OAKLAND, Calif.: It wasn’t long ago skeptics were questioning whether or not Dion Waiters was worth the No. 4 pick in the draft. After one monster night against the Los Angeles Clippers, now his name is being mentioned as an early candidate for the Rookie of the Year award. It has been quite a turnaround in a relatively short amount of time.
The player most fans wanted the Cavaliers to draft, Harrison Barnes, was across the floor in Wednesday night’s game against the Golden State Warriors. It’s still incredibly early, but Waiters has clearly outplayed Barnes, whom the Warriors selected seventh overall.
Barnes has averaged 7.5 points and 1.5 rebounds through his first four games. He totaled 30 points — or two more than Waiters had Monday against the Clippers.
Barnes’ name was associated with the Cavs in plenty of mock drafts leading up to the actual night, plus he shares the same agent (Jeff Wechsler) as Kyrie Irving. But Barnes never paid much attention to the chatter.
“You heard about it, but at the end of the day you don’t get too attached,” Barnes said. “I heard my name being associated with a couple of other teams, too.”
Waiters has insisted since draft night he isn’t bothered by the fans’ anger over the decision to bypass on Barnes.
“Everybody has their own opinion,” Waiters said. “There’s nothing I could do about that. I let my game do the talking.”
Cavs coach Byron Scott believes him, but thinks it motivates him, too.
“I really believe him when he says it doesn’t bother him, but I know him enough to know that it does drive him,” Scott said. “It motivates him to want to prove people wrong and make people say at the end of the day, we did the right thing, we picked the right guy. From that aspect, any time you can have something that motivates you like that, it’s great for that individual.”
The most surprising aspect to Waiters’ start might be his 3-point shooting. A 35-percent 3-point shooter in college, Waiters is making 40 percent of them this season and went 7-of-11 on 3-pointers Monday night. Scott called that performance a “once-in-a-lifetime type” of game.
“I’m hoping and praying he doesn’t think that’s what it’s going to be every night,” Scott said.
As for the Rookie of the Year chatter, it’s still incredibly early, but Scott isn’t surprised.
“We thought when we picked him that he would be a Rookie of the Year candidate,” Scott said. “We knew that he would have an opportunity to play and we felt he’d play well. He’s still going to have some ups and downs. It’s four games into the season. We’ve still got a long way to go. He’s on a little bit of a high right now, but he’s going to have some nights where he’s not playing well. We’ll see how he reacts to those, too.”
The Cavaliers had to face the Warriors without Anderson Varejao and Tyler Zeller. Varejao was a late scratch with swelling in his right knee and Zeller returned to Cleveland for further examination after he suffered a concussion and a non-displaced fracture in his left cheekbone during Monday’s victory at the Clippers.
There is no official timeline for Zeller’s return, although he likely won’t play in Friday’s game at Phoenix. The Cavs have discussed the likelihood of Zeller playing with a mask (he can be fitted for one while he’s in Cleveland) and he has been placed in the league’s concussion program, which every player must complete before returning to the court.
There remains a chance he could return for Sunday’s game at Oklahoma City.
Scott bemoaned the timing of the injury.
“The young fella has been playing really well, especially the last game, he was playing great,” Scott said.
Zeller had 15 points and seven rebounds Monday before the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan caught him with an elbow late in the fourth quarter. Initial X-rays taken at the arena were negative, but a CT scan on Tuesday revealed the fracture.
Varejao collided with Ryan Hollins during Monday’s game, but was able to make it through the rest of the game. The knee stiffened up over the last couple of days, but it isn’t considered serious.
Samuels takes over
Samardo Samuels will get the bulk of the playing time in Zeller’s absence. Samuels said Wednesday he is simplifying matters in his mind by focusing on rebounding and defense after spending most of his life worrying about scoring.
He even compared himself to Reggie Evans, the veteran defensive thumper who is now with the Brooklyn Nets.
“Rebound and defend, it’s not that hard to do,” Samuels said. “The last two years, I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself to score. But I’m more relaxed mentally just knowing all I have to do is rebound and defend. We’ve got scorers.”
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.