Okay, Cavalier fans, I’m going to ask you to do what may be the impossible. Forget about Kevin Love for a moment. I know, it seems like the Cavaliers are on the verge of a big move and that big move may be for the Minnesota Timberwolves power forward, but for the sake of this piece I need you to imagine a world in which both Dion Waiters and Andrew Wiggins are on the Cavaliers’ roster this coming season. While both men are talented young players, they each play with a very different style, and the question for the Cavaliers and their fans is which of these two young talents should be the team’s starting shooting guard when the season begins? Today, we break down each player’s’ strengths and weaknesses to see how each man fits with the 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers.
Spacing from three-point shooting is an extremely important part of any offense in today’s NBA, and right now it seems you would give the edge to Waiters. The incumbent shooting guard shot 36.8 percent from three last year, while Andrew Wiggins only shot 34.1 percent from the shorter college three-point line. That being said, Waiters only shot 32.9 percent from three during his freshman year at Syracuse before improving to 36.3 percent as a sophomore. He then shot 31 percent from deep during his rookie year with the Cavaliers before improving to last year’s mark. Considering his higher percentage at a comparable time in age and experience, it’s quite possible that Wiggins becomes a better three-point shooter down the road, although Waiters will likely be better this year.
Andrew Wiggins also has the edge in free throw shooting, as he shot 77.5 percent from the line last year compared to 68.5 percent for Waiters, an abysmal mark for a wing. While Waiters shot better from the line (81.3 percent) during his freshman year of college, he has not done so sense, and his woes from the line last year were a drag on his overall efficiency. Wiggins also averaged 7.9 free throw attempts per 40 minutes last season, more than Waiters ever has in college or the NBA. Both men display terrific potential in their ability to get to the basket. Waiters can get by most defenders with his speed and superior handle, but struggles with elevating and finishing with his left hand. This causes him to struggle with finishing at the rim. He also has a poor shot selection that negates many of his offensive contributions. Wiggins has a better shot selection, and he posted a high percentage on baskets at the rim, but he was often finishing what others set up for him. Wiggins has a very poor handle that keeps him from creating his own shot at times as well as finishing at the rim on his own drives. Like Waiters, he also has trouble finishing with his left hand. Right now, you would give the edge to Waiters here, although being set up by LeBron James and Kyrie Irving will undoubtedly help Wiggins at the rim.
Wiggins has the edge here. The rookie uses his length and athleticism well on the defensive end, and while at Kansas he often guarded the opposing team’s best perimeter player. Of some concern is the fact that he only averaged 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks per 40 minutes last year despite his superior length and athleticism. This does make you wonder if Wiggins is overrated as a potential stopper on the defensive end. While Waiters was a steals machine at Syracuse, much of that is due to the program’s famed zone defense, as he has been a poor defender during his first two years in the NBA (fellow former Syracuse players such as Wesley Johnson and even Carmelo Anthony rated as plus defenders in college, but have been poor on that side of the ball in the NBA). Waiters does have some potential as a defender due to his strength and athleticism, but he is undersized for a shooting guard, and often puts little effort into his defense. Neither of these last two points can be said about Andrew Wiggins.
This really isn’t a main strength for either player. Wiggins averaged 5.9 rebounds per game last season. That is a decent number for a small forward, but a great one for a shooting guard. Waiters has never averaged even four per game in any season of his college or professional careers, and both Byron Scott and Mike Brown talked about him needing to focus more on rebounding. Andrew Wiggins is simply bigger and more athletic, and if he could keep up his rebounding numbers while playing alongside LeBron James, Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao, that would be a huge help for the Cavaliers.
If Andrew Wiggins has the advantage on defense, then passing and ball handling is all Waiters. Waiters is a tremendous passer with a great handle who has averaged more assists than turnovers in every one of his college and professional seasons. He is able to work as the main ball handler when needed and was often the Cavaliers’ backup point guard on offense while Matthew Dellavedova played more shooting guard alongside him. Waiters has averaged 3.7 assists and 2.6 turnovers per 36 minutes during his two years in the NBA, and those numbers could improve with better offensive options around him. Wiggins’s ball handling is probably his greatest weakness at this point in his career. During his lone season at Kansas, Wiggins averaged only 1.9 assists per 40 minutes while also averaging 2.8 turnovers during the same time. That needs to improve for him to do anything other than play off the ball.
Cavaliers GM David Griffin often talks about fit being an important part of building a basketball team. Sometimes fit means having one of your top five players come off the bench while an inferior player starts over them. While it is likely that Dion Waiters is currently a better player than Andrew Wiggins, it may also benefit the Cavaliers to have Wiggins start while Waiters comes off the bench. Wiggins would give the Cavaliers a very good defender who could both help spell LeBron James on that end of the floor and cover up for Kyrie Irving’s poor defense. Andrew Wiggins would also benefit offensively by having James and Irving take up the attention of opposing teams’ defenses and by their ability to create easy looks for Wiggins both at the rim and for wide-open looks on the perimeter. Meanwhile, Waiters could benefit as the main focus of the second unit. He would be able to play with the ball in his hands during times both James and Irving were resting and could use his superior ball handling to keep the offense moving while flanked by shooters such as Dellavedova, Mike Miller and James Jones. Starting Waiters would limit one of his greatest skills: the ability to create for both himself and others with the ball, as he would spend almost all of his time playing off the ball while James and Irving facilitate. While Waiters has been reluctant to assume the sixth man role, he should look at the careers of Jamal Crawford and Vinnie Johnson, players with similar games, and realize that his potential as a sixth man may be the way for him to receive more money, individual accolades and championships than he ever could as a starter.