BROOKLYN, N.Y.: Twice in his brief career, Dion Waiters has already fallen victim to Cavaliers coach Byron Scott’s wrath. He was chastised and benched in the preseason for not executing a play Scott just drew up in the huddle, then was silently benched in the fourth quarter Sunday at Oklahoma City with no real explanation given.
It’s clear Scott wants Waiters to work harder on defense, and listening to Waiters, it’s easy to see why. His focus remains solely on offense.
That’s not always a bad thing, although it tends to irk his coach. Waiters entered the game Tuesday at Brooklyn ninth in the league in 3-point shooting (minimum 10 attempts) after shooting 35 percent on 3-pointers over two seasons at Syracuse.
The improvement has been dramatic, although a terrible shooting night Tuesday scuffs up the numbers. Waiters struggled through a 3-of-16 shooting performance Tuesday, including 1-of-5 on 3-pointers. But Waiters was born with a shooter’s mentality and a few misses — even 13 — won’t get him to stop firing.
“I just kept shooting,” Waiters said Tuesday after a loss to the Nets, which completed a 1-5 road trip. “I was like, ‘Damn, one has to fall.’ ”
Scott can appreciate that mind-set, since he was a pretty good shooting guard back in his day. He says the improvement in Waiters’ outside game can be attributed to the shooting contests Waiters, Kyrie Irving and C.J. Miles stage every day after practice.
The gist of the game is Around the World and back, where each player must make five 3-pointers from five spots on the floor. These aren’t just casual shots to kill time after practice, they’re competitive environments.
“It’s a competition and I’m not letting anybody beat me,” Waiters said. “I’m not letting a girl, a baby, nothing like that beat me. That’s just how I am. I hate to lose. It’s real competitive.”
Waiters arrived in Cleveland as a guard who can get to the basket and create for others, but who struggles to shoot from the outside. He still falls off-balance on too many shots, but Scott said the Cavs always thought Waiters had a smooth stroke.
Whether he can keep up this pace, not even his coach knows.
“When we brought him in and had already drafted him and saw him shoot, I thought he had a pretty good stroke. It’s not picture perfect, but his stroke is pretty good and he has a lot of confidence when he shoots the ball,” Scott said. “Can he continue to do this for the remainder of the season? As a rookie, most guys will go through a little bit of a slump sooner or later. But ‘D’ has a lot of confidence in shooting the ball.”
In a strange twist, Waiters is trying to make an effort to get back in the lane more, draw fouls and get to the free-throw line. Waiters has only 17 free-throw attempts through eight games. By comparison, Irving has a similar game to Waiters and has been to the line 53 times.
Waiters said he took a lot of jump shots his freshman season at Syracuse, then started attacking the basket more as a sophomore. He certainly heard all the criticisms that skeptics had of him after the draft and now he’s enjoying proving everyone wrong.
“People underestimated me, told me I can’t shoot,” Waiters said. “Things like that, I laugh at.”
Waiters scored 28 points against the Los Angeles Clippers in the lone win on this trip and scored 23 points in a loss to the Phoenix Suns. He was also benched for the fourth quarter against the Thunder and stumbled through a miserable shooting night against the Nets, making this just a typical learning curve for a rookie in the NBA.
“Dion is probably playing better than a lot of people thought at this point,” Scott said. “But we knew what we had when we drafted him.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. 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.