The Cleveland Cavaliers are on a mission this season: to make the playoffs. This is a mandate that has clearly permeated down through the organization. From the hiring of a strong, defensive coach, to the reports that the Cavs didn't see any rookie in the draft class as a starter. Clearly, Dan Gilbert is ready for the team to start winning again. Some of the moves made this offseason are prime examples of the Cavs' objectives. For example, picking up Jarrett Jack spoke volumes for Cleveland's desire to replace our sub-par bench last year with quality NBA role players.
However, we all know that our free agent acquisitions aren't going to be what puts the Cavaliers over the top (barring Andrew Bynum playing like it was 2011). For the Cavs to truly make the playoffs, and possibly even make some noise in the playoffs, we are going to need significant improvements from our young core. Tristan, Kyrie, Dion, and possibly even Zeller all need to continue to build on the positive skills that they have displayed in the past two seasons. Given that, I wanted to create a series of FanPosts that look at what we can or should expect to see from each player next year. First up is Dion Waiters.
Perhaps the most polarizing of the four, Dion can almost certainly be considered the most up-and-down (the case for Zeller fizzles out when the realization that he was mostly down last year) player. In the recent SBNation top 100 players of 2017, Waiters was ranked #73. Sam Vecenie had this to say about Dion, specifically his potential:
I have no idea what to think. Can Waiters become more efficient? Does he learn how to play man-to-man defense within an NBA scheme? He’ll either be much higher or much lower than this ranking in 2017, so 73rd seems like a good way to average it out.
Dion just finished his rookie season, putting up solid but not great numbers. He finished the season averaging 14.7 PPG, 3.0 APG, 2.5 RPG, and 1.0 SPG. However, he was a rather inefficient, shooting 41.2% from the field, 31.0% from behind the arc, and 74.6% from the line, to the tune of a 49.2% true shooting percentage. Much has been made of his shooting woes, and Dion himself has recognized his need to play more efficiently. In an interview, he stated that he has been working on his three point shot, with the goal being to shoot 45%.
While it is ludicrous to expect Dion to improve his 3PT% by 15%, it is very reasonable to expect moderate improvement. The list of rookie guards who shot between 28% and 34% include the likes of Chris Paul, Joe Johnson, Tony Parker, J.R. Smith and many other notable players. Both Smith and Paul increased their shooting percentages by over 6% the next year, and Johnson increased his by 7% between his rookie year (when he played 77 games) and his fourth season (his first year playing over 50 games since his rookie season). Clearly, there is definitely a precedent for young players to improve their three point shooting drastically.
Hopefully, Dion sees the benefits of all of his work on his shooting this coming season. The question that remains is this: using previous players in their rookie years, what kind of production can we expect from Dion next season? I ran a filtered search to see how Dion's season ranked among other rookie guards. Other guards who averaged 14 ppg, 3 apg, and less than 44% shooting include Ray Allen, Jason Richardson, J.R. Smith, and James Harden. Of these players, the most common comparison for Dion is James Harden, due to both's ability to shoot from three, get to the basket, and create for others. Harden improved his scoring average from 10 to 12 ppg, Smith received a downgrade in playing time, Richardson improved marginally, and Ray Allen really took off and started becoming a superstar.
Again, it is not unreasonable for Dion to make some serious improvements to his game. Jumping from 14.5 ppg to 20 ppg, like Ray Allen, is an unfair expectation. However, let's examine Dion in the company of the two players Cavs fans often compare him to: Dwyane Wade and Harden.
In Wade's rookie season, he averaged (note: all stats used in this section are per 36 unless stated otherwise) 16.8 points, 4.7 assists, and 1.5 steals on 46% shooting and 30% from threes. Harden averaged 15.6 points, 2.7 assists, and 1.7 steals, shooting 40% from the field and 37% from the arc. Dion averaged 18.3 points, 3.8 assists, and 1.2 steals with 41% from the field and 31% from threes. The key is Harden and Wade's next years. For Wade: 22.4 ppg/6.3 apg/48%; for Harden: 16.4 ppg/2.9 apg/43%. The X-factor for Dion is to improve his efficiency--something we all know and have said. Dion isn't going to be Dwyane Wade, but he definitely should have a better sophomore season than Harden.
When you examine the elements of Wade's (great playmaking, outstanding finishing at the rim, lockdown defense) and Harden's (good PnR ballhandler, good outside shooter, efficient player), Dion seems to fall somewhere in the middle. He likely will never put up as many points as Wade did in his prime, and he probably won't shoot as well as Harden has throughout his first four years in the league. However, Dion definitely can play defense in a similar vein as Wade, and shoot a three point percentage between Wade's and Harden's.
What I'll be looking for from Dion next year (other than defense, which has been addressed many times) is his efficiency: will he be closer to J.R. Smith or James Harden--or even Dwyane Wade? To answer the question that I raised in the first paragraph, I expect that Dion averages about 16-18 points per game, with 4 or 5 assists, while shooting around 43% from the field and 35% from threes.
And that, I believe, is good enough to take us to the playoffs.