LAS VEGAS — The image you should take away of Cleveland’s Dion Waiters from his Summer League debut is him standing out by the arc, waiving his arm calling for the ball.
Or maybe it is the image of him getting the inbound pass with his team down one and 3.9 seconds left in the game, getting trapped by a double team and calling a time out — but the Cavs were out of timeouts, so it was a technical and the Bobcats ball. He pulled a Chris Webber. (Waiters said he didn’t know and the coach admitted he did not remind players they were out of timeouts when setting up the inbounds play.)
Neither of those are the images Waiters wants you to have of him when games start to actually matter come the fall. Becoming an NBA player is a process and Waiters has taken only one small step on that road.
But it was a stumbling step for a guy who rocketed up draft boards all the way to No. 4 (raising some eyebrows around the league). Waiters seemed to spend a lot of his first game either calling for the ball or shooting it when he got it. He was taking jumpers and not getting in the paint — he opened the game hitting a contested three and after that seemed to settle more than he should have. The result was 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting.
“I wasn’t following through, I was leaning back, I wasn’t on balance,” Waiters said of his shooting on the night. “I hurt myself tonight with my jump shot….
“I stopped attacking. I should have kept attacking but I wasn’t really getting no calls going to the hole. I just got to keep attacking, in the league rookies don’t get a lot of calls anyway.”
Waiters had a lot thrown on his shoulders in his opener — Kyrie Irving was supposed to be the guy with the ball in his hands and Waiters was supposed to play off him. But after Irving broke his hand and was out for Summer League, the Cavaliers decided to see what Waiters would do with the ball in his hands. Waiters had the green light all night, like he did back at Syracuse.
It was not all bad, it was mixed. He did attack at times and drew some fouls. He had four assists and should have had more as he did a good job moving the ball but none of the Cavaliers were hitting their looks.
On defense, there were moments Waiters looked like a rookie at times. He lost his man on defense when ball watching more than once.
It wasn’t an impressive debut. But Summer League is about learning and gaining experience, what matters is not this game but how he applies what he learned in this game to the next one. And the next one.
“It was a learning experience,” Waiters said. “It was good to get out there for the first time in a long time. I just want to come back better.”
He’s got the right attitude. We’ll see if he can live up to the hype.