As the 2013-2014 NBA season finally approaches, it’s as good a time as ever to take a look at each player on the Cleveland Cavaliers roster. Up until opening night, the RDE staff will breakdown the entire Cavaliers roster. This profile looks at Dion Waiters.
Tale of the Tape:
Name: Dion Waiters
Years Experience: One
Years with Cavaliers: Second season
Weight: 221 lbs
Contract: Four-years, $16.7 million (team-option in year four) earning $ 3.89 million this season
The fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Dion Waiters looks to improve on an inconsistent, yet promising rookie season. The Cavaliers exercised Waiters’ third-year team option worth $4.06 million last Wednesday, solidifying the team’s trust in him as one of the building blocks for the future. Let’s take a look at the second-year guard.
Physical Tools: A player compared to a young Dwyane Wade because of his similar physical build and attacking mindset, Dion Waiters combines a terrific frame with strength and power. He’s not incredibly quick but uses his physicality to bully smaller defenders and has the muscle to finish among a crowd in the paint. After playing his rookie season at 221 pounds, the Philadelphia native trimmed the fat this offseason, even trying yoga in an attempt to grow into the best shape of his life. Head coach Mike Brown has specifically mentioned wanting Waiters to run in transition as much as possible to take advantage of his skills in the open court and Waiters’ rejuvenated body should be better prepared. He did miss 21 games last year with ankle and knee injuries.
Intangibles: Waiters is aggressive on both ends of the floor and has terrific instincts. He knows how to use his body to his advantage and he is especially shifty attacking out of isolations and in the pick-and-roll. He is a supremely confident player, sometimes to a fault. His poor shot-selection is a representation of his belief that he can make any shot at any time but should not be misconstrued for selfishness. He was unhappy in his reserve role after his freshman season at Syracuse and thought about transferring. But to Waiters’ credit, he changed his approach and was stellar off the bench the following season earning Big East Sixth Man of the Year. You also have to like Waiters’ humble beginnings, which helped shape the motto he lives by ‘humble and hungry.’ He genuinely seems like he wants to be the best he can be.
Offense: The 21 year-old was named to the All-Rookie first-team after a solid campaign, which saw him play 61 games (48 starts) averaging 14.7 points and three assists in 28.8 minutes. Waiters flashed his scoring ability in his fourth career game, exploding for 28 points with seven treys in an impressive road win over the Clippers. He had good and bad stretches and as all young players do, struggled with bouts of inconsistency. He shot 41.2 percent from the field on the season, converting just 31 percent from long-range (the league average was 36 percent). Some of that had to do with his knack for hoisting highly contested or ill-advised shots. Of the 61 shooting guards who played at least 55 games, Waiters ranked 52nd in True Shooting Percentage, a measure of shooting efficiency that encompasses all field goals and free throws. And while he has the body and skill-set to finish at the rim, he shot considerably below the league average near the basket (I’ll be taking a closer look at Waiters’ offensive game next week). Waiters did take a leap forward when the calendar turned to 2013 (37 games), attacking the rim with more regularity. His free throw rate jumped from a measly 2.7 attempts per game to four, and his scoring rate at the hoop skyrocketed from 43 percent to 68 percent over his final 31 games. Improved decision-making could also help Waiters advance his playmaking skills. His 3:2 assist to turnover ratio was not good and although he can break down a defense, he does not have point guard vision. With Jarrett Jack in the fold, Waiters won’t have to shoulder the load when Kyrie Irving sits, and the veteran’s presence should take some of the scoring pressure off the young buck.
Defense: At Syracuse, Waiters’ aggressive style wreaked havoc on opponents at the top of Jim Boeheim’s vaunted 2-3 zone defense. He averaged 1.8 steals in just 24 minutes during his sophomore season. But Waiters struggled in his transition back to the NBA’s preferred man-to-man defense. Much of it can be chalked up to his lack of man defense exposure in college; he had to re-learn man principles both on the ball and in team defense. He seemed to lose concentration easily, routinely failing to locate spot-up shooters and did not fight through enough screens. Thus, Waiters allowed opposing shooting guards to shoot a ridiculous 48 percent against him. Mike Brown had Cleveland ranked near the top of the league defensively in his first stint with the team and expects Waiters to be a key cog in turning around a Cavs unit that has ranked in the bottom five in defensive efficiency for three consecutive seasons. Expect Waiters to develop good defensive skills over time as he acclimates to the league and Brown’s proven system.
How does Waiters fit with the Cavaliers?
This is Waiters’ time to prove he is a viable starter in this league. He will be afforded every opportunity to stick as a foundational piece alongside Kyrie Irving in what could eventually be one of the most feared offensive backcourt tandems in the league. The structure that Brown provides should assist Waiters’ growth as he continues to adjust to his teammates and the NBA. Look for him to be heavily involved in the pick-and-roll game again and continually attack the heart of the opposition using his strength to his advantage. With the Cavs’ rebuilding chips squarely on the young shoulders of Irving and Waiters, it will be interesting to see how the two talent-laden guards play off each other this season.