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Breaking Down How Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters Will Work with One Another

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 19:  Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during warm ups against the New Jersey Nets at Prudential Center on March 19, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
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Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterSeptember 6, 2012

The Cleveland Cavaliers had hoped to catch a glimpse of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters—their backcourt of the future—in action at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas this past July.

But a fateful slap of a padded wall during practice was enough to break Irving's right hand and put him out of commission for two months. That left Waiters, the No. 4 pick out of Syracuse in the 2012 NBA Draft, all by his lonesome in Sin City, and Cavs fans still to wonder how dynamic a duo Irving and Waiters might be once the 2012-13 season rolls around.

Happy Together...in the Half Court

At first glance, Irving and Waiters appear to occupy similar niches on the court. Kyrie, of course, is more of a distributor and facilitator, while Waiters fits in better on the wing, but both youngsters are regarded most highly for their respective abilities to break down defenses and attack the basket in the half court:

 

Which is to say, Irving and Waiters are both playmakers, first and foremost. It's no wonder, then, that Waiters was ranked by his rookie peers as the third-best creator in his class, behind only point guards Kendall Marshall and Damian Lillard.

The strengths of Irving and Waiters in isolation may portend a bit of an awkward fit at first, as the two adjust to partnering like dueling banjos. But, as Cavs coach Byron Scott told SNY's Adam Zagoria following the 2012 NBA Draft, that sharing of the burden could lead to some beautiful music in Rock City:

"[Kyrie] understands how good [Dion's arrival] can be for him as well. It gives a chance sometimes to take a little bit of time off on the offensive end and not to just wear himself out, so I think it has the potential to be very, very good."

Jim Boeheim, Waiters' coach at Syracuse, echoed those sentiments when speaking to Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Cleveland Plain Dealer:

"Kyrie will take a little pressure off [Waiters], and I think he can take a little pressure off Kyrie because he can play some like a point guard and get other people involved and then he can finish."

That sharing of the load could prove crucial to keeping Kyrie healthy over the long haul. Irving spent much of his freshman year at Duke sidelined by a foot injury, and he struggled with a shoulder injury this past April.

It wouldn't exactly be fair to characterize Irving as "injury-prone", seeing as how all of his major ailments thus far have been to different parts of his body. That being said, letting Waiters handle the ball from time to time can only help to keep the reigning Rookie of the Year from earning that dubious distinction.

Injury concerns aside, each of Cleveland's guards shoots well enough from the perimeter to serve as a target on kickout passes for the other. Irving shot an impressive 39.9 percent from downtown as a rookie, while Waiters was successful on 36.3 percent of his three-point attempts as a sophomore in college. Neither would be considered a marksman per se but both are clearly comfortable launching from long range, even without having created the shots for themselves.

 

Fast and Furious

Waiters also figures to be of considerable service to Kyrie and the Cavs on the fast break. Irving has already proven himself to be a spectacular point man in transition, where his superb dribbling and passing skills, when sped up, make for some rather breathtaking displays:

 

Even so, Cleveland ranked 24th in fast break efficiency and 25th in fast break points per game last season, according to Team Rankings. Those numbers were rather unusual for a Byron Scott-coached squad, considering the success he's had with the likes of Jason Kidd and Chris Paul leading the break during his previous coaching stints.

The addition of Waiters (and, to a lesser extent, North Carolina grad Tyler Zeller) should put the Cavs in better position to push the pace. The newcomers will make Cleveland younger, quicker and more athletic, which ultimately means more opportunities for Scott's transition game to take full effect.

An effect in which Waiters should thrive, by the way. According to Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress, 26.7 percent of Dion's offensive plays as a sophomore came in transition, of which he turned 68.7 percent into buckets. Waiters' athleticism, ball handling ability and bulldog mentality make him a menace on the break, be it at the lead or flying in from the wing:

 

D is the Key

But for Irving and Waiters to be a winning combination, be it on the break or on the whole, they must defend more proficiently and with greater vigor than they have in the past. Irving was particularly susceptible in isolation, where, according to Grantland's Sebastian Pruiti, he allowed 0.988 points per possession and committed fouls 15.6 percent of the time.

 

As Pruiti points out, Irving's issues stem from poor defensive position and a curious lack of anticipatory quickness. That is, Kyrie is too often found flat-footed, and resorts to defending with his hands once his man blows by him.

Luckily for Irving, Waiters is well-schooled in the ways of help defense. That's practically all he did in college while floating around in Jim Boeheim's vaunted two-three zone. Such a system allowed Waiters to put his instincts for picking off passes to good use:

 

On the flip side, playing in a zone with the 'Cuse for two years put Waiters at a disadvantage, as he'll have to re-acclimate himself to the rigors of man-to-man defense. That won't be easy by any means, not when considering the bigger, stronger and more skilled two-guards with whom the somewhat-undersized rookie will have to dance.

Still, if Waiters and Irving can spark a few fast breaks by forcing turnovers and solidify themselves in man-to-man situations, the Cavs will be well on their way to putting an exciting product on the floor for their fans.

And, in due time, a winning product around which the city of Cleveland can once again rally.

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