Dion Waiters is hailed as one of the players in this year's draft class who could become more than just an above-average starter in the NBA. A number of NBA scouts have told ESPN's Chad Ford that Waiters supposedly has true superstar potential.
What Waiters Brings to the Team
On a Syracuse team that enjoyed setting up in the half court and slowing down the game enough so that the vaunted zone defense could have even more of an impact, Waiters was one of the few players who truly both enjoyed and excelled at pushing the pace.
The 6'4" combo guard is best when he's in the open court, allowing him to get to the rim and utilize his incredible strength and ability to finish. That, more than anything else, is Waiters' primary calling card. You simply can't find many players who are better at putting the ball in the basket after drawing contact in the restricted area.
However, I have no idea where to stick Waiters.
His skill set is much more typical of a shooting guard than a point guard, but without elite quickness to make up for his lack of height, he may not be able to play to his strengths against the bigger, more athletic shooting guards that the NBA will throw at him. Waiters struggled enough once conference play started and he was forced to go up against bigger and better defenders than he faced during the non-conference part of the schedule.
Waiters can play point guard as well, but his facilitating skills are more suited towards drive-and-kicks than anything else at this point during his development.
A sixth man in college, Waiters will end up earning playing time. He's too talented not to even if his role is up in the air.
What Experts are Saying
There's generally a positive vibe when experts talk about Waiters, which makes it necessary for me to qualify why the above section was written with a bit of negativity. I have no doubt that Waiters will be able to succeed in some capacity at the sport's highest level, but I do question his ability to become a superstar.
Joe Treutlein of DraftExpress seems to tacitly agree with me, an assumption I'm making based on his predicted role for Waiters:
Looking forward, Waiters brings an interesting package of skills to the table along with a good amount of untapped potential. His style of play should seemingly translate well in a combo guard role off the bench as a sparkplug transition and pick and roll scorer who can defend multiple positions, which every NBA team seems to have at least one of these days.
Waiters is going to have to continue to develop his jump shot before he can truly make a large impact in the NBA. He's still going to be an elite slasher, but NBA defenders aren't going to respect his jumper enough for the slashing to be initially effective.
The combo guard's primary impact during his first season will be on the other end of the court, where he possesses the skills, intelligence and quick hands necessary to guard either point guards or shooting guards.
Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn wrote an excellent breakdown of the Syracuse defense this past year and had glowing review after glowing review to give Waiters. For example:
As I wrote earlier, a difference of just a few points in DRating is significant, so the gap between Waiters (82.9) and fellow guards Brandon Triche (87.1) and Scoop Jardine (88.3) should be regarded as immense. Waiters creates turnovers at a much higher rate than the other guards do, and he has the size and range to recover and contest more shots on the perimeter. Boeheim said that he's instructed his guards to extend the zone and apply more pressure to shooters in the past two years, and Waiters and Triche do the best job of this.
Waiters may eventually develop into a Manu Ginobili-level guard off the bench down the road, but don't expect him to come anywhere near the top of the Rookie of the Year voting after his first season in the NBA.