Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller are officially part of the Cleveland Cavaliers family. On Thursday the two Cleveland draft picks signed four-year deals, with the two finals years of both contracts being team options. Waiters, the No. 4 pick in the draft, signed a $16.7 million deal while Zeller accepted a $7.4 million offer.
The two draft picks will play in the Cavaliers Summer League, where they will face other Summer League teams such as Charlotte Bobcats, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves and New York Knicks. Getting Waiter and Zeller signed before summer play kicked off was a good move by the Cavaliers, and agreements on both sides show that these players are ready to come in and make an impact right away. Waiters and Zeller have been the topics of conversation on Right Down Euclid lately, but now let’s take an in-depth look at how these two players can help their team in their rookie campaigns.
No. 4 pick Dion Waiters — SG, Syracuse — 6’4″, 221 pounds
The young backcourt of 20-year-olds Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters will give the Cavaliers a formidable one and two for years to come. Although Waiters lacked the attributes to motivate himself during his freshmen season (averaged 6.6 points, shot 41.1 percent), the two guard hit the gym hard after his first season at Syracuse ended and his second was on the horizon.
Those gym workouts helped Waiters to strengthen up, making him more of an aggressive scorer. Waiters increased his shots per game to 9.6 shots (4.0 shot increase), shooting 6.5 percent better than in his freshmen campaign. That new-found aggressiveness that Waiters worked hard for in the gym produced an average 12.6 points, a 6.0 point increase from his first season at Syracuse.
As a freshmen Waiters was known as hotheaded and often argued with head coach Jim Boeheim. He knew he was in the wrong and tried to mature as a person and a basketball player. The lessons he learned in his freshmen season from adjusting to coming off the bench, something he hadn’t done in years, helped him to become Syracuse’s best player in the 2011-12 season.
Although the two guard didn’t workout for a single team before the draft and claimed after the Cavaliers drafted him that he had “no weaknesses.” That lack of weakness really showed in the final six games of the season, all of which were postseasons game. He averaged 16.3 points while shooting 50.0 percent. Waiters averaged 26.6 minutes off the bench in those final six games.
Waiters has also been known for having attitude problems, but has since fixed any problems he has had on and off the court. Putting the attitude aside and focusing mainly on basketball helped him strengthen his upper-body and his explosiveness off the dribble. He has the ability to knock down big-time shots, something that will make Kyrie Irving very happy to have him at the two position.
An interesting question that I’ll pose is which young backcourt tandem will be more productive; Waiters and Irving in Cleveland or Bradley Beal and John Wall in Washington?
No. 17 pick Tyler Zeller — C, North Carolina — 7′ 0″, 247 pounds
Can Zeller be the center the Cavaliers need for the next 10+ years?
He was a pretty accurate shooter in college (55.3 percent from the field his senior season), defenders will tend to not foul him as often as they do other centers in the NBA due to his high free throw percentage (80.8 percent his senior season), his strength inside helped him to collect 788 rebounds over his collegiate career and he’s a natural scorer (averaged 16.3 points his senior season). The only other thing that the Cavaliers could ask for in a center is for Zeller to put on some more weight, which really isn’t a huge problem taken that he is already a pretty strong player.
At the NBA combine Zeller bench pressed 185 pounds 16 times, falling in the top tier group which had the bench press victor Jae Crowder (20 reps) in it. Zeller impressed many scouts at the combine, especially with his one-on-one workouts with No. 11 pick Meyers Leonard, his speed and agility results and his shot-thinking process. Zeller said in the days leading up to the draft that his shot range on the court can go as far out as the college three-point line (20.75 feet).
Zeller is just a simple, typical NBA center, a position that teams are dying to find a player to fill the role. Last season the Cavaliers struggled with their big men Ryan Hollins (averaged 3.7 points, 2.3 rebounds) and Semih Erden (3.5 points, 2.6 rebounds). Neither of those players are with the Cavaliers anymore, as Erden just recently signed a deal to play with a Turkish club and Hollins was traded midseason to the Boston Celtics. Power forward Anderson Varejao and forward Tristan Thompson both took orders from coach Byron Scott to step in and play center because Hollins and Erden could not get the job done.
With that said, I believe Zeller can be the longterm starting center for the Cavaliers. That doesn’t mean he will start right away. He has everything that a team could ask for in a center, but Scott has been quoted saying that nothing is set in stone and Zeller will most likely not be in the starting lineup on opening night. There’s still a lot of time for the former Tar Heel to prove him wrong.
Summer workouts will help Zeller adjust more easily to the speed of the game and learning that he has to worry about more than the big guys when it comes down to defending. The speed at which NBA guards move and the pick-and-roll system that most teams use will eventually force Zeller to match up against Kyrie-caliber guards. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, the seven footer had this to say:
The guards coming off the pick-and-roll are just phenomenal. In college, you really are playing the big man or the guard, but not both. The NBA is going to be a challenge. Derrick Rose is coming off a screen, and you have to be ready to contain him.
Something that I really think will come in handy for the 2011-12 ACC Player of the Year is his leadership. Zeller played four years at North Carolina, so he’s already going to have the maturity that a veteran NBA player might have. I’m saying it now, Zeller will have ten double-doulbes next season. He’s NBA-ready.