NEW YORK — Despite a difficult start to the season for Dion Waiters — his points, rebounds, assists and minutes per game have all taken a significant dip from last season, not to mention his shooting percentages also plummeting — the Cleveland Cavaliers guard maintains his only focus is on the team.
“It’s all right. We’re winning,” Waiters told ESPN.com following Cavs shootaround Thursday. “It ain’t about me right now. It’s not about me. As long as we’re winning (I’m fine).”
Indeed, Cleveland (9-7) is riding a four-game winning streak going into its matchup with the New York Knicks, but the Cavs’ ascension has coincided with a miserable slump for Waiters.
In his last seven games, Waiters is shooting 30.2 percent from the field and averaging just 6.0 points. For the season, he is averaging 8.5 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 23.1 minutes per game while shooting 36.8 percent overall and 25.8 percent from 3. Last season, Waiters averaged 15.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 29.6 minutes while shooting 43.3 percent from the field, including a 36.8 clip from deep.
“I’m going to find it,” Waiters continued. “I’ve been through this my first two years. Not like this, but you know, I haven’t been through this.”
What “this” involved is Waiters going scoreless for just the third time in his three-year career in the Cavs’ 111-108 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, a game in which he played just nine minutes, missed the only shot he took and didn’t get on the floor in the second half.
Waiters said he accepted his fate against Milwaukee because the Cavs came away with the victory.
“I didn’t even ask questions, man,” Waiters said. “Sometimes the game just goes like that. If you would have asked me that last year, I’d have gave you a crazy answer back. But I’m learning, man. It’s not about me. Right now in this situation, it’s about the team. Coach went with who he went with. We won, so I really can’t go to him and ask him why. If we had lost, it would have been a different thing. But we won, so I really can’t be mad.”
Cavs coach David Blatt, who replaced Waiters in the starting lineup with Shawn Marion after the Cavs’ 1-2 start to the season, has remained steadfast in his belief of Waiters’ ability to turn it around. But he ultimately put the onus on the former No. 4 pick to perform better.
“We can keep playing him and keep going to him and Dion is a professional,” Blatt said after Waiters went 1 for 5 in a win over the Indiana Pacers last weekend. “He’s not a young kid anymore. He’s a seasoned NBA player and he’ll pull himself up as he should.”
LeBron James echoed Blatt’s stance on Waiters following the Milwaukee game.
“I think all of us, we know he’s a very, very good basketball player,” James said. “And when his number is called, I think the best thing is to come in with a lot of energy and effort and you can’t worry about the ball going in. All of us, we all know that. We can’t control it. It’s a make-or-miss league. One thing you can control is how hard you play and how much you give to the team, how much you sacrifice for the team and we’re all trying to do that.”
And Cavs general manager David Griffin told ESPN.com the team is waiting for Waiters to adjust to the demands of contributing in short spurts, much the same way Tristan Thompson has learned how to become an effective backup big man after starting all 164 games for Cleveland the last two seasons.
Waiters doesn’t lack for confidence, saying Thursday, “Everybody knows what I can do, man. Everybody knows. They’ve seen it.”
But he still appears to be searching for answers.
“It’s been up and down,” Waiters said. “It’s a process for everybody, man. Including myself. You got to stick with it and just believe, believe in the system for right now and hopefully everything will turn around.
“I’m used to having the ball, man. So, not really having the ball in my hands … it’s just me trying to find different ways to impact the game.”
In that respect, Waiters has adjusted to make the most of the opportunities he is given. He has upped his steals per game average from 0.9 to 1.3 this season, perhaps signifying a greater defensive commitment. He has also bettered his free throw percentage from 68.5 percent to 74.1, perhaps signifying a greater attention to detail. And it’s not like it’s been a total disaster for him so far, as he already has a couple signature moments off the bench, like when he came up with 17 points and two huge steals to secure a road win in Denver or when he dished out a game-high eight assists in the Cavs’ 127-94 romp of the Atlanta Hawks.
“When I do get in the game, just getting me going,” Waiters said. “How do you get me going? If that’s running plays or things where I can impact and get going. But once I’m in the flow, I’m in the flow. It’s hard to get me out of that. So we just haven’t found ways for me to really, really impact the game yet. In Denver, and things like that, the defense led to offense, so we got to just find ways to get me involved.”
Still, there is obvious frustration from what Waiters is being asked to do right now.
“Any other place, it’d be probably different, but here I got to take that role of coming off the bench,” Waiters said. “I’m very confident in myself. You know what I can do, I mean, as far as the skill set. It’s just about how you involve me.”
He and Blatt have worked on a plan to bust the slump. Now it’s time to set it in motion.
“We talked. We talked,” Waiters said. “And he said he’ll try to run more plays for me. We got to wait. We talked about it. It’s just about when it’s going to happen.”
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