toe-to-toe with Knicks rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. In the game, Waiters put up a team-high 31 points, going 10-for-14 from the floor, including 4-of-6 from long-distance in the 142-136 win.

Waiters led the squad in scoring in 21 games, in assists on 11 occasions and in steals 16 times. It’s fair to say Waiters did a little bit of everything this season and he heads into his third NBA season as one of the most dynamic young offensive weapons in the league.

SEASON SNAPSHOT

  • PPG: 15.9
  • RPG: 2.8
  • APG: 3.0
  • MPG: 29.6

VIEW SLIDESHOW


Highlight: Waiters turned in some strong individual accomplishments as a sophomore, but his finest moment might have been his game-winning buzzer-beater on March 26, splashing home a 19-footer to top the Pistons in Auburn Hills.

The Cavs began that fourth period down 16 points and were down nine with 3:38 to play, but Cleveland held the Pistons scoreless the rest of the way. On the offensive end, Jarrett Jack scored eight straight points and – after a series of timeouts with 3.2 to play – Luol Deng found Waiters, who stutter-stepped, rose and canned the winner – the Cavs’ third straight. It was the Wine and Gold’s first game-winning buzzer-beater since November 24, 2010 when Mo Williams hit a jumper to top Milwaukee.

Lowlight: Waiters’ performance was steady all season – he had back-to-back single-digit scoring games on just three occasions this year. But Dion did hit a rough patch in early November after a particularly one-sided loss to the Timberwolves in Minnesota. Waiter scored just six points in that defeat, which was also marked his last start until mid-March. Waiters missed the next two games due to illness and when he returned three games later against Washington, he was once again in a reserve role.

Odds and Ends: A proud South Philly product, Waiters wears uniform No. 3 because of his childhood idol, Allen Iverson. Dion’s been emulating “The Answer” since his early days.

”I wore the headband, I wore the sleeve, I wore the finger thing with ‘3’ on it,” recalled Waiters. “All the kids in Philly loved him! I just loved A.I.’s attitude. He was himself, no matter what. People want you to be politically correct and sometimes you can’t just be yourself nowadays. I’m thankful for him for opening the door and giving a young guy like me an opportunity.”

By the Numbers: 22, 2 … Occasions this season in which Waiters topped the 20-point and 30-point scoring mark, respectively.

Looking Forward: The sky’s the limit for Waiters, who proved he can not only score with the best of them, but can also run the team if need be – averaging 4.8 assists in the nine starts while Kyrie Irving recovered from a left biceps strain. Waiters and Irving are still working out the kinks as a starting duo, but when they finally do develop a natural rhythm, the Wine and Gold will feature one of the most dangerous backcourts in the NBA.

Quotable: Waiters after his epic second-half shooting duel against New York’s Tim Hardaway Jr. in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge in New Orleans …

“I told (Hardaway) I owed him from being at the TNT game, and they were beating us pretty bad. There was like 15 seconds left, and he came down and chucked up a three and made it. I told him, ‘I’m going to get you back. I’m going to get you back for that.’ And I was able to get my chance tonight.”