After a mixed start the Cleveland Cavaliers are reeling now, dropping four of their past five games and two straight at home. After losing badly to the Timberwolves, the team held a players-only meeting to air out grievances. Things grew confrontational and rumors spread that an altercation between guards Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters occurred. Waiters would go on to miss the next two games with an undisclosed injury, while Irving has played with a mask to protect a slightly broken nose and black eye. Since returning to the team, Waiters has denied these allegations.
Even if Kyrie and Waiters didn’t throw punches, there are still clearly major chemistry issues in Cleveland. The team has no rhythm, especially offensively. The Cavs currently average 92.4 points per game, which ranks 27th in the NBA, and have an offensive rating of 96.9, second worst in the league. Irving, the team’s catalyst, has struggled greatly, and they haven’t received much support from their big men either.
Head coach Mike Brown has struggled to build a team identity in his second tenure with the Cavs, and, outside of oft-injured center Anderson Varejao, the team does not have any veteran leadership to turn to for guidance. (Sorry, despite two rings, Andrew Bynum is the last person who should be asked to give advice to young players.) So perhaps the Cavaliers could receive the jolt through a lineup shakeup, particularly making Waiters the permanent sixth man.
During his sophomore year at Syracuse, Waiters served as the team’s sixth man and prospered in the role. He was named Big East Sixth Man of the Year and received AP Honorable Mention All-American honors. He averaged 12.6 points per game in 24.1 minutes, shooting 47.1%. He helped lead the Orange to a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, taking them to the Elite Eight where they lost to Ohio State 77-70. Despite never starting a game in college, the Cavaliers saw enough promise in Waiters to select him with the fourth overall pick in the 2012 Draft.
In his rookie season, Waiters played 61 games, starting 48 of those. Despite playing fewer minutes, Waiters put up slightly better numbers in most categories when coming off the bench. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of his numbers:
Aside from assists, Waiters saw his stats improve in all other categories, especially his shooting percentages. The Cavaliers could use Waiters in a similar way to how the Thunder used James Harden when he still called Oklahoma City home. Obviously, Waiters is not nearly as good as Harden, but he could offer a similar spark off the bench. The offense could run through Waiters and he would still get to play with either Bynum or Varejao, whichever one does not get the start. This could place Waiters in a role he feels more comfortable with, and avoid whatever chemistry issues or clashes of style Irving and Waiters may have.
The Cavaliers gave C.J. Miles the start Wednesday against Washington, but he got injured after playing only three minutes, leading Waiters to have to play big minutes with the rest of the starters again. He struggled, going 2-for-13 for 11 points. Still, the Cavaliers should continue to bring Waiters off the bench. He’s struggled so far averaging only 13.1 PPG on 37.4%. The team wouldn’t exactly be disrupting anything. Right now, the team needs to try everything to create a flow, and shaking up the starting lineup may just be the jolt the players need.