Everyone can breath. For one night, in a preseason game, Dion Waiters looked like a player worthy to be drafted fourth overall.
Waiters led the Cavs with 18 points (7-12 FG, 4-4 3PT) and Tyler Zeller added ten points and four rebounds and the Cavs held on for a 86-83 win.
It shouldn’t have been taht close. The Cavs held a 50-29 edge at halftime but let the Bulls slowly chip in closer throughout the second half. It had looked like Cavs had this game wrapped up, but Chicago’s full court press over final 45 seconds really frustrated the Cavs. Samardo Samuels and Boobie Gibson and the rest of the second unit (like Omri Casspi and Waiters) failed to advance past halfcourt on six straight attempts and the Bulls cut a six point lead to two in roughly 30 seconds. After Zeller split a pair of free throws, the Bulls missed their final, last-ditch shot as time expired, for the final three-point margin of victory.
The Cavs lead the whole game and yet the ending left you feeling as if they stole a win.
Some various thoughts…
Hopefully this performance by Waiters will soothe some nerves. While Waiters has shown flashes here and there, these early exhibition games have left much to be desired. Friday night was the first time that Dion looked comfortable among his NBA peers. Friday night was the first time we’ve seen what Byron Scott, Chris Grant and co saw when they took him fourth overall.
With Gibson playing off the ball (have we all come to grips that Boobie will never be a Real NBA Point Guard? And if you haven’t, watch the final 0:45 of Friday’s game), Waiters played point and ran the offense for the second unit. His jumper was falling, he attacked the rim and he used his quickness to set up his as well as set up his teammates (Waiters and Zeller pick & roll! Woot!). Waiters wasn’t tentative. He wasn’t rushing anything. He just played his game. It was fairly impressive.
Kyrie was off. Just a bit. Irving finished with 8 points on a sterling 2-15 shooting with 0 assists. Yikes. However, I wouldn’t be too alarmed, considering Irving was playing at about half speed (if that). To say Kyrie looked disinterested would be an understatement. Things got so bad the (not very intelligent) Bulls announcers forgot that Irving was a good shooter and commented that he had needed to fix his jumper (which is patently ridiculous, condsidering his rookie stats). And hey, I can’t even blame them. Rarely did Irving look balance when he released his shot. He never seemed to have his shoulders squared and it always looked awkward.
CJ Miles likes to shoot. After Irving and Waiters (15 and 12 shot attempts, respectively), Miles had the third most attempts, with nine (making just three). With Antawn Jamison mercifully gone, the Cavs have a lot of shot attempts up for grabs. Plus, the Cavs are starting Alonzo Gee (who looked subpar), Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao; someone asides from Irving is going to have to shoot, might as well be Miles.
Luke Harangody has nine first half points. Gody a magnificent 3-3 from the floor (including a trey) and 2-2 from the line. Unfortunately, his only other recorded stats were a turnover an a foul. It’s nice seeing him knock down those jumpers, but he’s gonna have to board if he wants any non-garbage PT.
Expectations for Skinny Samardo Samuels: tempered. Dumb fouls? Check. Lack of rebounds? Check (17 minutes, one board). Plus, he was heavily involved in the final inbounding debacles. Multiple times his man went to double and Samardo left the ball handler no outlet. The Bulls announcers even remarked that the rookie Waiters was yelling at “the veteran Samuels”. Samardo Samuels is a veteran, folks. Yeesh.
Tristan Thompson… meh. At some point the Cavs will have to realize that they can’t start both Varejao and Thompson. They need big man with an offensive game; some one teams fear in either a post-up or a pick-and-pop situation. I’d be at some point this season, Varejao will move back to his natural four position and Zeller will start at the five, moving Tristan to the bench.
Omri Casspi looked not gawd awful. I’m not sure Casspi will ever be starting SF in this league, but he can be a useful player if his jumper is falling, as it was on Friday night. Omri finished with nine points (3-5 FG, all threes), three assists and zero(!) boards in 25 minutes. If Casspi’s jumper can be somewhat consistent, it will help alleviate a lot of pressure that will be focused on Irving and Waiters.
The Cavs next preseason game is Saturday night against the Washington Wizards at 7:30 at The Q.