Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters Could Make Elite Backcourt Duo
What a difference a few years can make.
Let's hook up with Doc Brown and take a spin in the DeLorean at, let's say, upwards of 88 mph. The year is 2010, and it is late in the summer. LeBron James has just made his decision, and the Cleveland Cavaliers and their fans are left to ponder their post-King James future.
They are looking at a roster that includes past-their-prime has-beens such as Antawn Jamison, Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas as well as somewhat disappointing youngsters such as J.J. Hickson and Daniel Gibson.
Sure, the Cavs have a first-round pick that is sure to be great, but due to the NBA draft lottery, they only have a solid chance of earning the first overall pick should their season predictably collapse in ruin.
Things at this moment were looking extremely bleak.
But then something strange happened: The Cavs finally started to make some sound basketball moves.
They dealt Mo Williams and Jamario Moon to the Clippers for the incredibly terrible Baron Davis and his contract as well as an unprotected first-round pick in that year's draft.
That pick obviously became the No. 1 overall pick, which they wisely used on Kyrie Irving.
Next, they amnestied Davis' contract, and after a bad yet improving season, they drafted Dion Waiters in June.
Obviously the Cavs still have their work cut out for them, but there are reasons to believe that, in a few years, we can hook back up with Doc Brown to look back on these moves and declare that they led to the Cavs having one of the best backcourts in basketball.
Meet the Guards
Irving is your classic shoot-first, pass-second point guard.
He can shoot from anywhere on the court, has an improving mid-range game and has yet to scratch the surface of his immense talent. Irving assisted on a somewhat meager 5.4 baskets per game, but a lot of that had to do with a lack of options, not a lack of ability.
In all honesty, there really wasn't much that Irving didn't do well. He shot well from deep (nearly 40 percent), from the field (nearly 47 percent) and even shot well from the stripe (87 percent).
And while he had low assist totals, Irving's turnovers were not exceptionally high, especially for a rookie who was his team's only real offensive threat.
Irving had a somewhat bad rep coming out of college that stemmed from a perceived lack of elite athleticism and durability. And while he still needs to prove that he can stay healthy, Irving showed that the concerns over his durability were greatly overstated.
All in all, Irving projects to be an elite scorer at this level and a potential double-double guy if surrounded by the right guys.
The only concern besides the obvious durability issues is what type of defender he will be. Irving lacks elite size and strength for his position, and he has not shown the instincts to be a great on-the-ball defender or someone who can steal the ball with great consistency.
Waiters is a much different player. While more and more players who are coming into the league as guards are either combo guards or 'tweeners, Waiters is your classic throwback shooting guard.
Waiters is a scorer, pure and simple. He loves to put the ball on the court, attacks the rim with tenacity and loves contact.
Waiters also has your classic shooting guard body, and he somewhat reminds me of a shorter Mitch Richmond from a physical standpoint.
Defensively, Waiters shows the potential to be a very good on-the-ball defender due to his strength and athleticism. He doesn't show great instincts yet, but those should come.
There are two knocks on Waiters, though.
One is that he lacks elite shooting guard height, but that can be overcome by his strength. Most shooting guards only will be an inch or two taller than Waiters, and that can be dealt with by using more physicality; tall and lanky shooting guards such as Paul George won't like Waiters in their grill.
The second knock on Waiters is that he lacks elite range on his jumper. His mid-range game is solid, but his three-pointer still needs work. That being said, he did improve it greatly in his second season at Syracuse, boosting his percentage to 36 from 32.9.
The biggest concern when pairing two young guards together is what I would like to call the "Stackhouse Syndrome."
In the 1990s, the Philadelphia 76ers wanted to bolster their weak team. They went out and drafted Jerry Stackhouse out of North Carolina in 1995. Stackhouse had an excellent rookie year in which he averaged 19 points per game and looked to be a breakout star.
The next year, Philly drafted Allen Iverson with the first overall pick and promptly handed over the franchise to the petite scoring guard out of Georgetown.
These two struggled to coexist due in large part to the fact that Stackhouse refused to play second-fiddle to the younger Iverson, and Iverson refused to share with Stackhouse.
Philly was forced to deal Stackhouse for pennies on the dollar, and it would be years before it fully rebuilt its team around Iverson.
This has become the cautionary tale in pairing two young, talented guards who prefer to score.
Irving Is No Iverson, and that's a Good Thing
Iverson is one of the most overrated players in NBA history. Not saying he wasn't great, but it took a team to be completely built around him for his game to function properly. And while he did lead his 76ers to the Finals once, they really were not a team.
But this isn't an Iverson article; I already have wasted too much time writing about that guy.
Irving and Waiters will work, and it will do so precisely because Irving is no Iverson.
First off, Irving is not going to be asked to defer to Waiters; this is Irving's team, and everyone will know that going in.
That being said, Irving never has had a problem playing with talented scorers around him, and if his short time with Duke is any indication, he actually can excel when surrounded by upper-tier talent.
Second, Irving needs all the help he can get. The Cavs will not have offensive-minded small forwards, as Alonzo Gee and C.J. Miles are more likely to help the most on the other end of the court. Their big guys are similarly offense-challenged, as only Tyler Zeller appears to have the potential to score at this level, and he hasn't even played a game yet.
Irving will be asked to do the lion's share of the scoring again, and even if Waiters shoots the ball 15 times a game, it still will leave more than enough shots for Irving.
Third, Waiters will help Irving more. Irving needs someone who can take the ball out of his hands at times and take the pressure off him. Waiters is far from a spot-up shooter; he showed excellent ball-handling skills in college and can create his own shot.
Offensively, there will be times when Irving is winded, and he will be able to just chuck it over to Waiters and let the kid work.
These two players will complement each other in more ways than one. And, if Waiters decides to commit to playing defense, this combo could be elite in three years.
We Should Know Sooner than Later
If this combo is going to work, we will know fairly quickly. Waiters already has an NBA body and driving ability, and Irving is coming off a great rookie year. These guys don't have a lot of help on their team as far as the backcourt is concerned, so the future is now in Cleveland.
The question will become whether or not these guys choose to embrace their roles together and whether or not the coaching staff can find ways to keep these guys coexisting.
The guess here is that Irving and Waiters are going to set the world on fire.
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