For a man who claims to have known about the return of LeBron James before almost anyone else, Dion Waiters has blended into the background for what may be the first time in his career. He is known for an often brash attitude, and an ability to aggravate both opponent and teammate alike at times, but the hectic summer that has taken place in Cleveland has pushed him out of the spotlight.
Only time will tell whether this is a good thing or not. Waiters remains the type of player that Bill Simmons has affectionately referred to has an “irrational confidence guy.” The player who despite evidence to the contrary, honestly believes himself to be the most talented player on the roster and the key to anything that happens on the court.Due to finding himself on a young, developing, and underperforming roster, Waiters was given every opportunity to prove his talent last season. Playing in 70 games, and starting 24, Waiters averaged just more than 29 minutes per game.
But despite coming primarily off the bench, and finishing fifth on the team in minutes, only Kyrie Irving exceeded Waiters’ 14.2 field goal attempts. The make up of the team alone guaranteed that Waiters could shoot to his heart’s content.
Now, the situation couldn’t be much more different for the upcoming season. Waiters will now be called upon to be a complimentary player, and will be the fourth offensive option almost every time down the court. That’s just what happens when LeBron James and Kevin Love join a roster that already includes the reigning All-Star MVP in Irving.
And this is before mentioning players like Mike Miller, James Jones, and perhaps even Ray Allen, who all could potentially move ahead of him on the depth chart. Waiters has gone from being handed a role on the team, to suddenly having to earn every shot attempt.
It’s possible that Waiters could become a casualty for a team that is no longer interested in trying to compete, but now has full intentions on winning. Making the playoffs will no longer enough for the franchise, as anything short of the NBA Finals will feel like a disappointment for most.
No one really knows what his value is around the league. Fans themselves are divided on the matter.
Some see Waiters as the future of shooting guards in a league that is devoid of much high talent at the position, while others see a gunner who can’t contribute to a winning environment. It’s all dependent upon perspective.
The Cavaliers even shopped Waiters at the trade deadline last season, only to come up short on the value they anticipated. Not many teams were lining up for a the 22-year-old who has averaged more than 15 points through the first two years of his career.
The problem being that despite his talent and athletic ability, there isn’t much on the court that Waiters excels at.
With 508 total drives (which NBA.com classifies as any touch that starts at least 20 feet from the hoop and is dribbled to within 10 feet, excluding fast breaks), only 15 players leaguewide had more such attempts, but only seven players in the top 50 (Michael Carter-Williams, Damian Lillard, Brandon Jennings, Kemba Walker, Trey Burke, Raymond Felton, and Norris Cole) shot a worse percentage than Dion.
Of guards who averaged 25 minutes and appeared in a minimum of 65 games, Waiters finished second-worst in free throw percentage, ahead of only J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks, and bottom half for rebounding. He also made more than five fewer passes than Jonas Valanciunas, and this despite having possession of the basketball for 1.7 minutes more per game more than the young Toronto Raptors center.
He also shot just 26 percenton pull-up shots from behind the 3-point line, was barely top 40 on catch and shoot 3-point percentage (minimum 65 games played), and isn’t considered much of a defensive stalwart (which is putting it kindly at best).
For the first time in his career, Dion Waiters will now be forced to earn every minute he receives on the court and every shot he gets to take. Instead of being a building block for the future of Cleveland basketball, he could now become a luxury depth player for a team that intends to win.
Either that, or he could find himself on a one way ticket out of town.