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Dion Waiters and His Unorthodox Method for Success

Dion Waiters has been very good so far. Why do people still doubt his skill?


When I think of actor James Spader I don't think of any of the derisible, creepy characters that he has played throughout his career first. No, my mind gravitates towards Alan Shore.

The character of Alan Shore is most famous within the show Boston Legal, which ran for five seasons in the mid-2000s. Shore was not unlike many David E. Kelley, legal-drama television characters: he had a strong moral core that is often compromised by his intense and unwavering desire to win cases for his clientele. He differentiated himself from the classic Kelley character by not taking himself terribly seriously, with quirks including but not limited to having a fear of clowns, suffering from word salad, and propensity to make jokes at the inopportune time. Before becoming a comical farce of himself near the end of Boston Legal, Shore was brought into the Kelley universe in the final season of arguably Kelley's most successful series, The Practice. The last half of the final season of The Practice basically served as the foundation for Boston Legal, but within this device used largely for commercial purposes came one of the most brilliant and understated moments of the show.

In order to reduce the events of a full season into one sentence, basically Shore was hired then terminated from the eponymous practice from the title because of his eccentricities, his tendency to fight with the partners, and his predisposition to being less than ethical (the final straw was him pretending to be an airline executive and settling a case under a false identity). He goes on to sue the firm for wrongful termination. In this episode, entitled "The Case Against Alan Shore," Shore goes on a four-minute soliloquy about morality and legalities. Within this statement, he speaks about how the legal system is not an ethical place because of it being adversarial by nature. One cannot equate legal ethics with morality because they are almost always mutually exclusive. From time to time, defense attorneys stand up and falsely accuse people of murder to get their guilty clients off. He is simply an unscrupulous guy in an unscrupulous profession trying to get by, but then he gets fired for pretending to be an airline executive. He simply doesn't understand how these dishonest, duplicitous behaviors can't cooperate together in the same profession. Basically, he believes there is more than one way to practice law, and both can coexist together.

(video to make the reference a bit more clear if you are unfamiliar)


Dion Waiters has been one of the most pleasant surprises for the Cavaliers so far this season after his substandard Summer League and preseason performances. He has been an instrumental part of their offense as their third leading scorer at 14.5 points per game. His explosiveness has brought diversity to an offense that has sorely lacked it the last two seasons from the shooting guard position (*cough ANTHONYPARKER *cough). Additionally, his long-range shooting has been a revelation, as he's shooting .486 from beyond the three-point arc. For a guy that was seen as a bust before ever suiting up for a meaningful game, Waiters has had a wildly successful start to his NBA career.

However, despite his success so far there have been detractors. "The Case Against Dion Waiters," some say, is that his successful shooting will not hold up because of his shooting form. It's a valid concern. He tends to shoot the ball from over his head. Also, anyone that has watched the Cavaliers for an extended period of time this year has noticed his proclivity to lean to left or fade away when attempting a deep shot. They say that to be consistently successful, he'll need to learn to shoot with better mechanics and footwork.

Waiters' playing style is a microcosm of his personality. He is a flamboyant showman, one who isn't afraid to pound his chest and stare down an opponent's bench after a thunderous dunk (like he did against Washington on opening night). His desire to get the crowd involved in the game is evident every time he is on the floor. A guy so eccentric he is willing to admit his desire to go skating with teammates, he is simply unflappable. Rather than questioning this, you would think we would be applauding a rookie with the audacity to never be afraid of the moment.

The comparisons with him and Russell Westbrook at this point are simply uncanny. Both considered massive reaches at 4th overall, most people thought they would have to change their games to be successful in the NBA. Westbrook was another guy who seemingly had a broken jumper coming into the league that eventually got better. He's also an extremely divisive personality, flashy both on the court and off. A majority of the public still isn't sure whether or not they like Russell Westbrook both as a player and as a man because of the combination of his playing style and personality.

One of the best and worst things about the NBA blogosphere is the way that every aspect of a player's game is analyzed, then analyzed again, then overanalyzed. I'm not immune from this accusation either. I'm a bigger critic than anyone that I know. I hold players to a high standard and expect them to achieve their potential. This is why on Twitter you'll see me angry when Byron Mullens settles for taking 10 three-pointers in a game when he's athletic enough to do a between the legs dunk as a seven-footer (also, because I really hate Byron Mullens).

This is also why I understand skepticism has accompanied Dion Waiters to this point. Instead of simply accepting his eccentricities as a player, we have decided he needs to change things about his game to become a more successful player. We haven't even processed the possibility that Waiters can be consistently successful playing the way he does. Like the characters in The Practice's refusal to acknowledge the fact that there is more than one way to litigate, a lot of us may simply be unwilling to accept that he will be anything more than a hot-and-cold, streaky player that is great at his best and harmful at his worst if he continues to do things such as take off-balance threes and drive into the lane with reckless abandon.

I guess I just don't understand how a player like Dion Waiters (and to a lesser extent Westbrook), despite his quirks and irregular game, can't coexist successfully with other guards in this league. Maybe we should entertain the fact that Waiters is simply good enough to play this way. Maybe his up-until-now dormant shooting skill actually is this good and he will continue to be a force for the Cavs, whether he continues to fade away and lean every direction but straight or not. Maybe that unflappable flamboyance is what makes him play this way, and he'll continue to get better as he adjusts to the NBA. Maybe he, like Alan Shore, can be successful doing things his way, eccentricities be damned.

It's certainly worked for him thus far.