Dwarfed by doubts, Cavs’ Waiters delivers
CLEVELAND — Well, that wasn’t so bad, now was it?
That’s probably the take of every Cavaliers fan who felt nervous about rookie shooting guard Dion Waiters, the No. 4 overall NBA draft pick.
Waiters did more than just finish with 17 points on 6-for-14 shooting Tuesday, helping the Cavs to a 94-84 season-opening win over visiting Washington. The kid flat-out sparkled.
Until Tuesday, a lot of folks had their reservations.
Waiters looked like the world’s biggest maroon in the Cavs’ wine uniforms this past July — hitting the summer circuit in lousy shape and even a little timid.
Then training camp and the preseason arrived, and Waiters amassed all the buzz of an everyday rookie. No big deal if he’s supposed to be an everyday rookie. But he’s supposed to be the man who makes life easier for point guard Kyrie Irving.
On Tuesday, he was that guy. And gosh, the Cavs sure needed it.
Who knows? Maybe Waiters can be the needed No. 2 option all season. It’s hard to tell after just one game. But there’s a point in there, and it is this: Maybe we all shouldn’t be so darn quick to judge.
Not that Waiters could give two hoots.
“Man, I ain’t worried about none of that,” Waiters said of his preseason. “None of those games counted.”
This one did, and Waiters outplayed the rookie selected one spot ahead of him, Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal.
Now, before getting too worked up, or chronicling Beal’s struggles, keep in mind he had his moments, too. Just not as many as Waiters.
It was Waiters who buried a 3-pointer right in front of Beal’s outstretched arm. It was Waiters who stole the ball from Beal in the open floor and raced to an easy dunk.
Again, it’s just one game. But man, this one counted.
“You could see his play coming along the last two weeks,” said Cavs coach Byron Scott. “I’m not shocked.”
Of course, Waiters was just part of the story. The bottom line here is the Cavs found a way to win. Yes, the Wizards were depleted without injured starters John Wall and Nene. Yes, the small forward position got off to an inauspicious start — with Alonzo Gee and newcomer C.J. Miles fumbling their way through misery.
And yes, the Cavs still gave up too many offensive rebounds (18), and yes, they were beaten to too many loose balls.
Still, if you’re a Cavs fan, you can’t help but feel enthused about Irving’s 29 points (on 11-for-20 shooting) and Anderson Varejao’s career-highs of 23 rebounds and nine assists (to go with nine points).
That’s right, Varejao stockpiled 23 boards. That’s Dwight Howard territory. That’s right, Varejao finished with nine assists. That’s Steve Nash territory.
OK, maybe not, but it sure was impressive for a guy who’s almost entirely known for his unparalleled energy and untamed hair — and not necessarily his ingenuity with the ball.
Yet two of Varejao’s assists came near the end of the game, under the basket, with the Wizards closing in and feeling confident. The ball ended up in the hands of Tristan Thompson (12 points, 10 rebounds) both times, and both times, Thompson two-hand-slammed it through the hoop.
Meanwhile, at least one of Irving’s moments will be played over and over and over again on the highlight shows, his crafty handle and splendid spin moves seemingly arising from Harlem Globetrotters lore.
Only this is the NBA, and while the Cavs are among the youngest teams in the league, they seem fairly ready for it.
On opening night, that included Waiters.
Not too shabby, all things considered.
“I’m more comfortable now,” Waiters said. “I know the offense. All I’ve got to do is go out there and play my game.”
Yeah, man. That just might work.
Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO