LAS VEGAS: Through the Cavaliers’ first two summer league games, their first-round picks couldn’t have had more opposite starts. Tyler Zeller has clearly been the best player on the floor. Dion Waiters has really struggled.
The time Waiters was away from the court during the NBA combine season is now apparent in both his game and his shot. Both Waiters and Cavs coach Byron Scott agree he is out of shape and it’s impacting his overall game. He has made just 7-of-25 shots entering Tuesday’s summer league game against the Phoenix Suns and he has struggled at times defensively.
No one, however, is concerned about the early struggles.
“The biggest thing with him is conditioning,” Scott said. “Once he gets in shape, all the other stuff will start to come.”
Scott believes Waiters needs to shed about 10 pounds, something Waiters thinks can come off pretty easily. He believes his shooting mechanics are a little out of whack and Scott continues to harp on his defensive technique. Scott pulled Waiters aside at practice on Monday and worked with him for a few minutes on his defensive stance, instructing him to remain low and pivot on defense rather than stand up and relax when his man gives up the ball.
Waiters played very little man-to-man defense at Syracuse, which plays primarily zone. The zone defense is rarely used in the NBA.
“He’s so used to zone [defense] the last couple of seasons that he stands around a lot on the defensive end,” Scott said. “We have to get him out of that. He has a ways to go in that department.”
Waiters has flashed a couple of times offensively, making big jumpers at the end of the first two games and adding a powerful dunk in Tuesday’s win over the Development League team. He has played the most minutes of anyone, but ranks fourth on the team in scoring at 10.5 points per game.
“I’m going to go through stretches where I’m not making that shot,” Waiters said. “There’s times I get hit on my arm, but the refs don’t see everything. I have to continue to play through it. The shots are going to fall. I’m not worried about that.”
Zeller, however, has been fantastic. Entering Tuesday night, he led the team in scoring, rebounding, blocks, field-goal percentage (minimum seven attempts) and free-throw percentage.
“I like what I’ve seen,” Scott said. “Our first two games, Tyler has been our best player on both ends of the floor.”
Zeller has shown an ability to make shots from 20 feet away, put the ball on the floor and make free throws. He has made 13-of-15 through two games, and it isn’t a fluke. Zeller was a career 77 percent free-throw shooter in college, which is certainly acceptable for a big guy in the NBA.
His percentage steadily increased each of the past three years, topping out at 81 percent his senior year at North Carolina. But it’s his range and ability to get to the basket that has Scott excited.
“I was a little surprised when he was able to catch it, pump fake and get to the basket,” Scott said. “That’s even better. He’s been terrific.”
At North Carolina, Zeller would routinely spend 30 minutes after practice working on long jumpers. He rarely was able to show off his range because the Tar Heels’ system demanded he stay in the paint — particularly since fellow first-round pick John Henson often drifted to the perimeter. The Heels had to have someone inside and it was usually Zeller.
Now the Cavs are giving him the opportunity to show off his range and full ability.
“Being a rookie, it’s going to be rough coming in, learning new principles,” Zeller said. “The coaches and players have been extraordinary. It’s been a lot of fun. Dion and I are getting used to each other as well as all the rest of our teammates. We’re just trying to fit in and see what we can do.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.