by Patrick ‘Rey’ Reynell
The reigning NBA rookie of the year has been plagued by injuries in his short career, missing 14 games so far this season.
Irving is responsible for the Cavs’ offensive improvement this season; they currently rank 16th in points per game after being 25th last season.
The all-star point guard leads the Cavs with 23 points and 5.7 assists a game. His PER of 22.6 is good for 14th in the league.
Irving’s stellar play will surely be missed, but this Cavaliers team with a seemingly myriad of young talent can possibly maintain its current course of offensive improvement. Coach Byron Scott challenged his team today after practice.
“Other guys gotta step up and other guys get an opportunity…” – Coach Scott after today’s practice. Full [VIDEO] ow.ly/iLucU
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) March 11, 2013
The brunt of that responsibility should fall on the Cavs’ first round pick, Dion Waiters, although he may not see it as daunting a task.
The Cavaliers are 4-6 when they play with Waiters in the lineup and Irving not. Among those wins include the playoff bound Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks. For a team currently in last place in the division, that can be somewhat reassuring looking to the future.
In those 10 games, Waiters’ numbers have spiked as he has displayed the capability to play either guard position.
Naturally, Waiters’ minutes increased in those games from 29.5 to 35.2. More significantly, his offensive production didn’t wane.
Waiters’ points increased from 14.2 to 18.4 and his assists from 3.2 to 4.9.
It was clear in last night’s loss in Toronto that with a game on the line, Waiters will not shy away. He attacked the rim multiple times down the stretch with plenty of deft moves to create the openings.
This was best illustrated when he utilized a Euro-step to tie the game late at 94. On another late possession he passed on a ball screen with an in-and-out dribble and beat the help-side defense for an uncontested layup.
The ball remained in his hands late in the fourth quarter, proving that coach Byron Scott has the confidence in his young rookie to run the team and take the big shot. If it weren’t for a missed fade away and a couple missed free throws from Waiters, the Cavs would have walked out of Canada with a win.
Regardless, the Cavs’ Achilles heel all season has been their defense. They simply could not get a stop late against the Raptors. Perhaps Waiters can change that, too, with solid on-the-ball defense and marking the other team’s best perimeter threat.
Yes, Waiters has already stepped up his production with Irving out. Now with the team’s center piece gone for what could be the remainder of the season, Waiters, along with his youthful cohorts, must learn to defend and close out down the stretch of close games.