Scott: Waiters ‘has to earn’ starting spot

CLEVELAND — Kyrie Irving coming off the bench in the preseason is so last year.

This year, Cavaliers fans are more concerned with the fact Dion Waiters, the No. 4 overall draft pick, did not start Monday’s preseason opener vs. Montepaschi Siena. He may not start in Tuesday’s preseason game in Canton, either.

Instead, the honor went to another newcomer — free-agent pickup C.J. Miles, a veteran of six NBA seasons (all with Utah).

“I just felt C.J. comes in with a little more experience, he’s a guy who’s played in a ton of games. He fits in well with what we’re doing,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said prior to tipoff at Quicken Loans Arena.

“It’s the same thing I said about Kyrie last year. Dion has to earn it. Simple as that.”

It ended up OK for Irving. He was named 2011-12 NBA rookie of the year. But before that, he caddied for Ramon Sessions in the Cavs’ two preseason games.

By opening night, Irving was the starter, and the same could happen with Waiters.

“It’s a possibility,” Scott said. “We have three weeks before the start of the (regular) season. So yeah, it could change.”

Added Miles, “I guess it’s my job to lose.”

Waiters came off the bench during his two seasons at Syracuse. So it’s not like he’s in unfamiliar territory.

He checked into the Cavs ’91-85 victory over Siena with 7:09 left in the second quarter, finishing the game with 11 points points on 3-for-6 shooting.

“It’s not a knock on Dion,” Scott said. “I think the kid has made some great strides, especially on the defensive end. He played zone (both years at Syracuse), and now he’s being asked on a day-to-day basis to play man. Not only off the ball but on the ball.

“He’s come a long, long way. He’s so much better than I thought he’d be at this particular time, but he still has a ways to go.”

Of course, not that any of this is ideal for Waiters. When drafted, he told Scott he wanted to become a starter.

“And I told him that day, he’d have to earn it,” Scott said. “So the first day we put teams together (in practice), he wasn’t on the first team. Same thing with Kyrie last year.”

Of course, Irving was drafted No. 1 overall. It was power forward Tristan Thompson who was selected with the fourth pick — and Thompson didn’t start the regular-season opener.

“Like I said, this is the preseason,” Scott said. “There’s probably going to be three games where (Waiters) does start, because I want to see how he does with the first unit as well. So don’t read into it. We still have three weeks of the preseason.”

But, Scott added, “If he doesn’t start the first 10-15 games of the (regular) season I wouldn’t be surprised.”

When asked what Waiters needs to do to secure a starting role, Scott said, “Well, I think most of it’s on the defensive end. That’s the key. There have been times in training camp when his man has the ball and he does a terrific job, but when (his man) gives it up, he just stands and watches.”

And offense?

“It’s just knowing what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis,” Scott said. “I think it’s fantastic that he asks questions, because he’s not 110 percent sure offensively of all the play-calls. But I think he’s going to get that in the next three weeks.

“He also has to learn on the offensive end that when the ball’s not in his hands, he has to keep his spacing and not chase the ball. He has to cut, and learn how to play with the ball at times. That’s big in the offense that we’re running.”

Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO