As the summer offseason pushes on, yet another week has passed, which means there’s yet another Cavaliers rumor to discuss— this time involving a player that’s no stranger to trade gossip. The “Summer of Love,” as it’s now being called, and LeBron’s homecoming have brought a level of newfound media attention that most of the current roster has never been exposed to. Every week there is a new trade scenario in the works, a new player on the move. Kanye West might think he and Kim Kardashian are “2 LeBrons,” and I’d make a case that the Cavaliers are quickly becoming the NBA’s version of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. This week’s episode goes like this: with Andrew Wiggins signing his rookie contract (making him untradeable for 30 days), whispers from the all-knowing NBA sources claim Dion Waiters, just named to the USA Select Team, will be on the move—yet again—to a third team in any Kevin Love trade. His hometown Philadelphia 76ers are one possible destination, as is Denver: http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/sports/sixers/Sixers-reportedly-interested-in-acquiring-Dion-Waiters-.html
Dion Waiters is no stranger to the trade market and has been involved in his fair share of controversy since his college days, mostly surrounding his maturity and effort (or lack thereof). Last season, at the start of a 4-7 season, the Cavaliers reportedly held a team meeting, with Kyrie Irving sporting a black eye and Dion Waiters missing games for “flu-like symptoms” the following week. An actual Twitter beef involving Browns knucklehead wide receiver Josh Gordon ensued (Gordon, the neighbor of Waiters, was obviously Team Dion). Sources claim Dion Waiters called Irving out for playing buddy ball with Tristan Thompson, and that Uncle Drew is allowed to take more plays off defensively than the Syracuse alum. Waiters claimed he and Irving, who had never quite fit together in a backcourt as two ball-dominant guards, weren’t beefing. Dion Waiters told the media that:
I don’t hate this guy. I’m pretty sure he don’t hate me. I know he don’t hate me. I hope he don’t hate me.
Which is code for: “I don’t think he likes me at all…. he hasn’t answered my texts in three weeks .“ A very, very reassuring response from Dion Waiters. But hey, at least he’s not Kendrick Perkins. The media had a field day the ensuing month, and Dion Waiters was reportedly on his way to Philadelphia for Evan Turner. If that doesn’t tell you who the Cavaliers view as more valuable— Irving or Waiters—than I don’t what does. The message was sent very clear, in Harden-esque terms: he’s the franchise star (Irving) and you’re the role player (Waiters).
Flash-forward to the present and Waiters is once again in the news for the wrong reasons after a late-night Twitter Q&A provided fuel for the fire when Dion answered a follower the following response to coming off the bench:
Joking or not, with the addition of LeBron James and No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins to the fold, Dion Waiters’ starting role (and a backcourt partnership with Irving) is anything but set in stone. He later retracted the comments, but the damage was done. Waiters had reignited the fire, and with the possibility of adding HOF sharpshooter Ray Allen to the mix, the flames are only getting bigger now.
But is getting rid of Dion Waiters the answer? Is it even necessary? Is he at all useful? Let’s dig deeper.
Although his career hasn’t brought the success of 2012 classmates like Anthony Davis, Damian Lilliard and most recently Andre Drummond, Waiters is far from a bust. The No. 4 selection out of Syracuse boasts career averages of 15.3 PPG, 3.0 APG and 2.6RBG on 42.4/34.2 percent shooting splits. He showed real progress as his second season went on including an eight-game stretch of averaging 22.0 PPG and 5.1 APG while Irving was inactive, and he finished the last 21 games of this past season averaging 19.6 PPG and 3.7 APG on 45.5/37.6 percent shooting.
OK, so the Dwayne Wade comparisons were a little off, but Waiters is still only 22-years old and has continued to improve over the last two seasons, upping his scoring from 14.7 to 15.9 PPG and raising his shooting percentages from 41.2/31.0 to 43.3/36.8 in year two.
Efficiency, not ability, is Dion Waiters’ Achilles heel. Scoring 15.9 PPG is a pretty solid mark. Needing 14.2 shots to get those points is not so solid.
Dion Waiters is a below average scorer driving to the hoop, making just 40.6 percent attempts when driving to the basket, which for someone who drives 7.3 times per game (good for 19th most in the NBA) is below average. Out of the top 25 players who average the most drives per game, only Damian Lilliard and Michael Carter-Williams convert less than Waiters. The median number is somewhere in the 47-49 percent range. Playing with an improved group of teammates (read: LeBron) in a Princeton-themed offense that emphasizes heavy doses of back cutting could cause a minor uptick in his efficiency next season. That tends to be the case when all five opponents are watching one of your teammates; easy scoring opportunities are to be had.
Dion Waiters, as previously noted, is a ball-heavy guard, meaning he needs the ball in his hands to be effective. Out of his 14.2 shots per game, 3.4 just came on catch-and-shoot field goals per game last season, and he converted 41.9 percent of his opportunities. This number might seem a little low (especially since he had limited attempts), but league leaders in the catch-and-shoot category like Klay Thompson and Arron Afflalo for instance (two fellow shooting guards of varying ability levels), shot 44.2 percent and 44.6 percent respectively, meaning Dion Waiters isn’t statistically that far behind. It should be noted that these players (and many other league leaders) have a much higher Effective Field Goal Percentage, which values a three-point shot as 1.5 times more valuable than a two-pointer, and follows the ideology that making a three-point attempt is much more valuable than a long two for instance. Waiters EFG stands at 57.2 percent, and the previously mentioned players were 59.9 percent and 57.7 percent. Statistically speaking, Dion Waiters is a respectable jump shooter when he’s not dribbling the ball. Known for his love of all things chucking, Dion is actually a good catch-and-shoot option. Given the assumed majority of ball handling that will fall to Irving and James in the first team, Waiters may actually be a fit with them offensively if he plays under more control and forces less attempts. Defensively the edge will go to Wiggins because of his length and ability to defend multiple positions, but his range is still a work in progress. Miller and Allen are gifted veterans with specialized abilities (Allen is the greatest three-point marksmen of all time and Miller is a hustler and to a lesser extent a three-point shooter), but neither is suited for heavy minute totals at this stage of their careers.
Pull-up jump shots are his bread and butter. He scored 323 points off of pull-ups last season (good enough for 31st most in the NBA), and converted at a rate of 38.9 percent. While that number itself isn’t awful (James Harden and Damian Lillard shot 38.7 and 38.4 percent, respectively), Kyrie Irving already makes a living off of the pull-up (fourth most pull-up points in the NBA). A backcourt where both spots are manned by players who need to dribble and shoot to be useful does not make an effective pairing.
Given the addition of Mike Miller, Andrew Wiggins and possibly Ray Allen to the off guard spot, the Cavaliers will be able to throw a number of different combinations of strengths and players this season. Dion Waiters is a good player, and more importantly a valuable asset. He and Kyrie Irving play a very similar brand of basketball, except Irving plays it better. While some have called for Waiters to have a Ginoboli-like role off the bench for the Cavaliers this season, he may be a fit in the starting lineup if he can show the ability to play within the offense. I myself actually believe Waiters won’t perform any better if he is left in lineups where he is the primary ball handler and scorer. He takes on too much of a challenge to create for himself and ends up forcing more shots than he needs to. If Dion Waiters cannot show the coaching staff that he can play within a system that will be predicated on more movement without the ball, and that he can adjust to playing with less touches per game, than he could find himself in a limited role of “gunner” off the bench (i.e. a poor man’s Jamal Crawford), or even worse, on the move.
If the Cavaliers are indeed pursuing Kevin Love, without giving up Andrew Wiggins, then it’s safe to assume that any deal will have to include Dion Waiters. But if a deal cannot be made, or if the Flip Saunders coached/managed/owned Timberwolves (has this ever happened before? How did Saunders go from ESPN analyst to the most powerful man in Minnesota not named Adrian Peterson?) choose to send Love elsewhere, which is looking less likely if the, “I’ll only re-sign in CLE,” rumors are to be true (and would leave the TWolves with no leverage in a trade. They’d be forced to find a way to field a contending team in hopes that it will sway Love to re-sign long term a la LaMarcus Aldridge last year in Portland), then Dion Waiters is probably the first player offered in any deals (assuming the thought process goes something like: shooting guard is the Cavaliers deepest position; Thompson protects the paint still better than Love and Bennett is showing some potential. I believe the TWolves would rather have Waiters than Bennett if that’s all they’re going to receive. Bennett is still too unproven to be the main asset in a trade in my opinion). Either way Dion must prove he can adapt once more if he wants to stay in the Cavaliers’ long-term plans. Regardless of a trade scenario being realized or not, Dion Waiters faces a near make or break summer with the Cavaliers. The new regime is looking for players that fit the system and eachother NOW, not later. If Waiters’ scoring is made to be just a commodity and not of real value, then his favorable contract (a one-year, $5.1 million team option) becomes trade fodder and the Cavaliers will look to acquire players/picks that fit the new system for the following year.
VERDICT: Give him X amount of games to show his value/fit, but expect him to be the first name announced in any trade that acquires more talent.
Stats come from the NBA’s SportVU player tracking data.