June 28, 2016


NBA Draft: Dion Waiters a surprise selection by Cavs

INDEPENDENCE — The Cavaliers did in fact trade three picks Thursday night to move up in the NBA Draft. But not for the No. 2 pick.

Unable to complete a deal with Charlotte for Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal, the Cavs kept their choice at No. 4 and provided a mini-shocker by selecting 6-foot-4, 221-pound Syracuse shooting guard Dion Waiters.

Syracuse’s Dion Waiters goes up for a dunk against Villanova. The Cavaliers selected Waiters with the fourth pick in the NBA Draft. (AP FILE PHOTO)

Cleveland then traded its three remaining choices, Nos. 24, 33 and 34, to Dallas for the rights to 7-0½ North Carolina center Tyler Zeller, originally chosen by the Mavericks at No. 17.

Waiters, whose name had not been seriously mentioned in affiliation with the Cavs until late Wednesday, averaged 6.6 points in 16.3 minutes a game as a freshman and 12.6 points in 24.1 minutes as a sophomore.

The Philadelphia native, who was not in the top half-dozen picks in any reputable national mock draft until a day before the proceedings, had nine points on 2-for-8 shooting and 5-for-6 from the line as Syracuse lost to Ohio State in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

Waiters described himself as a “physical, athletic, competitive” player who owns “a lot of confidence” and plays “with swagger.”

“I don’t have any weaknesses in my game,” he said in a conference call with the Cleveland area media. “I’m a hard worker.”

The Big East Sixth Man Award winner last season, the 20-year-old did not start any of the 71 games in which he appeared at Syracuse, where he shot .453 from the field, .348 on 3-pointers and .753 at the line over his two-year career.

“I went there as a boy and left as a man,” he said.

Waiters went to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, but didn’t work out under the advice of agent Rob Pelinka, leading to rumors a team in the lottery had promised to take the shooting guard.

As it turned out, Waiters went much, much higher than most everyone expected.

“It worked out for me,” said Waiters, who declined to say which team guaranteed it would take him.

The owner of a strong frame and decent athleticism, Waiters is considered to be an aggressive and fearless offensive player.

With Anthony Parker an unrestricted free agent who won’t be back with the Cavs, Waiters will certainly get his opportunities while playing next to Kyrie Irving on a Cleveland team that ranked next-to-last in the league in field goal percentage last season.

“That’s my brother,” Waiters said of Irving. “I’ve known him for a long time. I just can’t wait to get out there with him. I’m very excited. I wish it started tomorrow.”

The Cavs were rumored to be in the mix to acquire Charlotte’s No. 2 pick right up until the Bobcats selected Kentucky small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the youngest player in the draft and a former high school teammate of Irving.

The Cavs reportedly offered the Nos. 4, 24 and 33 picks for Charlotte’s second and 31st choices, but a deal never got done, leaving Washington to pick Beal with the third choice.

Apparently not impressed with North Carolina small forward Harrison Barnes, who ended up going No. 7 to Golden State, the Cavs then selected Waiters at No. 4.

There were also rumors the Cavs had talks with the Warriors about trading oft-injured big man Anderson Varejao for the No. 7 pick, as well as discussions about including Varejao in a deal for the No. 12 pick.

The 247-pound, 22-year-old Zeller played four seasons at North Carolina, improving his scoring average from 3.1 to 9.3 to 15.7 to 16.3.

Zeller averaged 9.6 rebounds and shot .553 from the field and .808 at the line as a senior, when he was named Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and earned second-team Associated Press All-America honors.

An Indiana native, Zeller is considered a hard worker who runs the floor very well for a big man. He is said to have good hands and solid finishing ability around the basket, but his back-to-the-basket post moves are still developing.

The addition of Zeller means the Cavs are unlikely to extend a qualifying offer to center Semih Erden by the July 1 deadline, which would make him an unrestricted free agent.

Small forward Luke Harangody is also unlikely to get a qualifying offer, while small forward Alonzo Gee will, allowing the Cavs to match any contract offer the restricted free agent receives.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.