INDEPENDENCE: The Cavaliers accomplished their goal of finding a running mate for Kyrie Irving. It just wasn’t the one fans had in mind.
The Cavaliers shocked the NBA for the second consecutive year by selecting Syracuse shooting guard Dion Waiters fourth overall in Thursday’s NBA Draft. Then they traded with the Dallas Mavericks for guard/forward Kelenna Azubuike and the No. 17 pick. They used it to select North Carolina senior center Tyler Zeller, the Player of the Year in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The real shocker, however, was Waiters.
“This is a guy who can do a lot of things with the basketball,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said. “I just think he has something special … I think we got a steal.”
Waiters instantly upgrades the Cavs’ wing position, even though the move will be seen as a stunner since the Cavaliers passed on Harrison Barnes, who went seventh to the Golden State Warriors.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the player most linked to the Cavs in the days leading up to the draft, went second overall to the Charlotte Bobcats in another mild surprise. When Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal went third to the Washington Wizards, the Cavs pulled the surprise.
Waiters did not start at Syracuse in either of his two seasons there, although he played starter’s minutes and often finished games. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, he has a thick and stocky build and excels at getting to the rim.
He averaged 12.6 points and 2.3 rebounds this season and was called by one Eastern Conference scout “the best scorer in this draft.”
The Cavs need it. They’ve had little production out of their shooting guard for years. This is the highest the Cavs have selected a shooting guard since Austin Carr was selected first overall in 1971.
The Cavs entered this draft believing they needed to get Irving another scorer to alleviate some of the burden. They believe they have that now, even though Waiters never worked out for them and he seemed genuinely surprised to be going to Cleveland.
“I didn’t even talk to Cleveland,” Waiters said. “I didn’t even work out for Cleveland.”
Waiters made headlines at the NBA combine earlier this month when he received a promise from a team in the lottery, packed his things and went home at the advice of his agent, Rob Pelinka.
Waiters wouldn’t say which team promised him, only that it wasn’t the Cavs. They didn’t feel they needed a private workout with him because they followed him throughout the college season and General Manager Chris Grant has a close, personal relationship with one of the Syracuse assistant coaches.
“We did an enormous amount of research [on Waiters],” Grant said. “Maybe more than we’ve ever done.”
This is the second consecutive year the Cavs shook up the top of the draft by taking a surprise at No. 4. They selected Tristan Thompson fourth last year, but Grant’s history of surprising people dates back much farther.
Grant was part of the Atlanta Hawks’ front office that used the second pick in the 2005 draft on Marvin Williams. ESPN reported on Thursday that Williams and Waiters are the only two players to be lottery selections despite not starting a single game in college.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said Waiters’ style of play is comparable to Dwyane Wade and said Waiters might be the best player he’s ever coached.
Boeheim, of course, also coached Carmelo Anthony.
“I’m an all-around player,” Waiters said. “I feel I don’t have any weaknesses in my game.”
Barnes and Kidd-Gilchrist both shared deep ties with Irving, but Waiters said he knows Irving, too.
“I’ve known him for a long time,” Waiters said. “I can’t wait to get out there with him. I’m very excited. I wish it started tomorrow.”
In Zeller, the Cavs could have a new starting center. He is 7 feet and 250 pounds, mature after spending four years in college, he won multiple awards for being a tremendous scholar athlete and is the first North Carolina senior to win ACC Player of the Year since Phil Ford in 1978. He joked he didn’t have a problem playing with Irving, who was a point guard at Duke.
“It’s beyond Duke-North Carolina anyway,” Zeller joked. “He never really played for them, he was hurt all the time.”
Zeller runs exceptionally well for a big man and has good hands. He is more polished defensively than he is offensively and he brings size to a team that desperately needs it.
Ryan Hollins was released late last season and Semih Erden is a free agent next week. The selection of Zeller should allow Tristan Thompson to shift back to his more natural position at power forward, although Scott wouldn’t hand Zeller the starting center spot on draft night.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at https://ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.