Now that we've discussed Dion Waiters' biggest problem in the NBA along with the thing that he's improved the most, let's try to answer the biggest question:
What should the Cavaliers do with Waiters?
The Cavaliers have denied the trade rumors involving Waiters, but ultimately there seems to be a lot of smoke coming out here. I tend to abide by the "where there is smoke, there's fire" idea, so let's assume that Waiters actually has been offered up in deals, per Chris Broussard's report. If so, let's try to figure out what the Cavs need to do to before December 15th -- the day that free agents signed last offseason can be traded, and thusly the most realistic first date for him to be traded on -- to accurately evaluate where Waiters stands, and if they should plan on keeping him or not.
First and foremost, they need to play him with Kyrie Irving and get a more accurate view of whether or not the two of them can play together. More than anything though, they need to evaluate this from Irving's perspective, and not from Waiters.' Like it or not, this is Irving's team now. The "Trade Irving!" idea is beyond absurd to me. Don't get me wrong, if the Pelicans decided to do something stupid and offer Anthony Davis for him I'd do it. But that's not going to happen.
Irving and Waiters have had an interesting past together as a two-man lineup. While the Cavs' offense doesn't look particularly strong when the two of them are on the court together, their stats suggest that they can be successful. Last season, Irving averaged 1.07 PPP overall, and with Waiters on the floor that number jumped to 1.10. Waiters also saw a slight increase from .98 to .99 PPP. This season both players have seen slight increases playing together again, with Waiters jumping from 95 to .98 and Irving going from .98 to 1.01. Their most common teammates have changed from Tyler Zeller, Alonzo Gee, and Tristan Thompson last season to Thompson, Anderson Varejao, and Earl Clark this season. In theory this is a much better lineup that better spaces the floor, so let's assume that the problems this season are with coaching and spacing on the interior, leading to worse efficiency near the rim.
So now we have established that these two guys play better with each other on the floor, let's take a look at whether or not this is enough of a marginal gain to want to keep them together by examining other players with different playing styles.
|Player||Minutes played with Irving||Irving Overall PPP||Irving PPP with Player at SG|
Well, that didn't really help at all. The two spot-up shooters on this list, Miles and Ellington, seemed to make Irving score at a lower rate. However, let's now take a look at how Irving's assist rate is affected by all of these players in question, including Waiters.
|Player||Minutes played with Irving||Irving Overall AST%||Irving AST% with Player at SG|
These numbers are a bit more telling. When Irving plays with ball-dominant players, his AST% plummets. He's been playing a bit more off-ball with Jack, which is why that number is so astronomically low in comparison to the others, but it's still quite a sight to see. It would seem that an off-ball player would make more sense for Irving than a ball-dominant one.
Combining the two numbers (PPP and AST%), it would seem the best option for the Cavaliers next to Irving is C.J. Miles. Irving's scoring stays fairly constant, while he sees a solid uptick in his playmaking. With Waiters, he sees a slight increase in scoring with a decrease in playmaking. Personally, I'd rather his scoring come at the expense of his playmaking as a point guard. Irving is still going to get his points, but with two ball-dominant guys the ball-movement suffers.
That doesn't completely answer the question of what to do with Waiters though. Given that he has shown ability as a spot-up shooter, Waiters could adjust his game to being more of a threat in that way. Also, there's the possibility that he could simply be a sixth man that plays fewer minutes with Irving than he has so far in his career (again, he's not bad with Irving, but he doesn't particularly compliment him well). There are a lot of possibilities here. In fact, Waiters has done something of his part this season to make his game more complimentary to Irving, as Irving's AST% has gone up from 26.5 to 28.6 this season with Waiters on the floor (although that may just be because Jack is the black hole of basketball as the other option at the 1/2).
So what is my advice on what the Cavaliers need to do here? Given the progress we've seen, I'd probably keep Waiters around unless the perfect deal came up. I don't think that Iman Shumpert, Luol Deng, or Evan Turner are that deal. Shumpert is probably the best fit of the three, but I'm still not entirely convinced of his ability behind the three-point line in comparison to Waiters. Both seem to be streaky. There's no way that they should trade Waiters for a rental in Deng, and Turner is about to get paid this offseason, along with being a bad fit. I'd rather take my chances on Waiters adjusting to play with Irving than on any of those three expensive pieces.
However, they need to play Irving with Waiters here for the next set of games to really, accurately evaluate where these two are. Then they have to talk to Irving and see what's going on out on the court when they play together and see if this is the right fit. Don't make the decision based on whether Irving likes playing with him or not, simply decide if the adjustments in their playing styles are worth making.
Waiters has a high ceiling if he can learn to play within himself. He also has potential to be a very special role player if the chips fall that way. But even if those things are true, he may not be in the right situation to make those things happen with the Cavaliers. It's a realistic sentiment that all Cavaliers' fans are going to have to deal with if he gets dealt somewhere else and becomes a star. The best thing that the Cavaliers' organization can do is simply evaluate him in different situations -- be it as a starter next to Irving or as a sixth man -- and go from there. Just please, don't make the decision to trade him because Jarrett Jack is around.
Please god, don't do that.
(all lineup stats used are courtesy of NBAWowy.com, possibly the best statistical NBA site on the internet)