It wasn’t long after the Cavaliers selected Dion Waiters fourth overall Thursday that the fans erupted. The idea of bypassing Harrison Barnes for a bench player they’d never heard of sparked a firestorm of rage on Twitter.
“Fire Grant!” and “What is he doing?!?!” were the most common reactions, with much of the vitriol aimed at the Cavs’ front office as a whole and General Manager Chris Grant in particular.
But just because fans were expecting Barnes and received Waiters instead doesn’t make it a bad pick.
I first heard rumblings of Waiters last week, then the chatter intensified late Monday into Tuesday. By Tuesday night, I was convinced the Cavs’ interest in him was legitimate and began calling a handful of scouts and executives around the league I respect and trust.
All of them said the same thing. They loved Waiters, thought he was an explosive scorer and would ultimately prove to be the top scoring option in this draft.
On a team that struggled miserably to put the ball in the basket last year, that is exactly the type of player the Cavs need. How quickly fans seemed to forget that Byron Scott needed to have Kyrie Irving or Antawn Jamison on the floor at all times.
When they rested at the same time, the Cavs simply couldn’t score.
Jamison won’t be back, meaning if the league personnel I spoke to are correct, the Cavs are fortunate to come out of this draft with the best pure scorer available.
Scott said today that Waiters was No. 2 on the Cavs’ board behind Anthony Davis. If he wasn’t coming here, Waiters wasn’t getting past the Golden State Warriors at No. 7 and he certainly wasn’t making it past the Toronto Raptors at No. 8.
So was it really that much of a reach?
If there is one fair concern about this Waiters and Irving pairing, it’s whether Waiters can be successful without the ball in his hands. He typically had the ball at Syracuse, but Irving is the point guard on this team.
It’s acceptable for Irving to take a play off every now and then and allow Waiters to run the offense, but Irving needs to run the offense better than 98 percent of the time for this team to be at its best.
How Waiters adjusts to the change will be worth watching, but the Cavs don’t seem overly concerned.
Grant has quickly developed a reputation as a GM who will go down his own path. He shocked teams last year by selecting Tristan Thompson fourth overall and did it again this year with Waiters.
His philosophy is simple: If he likes a guy, he’ll take him, regardless of draft position or where he is “projected” to go.
The Cavs’ front office spends hours and hours scouting every possible candidate. It brought upwards of 70 players to work out at its facility the past couple of weeks, then ultimately chose two players it didn’t get to interview or work out at all.
“We watch these players an enormous amount of time, do a ton of tape work,” Grant said. “These [scouts and front-office] guys, that’s all they do around the clock. We ask a lot of questions of each other, we challenge each other. Our conference room is right next to Byron’s office and sometimes he can’t talk on the phone because there are a lot of debates, which is great. They’re healthy debates.
“We don’t really care where the guys get picked, as long as they’re the right pick for us.”
As Thursday night spilled into the early hours of Friday, other general managers around the league were texting Cavs personnel and congratulating them on the selection of Waiters and their draft as a whole.
They had two glaring needs: another scorer and size. The additions of Waiters and Tyler Zeller accomplish both.
Barnes went to the Warriors at No. 7 and should have a nice career there, but the Cavs were never going to take him at No. 4.
He is viewed as a spot-up shooter who does little else well. He struggles getting to the basket, he struggled getting separation against weaker college players and he doesn’t make the players around him better.
The Cavs believe Waiters can do all of those things. Only time will tell whether they’re right. But if they’re ultimately wrong about Waiters, so are plenty of other teams around the NBA.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.