ESPN Insider Bradford Doolittle has been ranking the top 10 players at all five starting positions, and on Tuesday he continued the rankings by moving on to the shooting guards. The Cleveland Cavaliers have suddenly acquired one of the top starting lineups in the NBA — especially with small forward LeBron James and power forward Kevin Love in the mix. So far four Cavalier players have been ranked in the top 5 or above at four different positions. Although most expected Kyrie Irving, James and Love to make these lists and land within the top 5, few expected to see Dion Waiters’ name come up as early as it did on the SG list.
So how did ESPN and Doolittle put together these lists? They used WARP — Wins Above Replacement Player — which looks at evaluating players by looking at a roster with them on it and surrounded by four average players. But this season it looks more at the real plus-minus of that player as well, measuring a player’s efficiency on both ends of the floor. Last season Dion Waiters was nowhere to be found. In fact, he wasn’t even listed in the top 15 nor was he a player of note. Now with the additions of James and Love, Waiters automatically becomes a better player.
Doolittle is predicting a WARP of 6.9 with a win percentage of 55 for the Cavaliers when Dion Waiters is in the game. Here is what ESPN had to say about Cleveland’s third-year shooting guard:
Waiters is a combined minus-0.4 WARP during his two NBA seasons, so the system might be a little optimistic with this forecast. What the metrics might be missing is the intrinsic value of Waiters’ ability to create offense. Despite a well-below-average true shooting percentage, Waiters’ offensive RPM has been positive in both his seasons and reached plus-1.8 last year. If the optimism of his forecast proves to be warranted, it’s a scary proposition for the rest of the NBA. Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving clocked in at No. 5 in our rankings yesterday. It’s probably not spoiling anything to tell you that James and Kevin Love will rate very high at their respective positions as well. If Waiters really develops into a top-five shooting guard, that will be something to see.
ESPN is right to say that it will be something to see if Waiters develops into a top five shooting guard. The talent level at shooting guard does not match up with the talent level at point guard, small forward and power forward, but there are a lot of effective players on this list. James Harden tops off the list, as he should; he’s one of the NBA’s top players. The three other players in front of Dion Waiters are Dwyane Wade, Monta Ellis and Jimmy Butler. Following the Cavaliers shooting guard on Doolittle’s pre-season projections are Tyreke Evans, Victor Oladipo, Klay Thompson, Manu Ginobili and Lance Stepehenson. The two big surprises on this list are how high Wade is (the falloff is way too noticeable) and Thompson being ranked too low. Although things look good on paper right now, only time will tell if Waiters makes the third-year leap and becomes a top 5 player at his position.