Feb 9, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters (3) celebrates in the fourth quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

What's Next: Dion Waiters

In our “What’s Next” series, a Right Down Euclid writer will look at each individual member of the Cleveland Cavaliers by analyzing what their future looks like and/or what’s the next step in their development. In this piece, Zak Kolesar looks at Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters, who will be heading into his third season with the Cavs.

On May 8, it was announced that Los Angeles Clippers’ guard Jamal Crawford won the 2013-2014 Sixth Man of the Year award. After totaling the final votes for the award, one Cleveland Cavaliers player somewhat surprisingly made the list. As you can guess by the title of this post it was Dion Waiters, who received one second-place vote from Charlotte Bobcats beat reporter Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.

Dion’s placement in the Sixth Man of the Year voting most likely came as a shock to everyone except former Cavs head coach Mike Brown, who more than frequently inserted Waiters into a reserve role to start the season. In the 48 games prior to the All-Star Break, Waiters only saw the starting shooting guard role in nine of those contests. Those nine games came at the exact start of the season, but an injury (leading to Dion missing the following two games) sent the Syracuse project to the bench up until March 18.

The final 15 games of the season featured Waiters as a full-time starter, in which the Cavs finished 7-8 to end the year. Looking at how Waiters fared over the first nine games, final 15 games and off the bench shows that Waiters was much more efficient for the Cavs in the starting role:

Dion as a Starter (24 Games) vs. Dion Off the Bench (46 Games)

First 9 Games 28.4 39.8 41.4 46.7 14.4 25.5 91 106
Final 15 Games 36.0 45.7 35.2 53.3 19.2 28.2 105 112
Off the Bench 27.8 42.9 36.7 50.2 18.3 27.2 97 111


As you can tell by the numbers, Waiters was significantly better in every category except 3-point shooting and defensive efficiency to end the season. (He did, however, post higher numbers in those categories as a starter in the first nine games than he did off the bench). Something important to note in Dion’s development over the course of this past season is how often he was used in plays (usage percentage) and how his efficiency changed as his usage percentage climbed higher.

Evidenced by the statistics table located above, the more involved Dion was in the offense, the better he performed. One could also point to the upward trend in Dion’s on-court efficiency (in the eFG%, AST% and ORtg statistical categories) being a result of him maturing as a player as the season moved along. That’s a valid argument, but the amount by which he improved by from games 12 to 67 (off the bench) and games 68 to 82 (final 15 games) presents a much stronger argument.

First, with a usage percentage of 28.2 over the final 15 games (which would put him at 11th overall in the League and tied with teammate Kyrie Irving), Waiters was able to improve his true shooting percentage by 6.2 percent, his assist percentage by 4.9 percent and his offensive efficiency by 8.2 percent. Since his usage percentage was only one percent mark lower off the bench than it was over the final 15 games, the percentage increases in Waiters’ efficiency with a higher usage rate is statistical proof that he thrived more as a starter.

Taking into account the hard-nosed mentality of Waiters and it makes more sense that Dion was able to shed the bench monkey that Brown placed upon his shoulders. But something that was missing from Dion’s 24 games as a starter was Irving by his side at the tipoff. Since Kyrie’s injury at the end of the season came just after Waiters was inserted into the starting lineup, the two didn’t share the court as a starting pair very often in 2013 and 2014. So what was this duo’s full potential during the 2013-14 campaign? Well, let’s first take a look at two other backcourt duos that are often compared to the Irving/Waiters (combined age of 44) pairing:

Effectiveness of Young Backcourt Duos

GP MP ORtg DRtg TO Ratio TS% Pace Combined Age
Wall/Beal 73 1922.0 103.8 101.5 14.6 53.9 96.63 43
Curry/Thompson 77 2375.0 111.3 100.3 14.6 57.7 98.75 50


Because the sample size was extremely small, NBA.com/Stats was unable to gather enough information to calculate advanced statistics for the two-man lineup of Irving and Waiters. But will we ever be able to compare Irving and Waiters to the aforementioned rising backcourts? Out of the 20 different starting lineups that the Cavs sent out on the court during the 2013-14 season, the two only began the game on the court 16 times. In those 16 contests the Cavaliers went a paltry 6-10 (.375). But out of those 16 games Alonzo Gee started at the three in six of them (2-4), Earl Clark in six contests (2-4) and Andrew Bynum in one game (0-1). Players seen as in-betweeners and not of starting caliber were wrenches in the Cavs trying to move out of the rebuilding process. (Side note: In the four remaining games, the Cavs went 2-2 with Luol Deng at the three.)

Because of the untimely injuries that Irving and Waiters suffered over the past two seasons, it’s unfair for fans to jump to the conclusion that the Irving/Waiters backcourt can’t/won’t work. The season prior the two started in 35 games, winning 37.1 percent of those contests. Not very good numbers between this past season and the 2012-13 campaign, but the search for a starting small forward and a rim-protecting big is much more important than giving up on Waiters and looking to start over with a revamped backcourt. With the Cavs holding control of the No. 1 pick, the fix at three/five had a high probability of being fixed this offseason. But, whomever the Cavs decide to go with as head coach for the 2014-2015 season needs to realize that Waiters deserves a chance at the beginning of the season next to Kyrie as a starter (barring injuries) in order to come to a decision for the future of this team.

Although it was just one vote, if Dion appears on the end-of-the-season voting for Sixth Man of the Year next season, then something isn’t right. With much more important needs to address this summer, the Cavs should not be overly concerned about Waiters’ future with the club at the moment. His statistics as a starter – even with Kyrie out of the picture – show that improvement occurred once he was inserted into the starting lineup. Having him on the bench will in no way help the issues with the backcourt. The cluelessness that Brown showed when putting lineups together this past season proves that Dion shouldn’t have been taken out of the starting lineup after 11 games. The maturity that he showed in March and April as a starter does, however, prove that Waiters’ future with the Cavs looks bright if the right mind is in charge of the team next season.

Tags: Cleveland Cavaliers Dion Waiters Kyrie Irving

  • ck_dexter_haven

    “Bench monkey?”
    Seriously? Where ya from, Zak?

    Aside from the sentence in which that unfortunate bit of language appears… isn’t so much a ‘sentence.’

    Nice analysis, though.

    • Zak Kolesar

      Every thing can’t be looked at as having a racial intention, not what I meant AT ALL. Peyton Manning had a monkey on his back before he won Super Bowl 41 with the Colts. Dion Waiters had a monkey on his back because of Brown’s resistance to make him a starter. It’s a figure of speech. Didn’t mean to offend.

      • ck_dexter_haven

        Here are the problems with your response:
        • You can’t categorize your article as being part of “everything.” It is a specific piece of writing, and it is only this piece of writing that is being discussed. In that context, one CAN view it as having ‘racial context.’
        • No one said it had “racial intention.” I’m saying now, as I said earlier, that it has racial context. I even mentioned that it was “unfortunate language,” and insinuated that you may not be aware of the meaning, based, perhaps, on your personal origins. You haven’t disclosed your history in this country, so my comment stands.
        • Saying someone has a “monkey on his back” is VERY different from calling a person a monkey.
        • The United States has a VERY long, and complex racial history. As a writer, writing about American sports and athletes, it is your responsibility to know what your words mean and imply.
        • US history and language is NUANCED and complex. You cannot expect to be able to use the same words to characterize one individual and then the same words for another individual. As i said, one needs a certain level of sophistication and discernment where language is concerned. And, while this particular instance is race-related, the principal of the matter is not locked to race. You can pretty casually call a tall man or a ‘weight lifter’ “Big Guy.” But, if you call an obese person “Big Guy,” he’ll likely take offense. Language is constantly being calibrated in an adult mind.

        Sorry to have to point all of this out. In my initial post, I practically excused you, but still felt a published piece of work such as this needed to be EDITED TO CORRECT A PROBLEM — whether that problem was intentional or not. I appreciate that you didn’t mean to offend. Nevertheless, the offending, unfortunate phrase was still there, for all to see.