Reporting Daryl Ruiter
INDEPENDENCE (92.3 The Fan) - It didn’t take long for Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller to grab a basketball and start shooting at Cleveland Clinic Courts.
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ new duo hit the floor and started shooting shortly after they were presented with their new jersey’s and formally introduced to the media, executives and team sponsors Friday afternoon.
It’s that kind of energy and work ethic that prompted the team to select them during the NBA draft Thursday night.
Waiters was selected by the Cavaliers with the No. 4 pick in the draft Thursday night and Zeller, who was selected No. 17 overall, was acquired in a trade from the Dallas Mavericks.
The Cavaliers gave up the No. 24, 33 and 34 picks in the draft for the North Carolina center. They turned out to be Oregon State guard Jared Cunningham, Florida State center Bernard James and Marquette forward Jae Crowder.
Waiters and Zeller were picked surprisingly by general manager Chris Grant without a workout or interview leaving some to ask, why?
But not Grant. He was already sold on both.
“Although we didn’t get those opportunities, because of our work and our due diligence we felt comfortable that these were the right two decisions for our organization,” Grant said. “What we know about them as people, what they bring to the team, all of the background work that we did made us feel very comfortable.”
Waiters averaged 12.6 points in 24.1 minutes per game coming off of the bench last season.
“The fact that the guy didn’t start doesn’t mean anything to me,” coach Byron Scott said. “The fact that he finished pretty much every game was the biggest thing that I looked at. And the fact that when he finished he had the ball in his hands.”
In Scott’s view, Waiters was the second best player in the draft behind Anthony Davis who was taken No. 1 overall by New Orleans.
“In my mind he was” Scott said. “On my board after watching all the other guys at four I kept going back to to CG (Chris Grant) and he said ‘Who do you want to draft?’ I said ‘Dion Waiters’ and I never wavered from that.”
Waiters scored in double figures in 26 of 37 games for the Orange despite criticisms that his jump shot needs work.
“I’ve got to work on every aspect of my game,” Waiters said. “If they say that I don’t have a jump shot then it’s up to me to go out there and get up 1,000 jump shots every day just to get it better.
“I think that I can shoot but I have to continue to keep working.”
Waiters will join Kyrie Irving in the back court while Zeller goes in the middle.
Scott is excited about the front court combinations that he will be able to use between Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson and Zeller.
“I went to bed last night with a big smile on my face last night,” Scott said. The different combinations with those three guys made me feel pretty good.”
Zeller, who was the ACC Player of the Year, averaged 16.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 28.2 minutes per game as a senior for North Carolina.
He was the last of the Tar Heels selected in the first round and joked that he’ll remember that.
“I’ll use anything for motivation,” Zeller said. “Going forward, it’s a great organization to be a part of. I’m very excited to be here. I’m ready to start playing and be a part of this group.
“They’ve got a great young group of people that I think is going to be fun to grow with and hopefully continue to be with for a very long time.”
The NBA is no longer a big man’s game and Zeller has the opportunity to take advantage of that.
“Tyler is going to be a guy that’s going to be in this league a very long time,” Scott said. “Because of all of the fundamental things that he does on the basketball court so well. Dominant? I don’t know but he’s going to be a guy that definitely can give you a double-double on a consistent basis.
“He’s got a very nice touch from the outside, very good passer and he can score in the post with either hand.”