INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — The Big Three. You hear that phrase in the NBA all the time.
It’s usually in reference to championship contenders, the league’s elite such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat.
And it makes sense. If three of your five guys can operate on the defense and put the ball in the basket, your odds of winning increase significantly.
Like everyone, Cavaliers coach Byron Scott is a supporter of such a philosophy. Today, he thinks he’s getting closer to it, and the addition of rookie guard Dion Waiters is a big reason why.
“I think it’s good to have guys who can break people down. That’s just my feeling,” Scott said following the first day of training camp at the team’s practice facility. “I’ve always wanted to have three or four guys. If you have three or four of them, it’s really hard to defend all those guys.”
For the Cavs, last season was more like the Big One — as Kyrie Irving emerged as the lone threat who could easily take defenders off the dribble on his way to winning Rookie of the Year honors. Waiters, the No. 4 overall draft pick, arrives with a similar reputation.
“(Irving and Waiters) both can break people down,” Scott said. “They both can get their own shot, they both can find shots for their teammates. They both get into the lane.”
Everyone knows Irving’s credentials: He averaged 18.7 points on 47 percent shooting in his first year with the Cavs, giving fans a reason to watch and opponents a reason to take notice.
Meanwhile, Waiters spent two seasons at Syracuse, coming off the bench while slowly growing on pro scouts with his overall strength, explosive scoring ability and strong ball-handling skills.
“Kyrie’s an unbelievable finisher when he gets to the basket, and Dion is one of those guys who, if he gets there, athletic-wise, he can take it over the top,” Scott said. “They have a lot of the same attributes on the offensive end. And if you got two guys out there who do that it makes it to tough (for opponents).
“Last year we only had Kyrie as the guy who can break you down. Then you add Dion to the mix and it’s another guy who can do that.”
As for firing it up from the perimeter, Scott said, “Dion shoots the ball pretty well. He’s streaky at times. He can get on a roll. He doesn’t shoot the ball as well as Kyrie — Kyrie is a lot more consistent when it comes to his jump shot. But when Dion gets on a roll, he’s dangerous.”
So is it safe to say the Cavs are two-thirds of the way to possessing their very own Big Three?
Well, Scott won’t go there quite yet. But he will admit he does envision something everyone who supports the Cavs will enjoy, and it goes like this:
“This year and in the near future, a pretty damn good backcourt,” Scott said.
CASSPI COMING AROUND?
Small forward Omri Casspi struggled mightily in his first season with the Cavs. That’s something Casspi has freely admitted.
He began the year as the team’s starter after arriving in an off-season trade with Sacramento, but his lack of confidence and shooting forced Scott to turn the job over to Alonzo Gee.
But a strong summer with the Israeli national team and some individual summer work in Cleveland has Casspi entering this season with a sense of poise.
“It’s a new start, a fresh start,” Casspi said. “I think I had a pretty good summer, from working out (in Cleveland) to going to Las Vegas with the team, to watching film, to going back to Israel. I don’t want to talk about last year anymore. I’ve been in the mud for a long time and I don’t want to talk about it.”
Casspi is 6-foot-9 and entering his fourth NBA season. He averaged 7.1 points last year, down from 8.7 the previous year with the Kings. He also shot a career-low 40 percent.
Then came the EuroBasket tournament, in which Casspi starred for Maccabi Tel Aviv. He topped the 20-point mark four times and buried a sizzling 65 percent of his shots.
“We monitored him very closely,” Scott said of Casspi’s overseas play. “I kept getting reports on how well he was playing, which I was very pleased about. That was one of the first things I told him when I saw him: ‘It was great to see you over there playing as well as you played. Please continue to do that when you come back over here as we well.’”
Casspi said there’s something to that — that playing for Scott was a lot different than what he’s experienced in Israel.
“We have structure (with the Cavs),” Casspi said. “We have a championship type of offense and type of defense. When I played overseas and coaches back home (in Israel), it was more of a free game. You can do whatever you want to do. Here we have a structure. It was hard to get used to it. But when I went back home, I thought about all the things we did during the (Cavs) season and it really helped my game. I got a lot more open shots and I was more confident.”
* Scott said he was fairly pleased with what he saw from both Waiters and rookie center Tyler Zeller on the first day of camp. “We put both of them in the front of the drills to start because they’re rookies. They had to be the pace-setters, and they did a heck of a job,” Scott said. “I’m not surprised by either one of those guys. I thought both of them throughout the day in practice did some really good things. They didn’t feel as overwhelmed as a lot of rookies do. I think they’ll catch on pretty fast.”
* The biggest wild-card at camp appears to be shooting guard Kelenna Azubuike. He fared well with Golden State a few years back, but has played just 12 games since 2009 following a couple of knee surgeries. “I think he’s the one guy you look at say, ‘We don’t really don’t know what we have yet,’” Scott said. “We gotta go back to almost three years ago to remember the player that he was then. Is he there yet? I don’t know. We’ll find that out in training camp.”
* Despite the promise of Zeller, it appears Anderson Varejao will return to his role as the team’s starting center. “I still see Andy right now (as the starting center),” Scott said. “But it’s great knowing that I have guy like Tyler that I can bring in and play the five and I can move Andy around.”
* The Cavs’ preseason game against Montepaschi Siena on Oct. 8 at Quicken Loans Arena will be free to the public, the team announced Tuesday. Tip-off is 7 p.m.