The Great Dion Waiters Debate: Should We Overreact to Preseason?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

On any given day, you can find Conrad arguing with Dion Waiters doubters on Twitter in 140 character at a time bursts. Normally, I find myself agreeing with Conrad quite a bit. However, this is not one of those cases. As I'm amongst the privileged few who have Conrad's personal email address, I decided to have a longer, more nuanced, conversation about the newest member of the Cavalier family.

Angelo Benedetti: Look, I'm an optimistic guy. I was convinced LeBron would never leave Cleveland. If you dig hard enough, I'm sure you can find a post from my old blog where I predicted the Cavs would make the playoffs when he did leave because of JJ Hickson's development. I thought the Indians were a lock for the World Series in 2008 after doing absolutely nothing during that offseason. I saw Revenge of the Sith on opening night. I've convinced myself of more than my fair share of totally absurd shit.

That said, I'm freaking the hell out over Dion Waiters. Questionable (at best) shot selection, erratic drives to the rim, an ugly shot, limited range, the whole manner in which he was drafted, his past behavioral issues, all of it. I'm worried man. Talk me off the ledge.

Conrad Kaczmarek: Alright alright, chill out. First of all, shame on you for believing in JJ Hickson. Second, this is preseason. I really can't stress this enough -- it's preseason. It doesn't count. Has Dion Waiters had a rough start to his NBA career? Eh, I guess so, but that's what rookies do. He has struggled with his shot and it looks like he's forcing it. It's obvious in that first game that he was fading away on jumpers and not squaring himself to the basket. These are basic things that every NBA player knows and can be fixed with one film session. Does he look a little overwhelmed by the NBA game as a whole? You bet. Which is why we have these preseason games . It gives him (and Tyler Zeller) a chance to adjust. Byron Scott, as well as, Dion have admitted that the speed of the game is the biggest thing that the rookie shooting guard is struggling with. In college, guys probably didn't rotate on drives as quickly or close out on shooters as quickly as they do in the NBA. It's an adjustment and in just a few preseason games, you can see Dion catching up to it.

Angelo: I still hold that JJ Hickson, if he finds some motivation, can be an above average PF in this league. But that's another subject for another day, though.

See, this is my problem, you say that Waiters' problems "can be fixed with one film session". Then why haven't they been fixed? Or why hasn't he shown any improvement since Summer League? I know, it's preseason, but outside of a game or two, he's been amazingly consistent. If I saw signs of improvement, I'd feel better, but right now I am definitely worried. I'm not at all saying he's a bust or casting judgment on the guy, but I'm not seeing anything that makes me feel confident that he'll be able to contribute come the regular season. "It's the pre-season" isn't enough to make me feel better. Give me something concrete.

And I'll readily admit, I'm spoiled. Being a Cavs fan, the last two rookie campaigns I really followed were LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Set my expectations. What are you happy with? What are you looking for him to be able to do right now?

I think the crux of my concern is that we took the guy with the fourth pick. Harrison Barnes was still available. As was Andre Drummond. Guys that are contributing to their teams now. I could very well be wrong, and Waiters might wind up better than both of them, but I'm really confused as to how you can stay so calm watching him so far.

I should also add, according to Woj, the Cavs had Waiters above Beal on their draft board. "It's the preseason" isn't enough.

Conrad: I think you mean Windhorst, not Woj, but anyway -- I don't think that part is true. Windhorst never mentioned Beal and that's not the sense I got from the people I talked to in the organization. Either way, I don't think that's a big deal at all, but just look at this point from Windhort's post-draft article on ESPN.com:

"The Cavs also had real interest in shooting specialist Beal but were rather certain he would not get past the Wizards."

It seems to me that for the sake of the draft decision-making process, it was MKG or Waiters -- depending on what Charlotte did. Regardless, that's not the point. The point is that these things take time. You nailed it when you said that Cavs fans have been spoiled with the immediate greatness of Kyrie and LeBron. People need to understand how rare that is for a rookie. It doesn't happen. We're so focused on following the OKC model, right? Well look at James Harden or Russell Westbrook's rookie seasons. I'm not saying it's a sure thing that our guys develop like that, but typically, players take time to develop.

To your other point of "why isn't Dion Waiters getting better"….it's been, what, 5 or 6 games? You can't say that there's no difference between Summer League and now when everybody was freaking out about Waiters' condition in Summer League. Boom. Fixed that. And you say "outside of 1 or 2 games"…so we're down to 3 or 4 games now? What conclusions can you make off of 3 or 4 games? Especially when he's playing roughly 15-20 minutes per game? It's just illogical. To think that most players just walk onto an NBA court and have success immediately is ignorant of the enormous difference between college and the NBA. And it's taking credit away from the incredibly rare times when guys DO have success right away (like Kyrie).

Angelo: I always get those two confused. Whatevs.

I totally hear what you're saying. I know that this is going to take time and that there are examples of guys who started off slow but made it to superstar levels. But Waiters wasn't picked immediately before the drop in talent in this draft. He was picked fourth overall. Part of my concern involves Waiters current worrisome performance but the rest, and I think this is the question most people are tap-dancing around, is did Chris Grant whiff?

I look at guys who were picked after Tristan Thompson, and I'm okay with the pick. There's no one there, that was a reasonable pick at the time, that I can compare TT too and think "we should've picked him". Maybe Kawhi Leonard, but even then I feel like that's a bit of a stretch. But that's not the case here. I can immediately look at guys like Harrison Barnes or Jeremy Lamb or even Austin Rivers and see a player that's doing something that made sense at that pick.

It's much harder to give Chris Grant the benefit of the doubt here. Again, is there something I'm missing, especially with those other guys who came after him?

Conrad: I just think that it's way too early to be asking if Chris Grant "whiffed." I understand the idea that Tristan Thompson was an OK pick because there wasn't anybody good left anyway (no one was taking Kawhi or Faried or Klay Thompson 4th overall, stop that) but I also think that assumes something false about the Dion Waiters pick. Yes, there was still some talent left on the board in Barnes, Drummond, etc. but that doesn't mean Waiters wasn't part of that. There were plenty of people who couldn't decide on where any of these players fell after Beal, MKG, and The Brow. I guess you could argue that Barnes was more talented, but each player has their flaws. When there isn't a MAJOR talent differential, you take what you think fits best in your system and what works best with what you have. In the opinions of Grant and Byron Scott, that was Dion Waiters.

Going off of that idea, Coach Scott has a specific system in place. It's based on lots of motion from everyone on the court and big men who are mobile and can handle the ball in the high post (I'll do a post on this later once Synergy comes back). Most importantly, however, it requires two guards that can handle the ball. To compare the performances of Barnes, Lamb, Drummond, and Waiters after a couple weeks of training camp and preseason is just ignoring the fact that they're being asked to do different things. Now, I haven't gotten a chance to watch them all so I can't say definitively (but I doubt most critics have watched every preseason game, either). Regardless, is there not a chance that the Warriors are saying "here Harrison, do exactly what you're good at -- stand here and shoot or post up when you have a mismatch"? The Pistons aren't telling Andre Drummond to post up or take 15 footers -- they're telling him to jump high, rebound the ball, and catch alley-oops. On the other hand, Dion was touted for his ability to beat people off the dribble and break guys down. How often have you seen Byron Scott let him go ISO in preseason? When he went away from the called play and did his own thing, Byron benched him. The results are naturally skewed because Byron's philosophy in preseason is that it's for teaching and learning the system -- not simply doing what you already know you're good at. And I'm not saying Byron is the only coach who does that, but every system is different and coaches focus on different things. It's just different when you aren't specifically trying to win basketball games.

If you really want to get caught up on stats, Jeremy Lamb is shooting 36.7%, Beal 42.6%, Barnes 50% (skewed slightly due to an 8-11 game against a terrible Israeli team), Rivers 30.8%. Dion Waiters is at 39%. It's almost as if rookies struggle when they make the transition from college basketball to NBA basketball.

Angelo: This is why arguing these things on Twitter are dumb. 140 characters can never convey that message. You win this round, Kaczmarek, but if I still feel this way come March, we'll be talking again.


Of course, this isn't over until you get your say. Sound off in the comments. Am I over-reacting? Is Conrad being a bit too optimistic? What do you think?
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