CLEVELAND: The opportunity is in front of Dion Waiters and the ball is in his hands, quite literally these days. But he’ll have to shoot better than he has to take full advantage of it.
Waiters could benefit as much as anyone from Kyrie Irving’s absence over the next month.
He is most comfortable with the ball in his hands, which it will be plenty now that Irving is nursing a fractured left index finger.
But Waiters will have to quickly break out of his shooting funk. He entered Thursday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers in a 9-of-45 slump in his past three games.
“You’re going to miss shots, you’re not going to make every shot,” Waiters said. “Every shot I’m shooting, I shot before in games and they were going down.”
Cavs coach Byron Scott tends to disagree. Waiters often takes shots off balance, when he’s leaning left or right, but Scott sees it happening more often lately and it’s something he needs to correct.
“He’s missed a ton of shots … a lot of them have been bad shots,” Scott said. “He’s been off balance. When he’s on balance and he takes good shots and he’s in rhythm, he knocks them down.”
Scott considered starting Waiters at point guard and moving Daniel Gibson into the starting lineup at shooting guard, but he didn’t want to put the added pressure on Waiters to be solely responsible for running the offense.
He will have the ball in his hands plenty the next few weeks, and did some of his best work during training camp when Irving sat out scrimmages, but Scott elected to start Jeremy Pargo to take some of the burden off Waiters.
“I expect him to be comfortable because he’s had the ball in his hands his whole life,” Scott said. “Running the team? That’s a little different. That’s more responsibility.”
Waiters began the night averaging 13.7 points, but his shooting percentage has plummeted to .388 — down from .488 prior to the three-game slump.
Waiters said he understands the opportunity in front of him, but is trying not to think so much about the offensive end.
“Our leader goes down, everybody has to step up,” he said. “It’s giving an opportunity to guys who weren’t playing before.
“I’ve been missing [shots], but I’ve got to find another way to affect the game. If that’s on the defensive end or getting teammates involved, I know they’re going to fall eventually. I’m not worried about it.”
Scott said he, like the rest of the nation, never heard of Jack Taylor before he scored 138 points in a game for Division III Grinnell on Tuesday. Scott was stunned at Taylor’s final line, which included shooting 52-of-108 from the field and 27-of-71 on 3-pointers. Scott was asked what he would do if he had a player shoot 71 3-pointers in a game.
“They better be over a culmination of three or four games or more,” he said.
Told he missed 56 shots in the game, Scott quipped: “I didn’t even get 56 shots in three or four games.”
Taylor became the talk of the NBA the past two days, with both LeBron James and Kobe Bryant praising his efforts. James referred to him as “Sir Jack” and said he wanted to see the game film.
Taylor, incidentally, had 138 points and no assists.
“Figures,” Scott said. “I wonder how happy his teammates are to play with him every day.”
Sixers coach Doug Collins has a personal interest in Irving because his son helped recruit him to Duke.
“Kyrie’s such a brilliant young player. He’s had some freak things with the hand and the finger and some different things,” Collins said. “I hope that this is not going to be something that he’s going to be nicked up in his career because he’s a fabulous player. To me he’s sort of a combination of Isiah Thomas and Chris Paul when I watch him play. He can get anywhere he wants to get on that floor … That’s a huge loss for them.”