From the moment the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Dion Waiters fourth overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, his fit within the team has been questioned. Overlapping skill sets with franchise cornerstone, Kyrie Irving have led many to wonder whether or not they could coexist. Each offseason I have gone through the routine of talking myself into Waiters and what he could bring to the team, only to find myself nervous about his fit with the team once the games begin. So what can Dion Waiters do to fit in and excel with this team?
Waiters is a unique case, because he has all the physical gifts and potential to be exactly what the Cavaliers need to cement themselves as a perennial favorite to win the Larry O'Brien trophy. He has the body and quickness to be a very good wing defender; his ability as a spot up shooter can give the team the spacing it needs; and his vision as a play-maker can give David Blatt versatility he craves within his offense. But, his decision making and perception of what he can be as a player could impede him from becoming the player the team needs him to be.
If Waiters were to hone his skills and maximize his potential as a player, he could be an all star in the league. But with the presence of LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, there is no way he would be able to get the necessary touches to put up the numbers that would fully showcase what he is as a player. There are only so many possessions in a game and it's just not possible to have three high usage wings, especially when you have a big that warrants a lot of touches as well. Everybody on the team will need to sacrifice to varying degrees, but making the most out of the big three has to be the priority. That means Waiters will not be able to consistently play a featured role within the offense if the Cavs are going to reach their offensive potential.
One of the best ways that Waiters can help the Cavs next season is by providing spacing and knocking down his three point looks. With the amount of attention his teammates will attract, he should be on the receiving end of a lot more catch and shoot opportunities. Last season Waiters took two and a half catch and shoot three point shots a game, knocking down 41.6 percent of those looks. A percentage that was slightly better than Spurs sharpshooter Danny Green who shoots 41.5 percent on catch and shoot threes (on 3.7 attempts a game). If Waiters can continue to perform at that level with more attempts, he will be one of the more dangerous perimeter threats in the league.
The second thing Waiters would need to do is dedicate himself on the defensive side of the floor. In college he showed a propensity for coming up with steals, something that hasn't fully translated in the NBA. He averaged just under a steal a game last season, while failing to perform well consistently in other facets of defense. Overall, though, the Cavs were a better defensive team with him on the floor than they were with him on the bench, with the opposition putting up an 106.9 offensive rating and .499 effective field goal percentage with him on the court; as opposed to a 109.3 offensive rating and .518 effective field goal percentage with Waiters on the pine.
His biggest flaw on the defensive side of the floor is really a lack of consistent effort and focus. He isn't missing any of the tools needed to be a good defender, he just needs to dedicate himself to studying film and putting it on himself to make defense a priority. Waiters and Irving both showed positive strides on the defensive side of the floor last season and appear to have a newly found conviction to defend based on the preseason games. If they can minimize the amount of uncontested threes and open drives to the hole, it will take some pressure off of a defense without a true rim protector.
Like his defense, the efficiency in Dion's offensive game is inconsistent based on his decision making. He has a tendency to settle for midrange jumpers, which are usually one of the least efficient looks in basketball unless you have Nowitzki-like accuracy. Well over a third of Dion's shots came from between the paint and the three point line:
Waiters converted only 43.12 percent of those looks last season, and when compounded with a poor 50.98 percentage at the rim, contributed to his 47.9 effective field goal percentage. A good number of his midrange jumpers come on step back jumpers that are often fairly contested. He has an ability to make those shots, but while the big three is on the court there is almost always a better look available. Sometimes you need a player to take and make those shots, but as unfair as the double standard may seem, Love, Irving, and LeBron are just better at scoring in those situations than he is. Waiters needs to reduce the amount of tough shots that he takes, and operate within the flow of the offense. There will be times that he will need to breathe life into the team and shoulder a larger load, particularly when he is with the second unit. But if he can sacrifice and play within the offense, he will be one of the more difficult to contain weapons in the entire league.
Waiters can be one of the most exciting players in the league. He thrives off of shutting up his critics and can seem unstoppable when he is rolling. He will be asked to sacrifice more than any other player on the team, based on how much potential he has and how much talent the Cavaliers possess. He had a strong preseason shooting 41.3 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three. He has always been a hard worker and with the support of LeBron James, he could be in the best possible situation to become a complete player. There will be times throughout the year that the Cavs will need to rely on him to step up and carry the team; it's all about whether or not he can embrace taking a backseat for the time in between and thriving within the flow of the offense. Strong shooting, defending, dribbling, and play-making are all possible for Dion. There's nothing he can't do. He just needs to learn when to pick his spots and dedicate himself to doing the little things that add up to team wins.