Behind the Narrative: Are Dion Waiters and Bradley Beal really that much different?

Jason Miller

So far, the 2012 draft's #3 and #4 picks have taken different paths to the same result.

So I was minding my own business the other day -- watching a Cavs victory over the Detroit Pistons, if memory serves -- when this tweet made it's way across my timeline:

If you aren't familiar with Chris Towers, he is CBS' Fantasy Guru, and a good follow for all things fantasy and hoops. I would categorize him as "very fair and very critical" of Dion Waiters. Therefore, seeing this got me rather excited. We converted Matt Moore, also of CBS, earlier in the year, could ANOTHER national name be ready to live that Dion life? {Editor's note: ONE OF US! ONE OF US!}

If you follow the draft, or their NBA careers up to this point, you are probably aware that for the most part Bradley Beal and Dion Waiters have been viewed as being on different tiers of prospects for what feels like forever. Depending on who you ask, it almost sounded as though the Cavs got a crappy consolation prize. It didn't help when Waiters showed up to his first Summer League out of shape and had a fairly disappointing performance. Earlier this season, when Waiters was characterized as everything from a malcontent to Satan himself and Beal was scoring nearly 20 points a game, the chasm seemed to grow even wider. Clearly these two players are not on the same level, right?

Statistically though, the numbers really haven't bore that out.

*statistics calculated on per-36 minute basis*

As you can see, each year, Dion Waiters has a slight edge in a lot of places. This is interesting because I am willing to bet that if you went to neutral city and asked someone to compare the two I don't think that people would expect this. Hell, I have twitter, moderate a comment section on this website, visit others, and I KNOW that until very recently people wouldn't even lump the two together. The thing is, there isn't really argument to say one has outperformed the other. Even at the per game, and per 36 minute level, their numbers are pretty similar. Beal plays a ton of minutes, averaging over 40 per game early in the season, and that skews things a bit. For the most part, though, their two seasons have been similar.

A look at their advanced metrics doesn't change things much.

In their rookie year, you can clearly see that Dion Waiters struggled with his shot. The overall outcome was the same, but out of the gate, Beal was what he was supposed to be: the better shooter. Most other statistics are similar other than Dion's usage being significantly higher.

In season two, we see that Waiters has surpassed Beal in most shooting categories, while getting to the free throw line a whole lot more. Waiters has seen his work in the offseason on his shooting pay off --shooting 35% compared to 31% on the same percentage of 3 pointers taken -- and thus raising his eFG and TS%, even as his drop in FT% hurts his true shooting number.

Beal, on the other hand, is taking a larger number of two point shots than he did a season ago. This is problematic because he is only shooting 40% on 2 point shots, whereas he is a 41% three point shooter. Despite being a much better free throw shooter, Beal has trouble getting to the line to use that skill. These factors have all combined to show a statistical regression in Beal's game.

So what can we take from all of this?

First, we can draw the conclusion that for all of their differences in narrative and play style, they have produced generally the same output. Beal had an impressive start to the season, but Waiters has had a banner March, averaging close to 20 points a night and leading the Cavaliers to crucial victories both with and without Kyrie Irving. It's basically a toss-up. Statistically, Waiters has been slightly better. In head to head matchups, he has been better as well (for whatever that's worth):

So, what? Waiters is the better prospect?

I don't know the answer to that. No one does really. Right now, it would appear that Dion is the better offensive player. It can certainly be argued that Beal could be a better fit on some teams. He is a great three point shooter, he just needs to refine his shot selection to include more of them. Taking fewer long jumpers and getting to the free throw line more often would help Beal become more efficient.

As for the future? Well, generally a players arc of development is exactly that: an arc. Waiters is one year and 7 months older, so he is further along on his. Logic dictates that at some point Beal will be a better player. Will he be significantly better? I can't answer that. Waiters is only 22 years old and has a pretty great handle, which is a valuable skill that adds an incredibly important dimension to a guard's game. He also may be behind most 22 year olds in terms of overall development. He certainly is on defense. Like most Syracuse players, the complete negligence of Jim Boeheim to prepare his players for the NBA has done Dion a bit of a disservice. That said, Boeheim is trying to win games for Syracuse, not the Cavaliers.

The takeaway for me is that Dion has recently shown that he can lead a team, score against the best of the best, and help you win games. Kyrie Irving has those skills too, and the two of them should be fun together. Again, it depends on the lens you look through, but I see Beal as a potential star and top prospect. That Dion's numbers are close, and in a lot of cases better makes me more bullish about his future- not less bullish about Beal's.

For the moment though, we can say they're pretty darn similar. Given where we started, that is just fine with me.

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