The Cleveland Cavaliers reached for Dion Waiters with the No. 4 pick in the 2012 NBA draft, and it's going to pay off in a big way when he helps lead the team back to the playoffs for the first time since LeBron James decided to take his talents to South Beach.
Although Zeller is the more NBA-ready of the two, and will make a bigger impact as a first-year player, it is going to be Waiters who generates the most headlines because of the attention paid to top-five picks.
When the Zeller trade was announced, I turned to the friend with whom I was watching the draft and said, "The Cavs are about to win more games than the Mavericks next season. Bet on it." While it was a gut reaction in the heat of the moment, the more I think about it, the more sense it makes.
Zeller is ready to contribute immediately to the Cavs cause. He's a great all-around player even if he doesn't stand out in any one area. The former North Carolina Tar Heel is already the best true center on the roster. His intelligent play, work on the boards and creative offensive game in the low post will make an impact from day one.
While Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao may begin the season as the Cav's starting big men, I expect the lineup to switch to Varejao and Zeller before we get to the All-Star break.
As for Waiters, he'll most likely fill a similar role to the one he thrived in at Syracuse. Waiters joined Marvin Williams as one of the only two prospects to ever attend college and not start a single game before getting picked in the lottery.
He's not going to be a bust of Marvin Williams proportions though, even if he can't quite live up the No. 4 slot.
As a second-year player for Jim Boeheim, Waiters played just 24.1 minutes per game but still managed to average 12.6 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists per contest. The shooting guard thrived in transition and as the ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations.
Now, he'll get to enjoy those situations far more often as Kyrie Irving's running mate.
Waiters isn't going to start over Daniel Gibson and Manny Harris at shooting guard on opening day, but he'll be given the opportunity to put up big numbers as a sixth man.
With the addition of Watiers and Zeller, the Cavs are now strongly in contention for a playoff spot in the top-heavy Eastern Conference.
The Boston Celtics may lose multiple key pieces to retirement and free agency, while it appears as though the Orlando Magic will have to play without Dwight Howard. We all saw how that worked out in the postseason (hint: it didn't).
That means there could be two playoff spots up for grabs.
Even if there's only one, I'd bet on the Cavs before the Detroit Pistons, Toronto Raptors, Brooklyn Nets (unless they get Dwight) and Charlotte Bobcats. Cleveland will be competing with the Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards for those last spots.
As Kyrie Irving continues to improve, this team is just going to get better and better. Now that he has two more quality pieces to work with, the difficult road to the playoffs just got a little bit easier.
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