Feb 9, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters (3) sits on the court in the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

What Dion Waiters Needs To Do


In a little over one year since the Cleveland Cavaliers took him fourth overall in the 2012 NBA draft, Dion Waiters has taken many fans on an emotional rollercoaster. There was surprise when David Stern called his name that night. There was excitement among fans that knew that Waiters was viewed highly by many scouts and scored extremely well on John Hollinger’s draft rater. There was anger when he showed up to Summer League obviously out of shape. Since then, fans continue to be divided on whether or not the Cavaliers were correct in selecting Waiters. Some fans see him as a potential star with the body and athleticism to get to the rim at will and be a prolific scorer in the NBA. Others see him as a chucker with poor shot selection, and feel that the Cavaliers should have taken small forward Harrison Barnes with the fourth pick (I am pro-Waiters as I can’t see Barnes being anything more than a solid role player, as evidenced by his rookie stats and lack of solid projections by several analytics experts). Whether or not you were a fan of the Waiters pick, he is here and will play a major part in the Cavaliers’ quest for the playoffs this season. Today we will take a look at Waiters, as well as some players he has been compared to, and see what he needs to do to both fit alongside Kyrie Irving and be the most effective player he can.

The chart below compares the per-36 minute numbers of Waiters’ first season with the rookie seasons of seven other active NBA players he has been compared to by various analysts. All statistics were found on basketball-reference.com.

Player PTS AST REB FG% 3P% 3PA FT% FTA BLK STL PER TS% eFG%
Dion Waiters

18.3

3.8

3.4

0.412

0.31

4.2

0.746

4.4

0.3

1.2

13.7

0.492

0.451

Dwyane Wade

16.8

4.7

4.2

0.465

0.302

0.9

0.747

5.3

0.6

1.5

17.6

0.53

0.475

Iman Shumpert

11.9

3.5

3.9

0.401

0.306

1

0.798

2.3

0.2

2.1

10.8

0.484

0.446

Marcus Thornton

20.3

2.2

4.1

0.451

0.374

6

0.814

3.4

0.2

1.1

17.4

0.55

0.517

Monta Ellis

13.6

3.2

4.3

0.415

0.341

3.3

0.712

2.4

0.4

1.3

11.1

0.486

0.459

Rodney Stuckey

14.5

5.3

4.3

0.401

0.188

0.5

0.814

5.2

0.2

1.6

13.8

0.484

0.404

Russell Westbrook

16.9

5.9

5.4

0.398

0.271

1.7

0.815

5.8

0.2

1.5

15.2

0.489

0.414

Tyreke Evans

19.5

5.6

5.1

0.458

0.255

1.9

0.748

6.3

0.3

1.5

18.2

0.529

0.473

 

The similarities between Waiters’ rookie year and those of these players are fairly apparent when looking at these numbers.  Waiters compares well with some players in certain areas and poorly in others, but there is not an exact comparison. The only player significantly ahead of Waiters as a rookie was Dwyane Wade, a nine time All-Star and future Hall of Famer. One could argue that both Thornton and Evans were well ahead of Waiters as rookies, but Evans’ regression until last season shows his ceiling is probably limited, while Thornton, despite similar physical measurements, as well as block and steal numbers, is much more of a three point shooter and less of a passer and slasher. He may look similar, but he really isn’t. Regardless, there are things that we can learn by studying these players that point out potential tweaks to Dion Waiters’ game which could make him more effective.

1.    Cut out the three-point shooting.

Last season Waiters took 4.2 three-point attempts per 36 minutes while making only 31 percent of them, well below league average. Some of these shots need to go. While the three point shot is more important to an NBA offense than ever before, successful players play to their strengths as much as possible. Dwyane Wade is not a good three-point shooter, but it doesn’t matter as he rarely takes them. Wade attempted less than one three per 36 minutes as a rookie and attempted roughly one per 36 last season. While Wade’s use of the three-pointer has fluctuated over the years, he is typically at his most efficient (and effective) when ignoring this shot. Meanwhile Monta Ellis attempted 3.8 threes per 36 minutes last year and made less than 29 percent of them. Shot selection is one of the major differences between these two players and why Wade is so much more highly regarded than Ellis. In fact, in the 2007-2008 season, arguably Ellis’ most efficient year, he attempted only 0.6 threes per 36 minutes. Rodney Stuckey has also seen his effectiveness dwindle as his three-point attempts have increased throughout his career. None of this is to say that Waiters should never take any jumpers (if he didn’t, teams would just sag off of him towards the rim). He has a fairly effective mid-range game, particularly from the left side. While there is also a chance his three-point shooting improves as he spends more time working with the Cavaliers coaching staff, the lesson right now is know thyself.

2.    Get to the line…and convert!

One of the largest rewards for a perimeter player who can get to the rim at will like these men can is the bonus of repeated trips to the charity stripe. Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook are elite players because thy get to the line anywhere from 6 to 10 times a game. That’s 5 to 7 points for a decent free throw shooter. In fact, all of these men have had better numbers in the years that they get to the line the most frequently. While Waiters showed the ability to get to the rim last year, he only attempted 4.4 free throws per game. Some of this was the referees not giving calls to a rookie, but a lot of it was also Waiters trying to be to tricky with his shot and avoiding contact. To fix this, he must work on creating contact on his drives. At just under 75 percent, his free throw shooting could use some work as well.

3.    Rebound

Waiters’ rebounding rate of 3.4 per 36 minutes is the worst of any player on the chart as a rookie. Part of this could be explained by his playing with great rebounders such as Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson, but as a team the Cavaliers were not great in this area. While Andrew Bynum, Anthony Bennett, and Earl Clark (an underrated rebounding machine) will soak up even more of these opportunities, it is important that Waiters improve his efforts in this area. With his speed, athleticism, and passing Waiters has the ability to turn nearly every defensive rebound into fast break points for himself or his teammates. Offensive rebounds by Waiters should be used to restart the offense or for quick finishes at the rim.

4.    D-Up!

Because of the Cavaliers’ all-around abysmal play on defense, many people have forgotten that Waiters was considered to be a very solid defensive prospect coming out of college. As shown in this excellent article on the Syracuse zone defense, Waiters was able to create a turnover on roughly 5.8 percent of his possessions played, and an amazing 38.8 percent of the possessions in which he directly engaged the opposing player. Waiters also ended approximately 4.6 percent of defensive possessions with a steal, ranking 13th in the NCAA in this category.  Kevin Pelton has also compared Waiters to Iman Shumpert of the New York Knicks, a strong perimeter defender. While Waiters was moving from a zone to more of a man-to-man scheme (or whatever it was the Cavaliers were trying to do last year), and rookies tend to struggle defensively in the NBA, Waiters spent too much time watching the ball and letting his man move freely when he was not in possession. While Waiters is somewhat undersized for a shooting guard, players such as Wade, Kyle Lowry, and Ben Wallace have proven to be extremely effective defenders for their positions despite being undersized. Improvement in this area is crucial to both Waiters and the Cavaliers as a whole in terms of development.

5.    Keep Moving

One of the biggest things Waiters must still improve on offensively is playing without the ball. Far too often, Waiters would just stand on the perimeter and watch as Irving, Shaun Livingston, or another Cavalier would set the offense. This is not a huge shock as Waiters has always had the ball in his hands with any other team he played for. While Irving could be accused of doing the same thing when Waiters has the ball, he is also the point guard, offensive focal point, and best offensive player on the team. Therefore, the blame will likely fall on Waiters if the two struggle to play together.  For the Cavaliers to reach their potential this season, Waiters must learn how to be effective while being the second perimeter option, much like Westbrook had to do with Kevin Durant, or Wade had to do with LeBron James. Also, with Mike Brown making the decision to play Dion exclusively at shooting guard, it is important that he become adept at cutting, coming off of screens, and creating space for himself in areas that Irving/Jarrett Jack can find him and he can be successful.

Cavalier fans that are excited about Dion Waiters have every right to be. He has shown some elite skills, a drive to improve, and finished on the NBA All-Rookie First Team last season. What will determine his success not only this coming season, but for the rest of his NBA career, will be the way he fine-tunes his game over time. With some more hard work and a better understanding of his strengths and weaknesses, Dion Waiters has the potential to be something truly special.

Tags: Cleveland Cavaliers Dion Waiters Dwayne Wade Featured Kyrie Irving