What Is Dion Waiters' Ceiling for the Cleveland Cavaliers?
Somewhat of a surprise selection at the time, Waiters is beginning to prove his worth for the Cavs and has improved his shot selection and scoring throughout the course of the season.
Despite coming off the bench in college at Syracuse, Waiters has started 48 of his 57 games for the Cavaliers this season. With a scoring average of 14.7 points per game, Waiters has proven to be a valuable second scoring option next to Kyrie Irving in the Cavs' backcourt.
While his rookie season has been nice, what about Waiters' future?
More specifically, just how good can the 21-year-old be?
To break it down, we'll look at four different aspects of Waiters' game: scoring, passing, defense and potential. Each area will be rated as Superstar, Star, Starter, Sixth Man or Role Player to give us a more accurate look at what Waiter's future ceiling will look like in the NBA.
First, let's take a look at what Waiters does best: scoring the basketball.
There are a lot of shooting guards with better looking outside shots, but few can split defenders and get to the basket as well as Waiters can.
At 6'4" and 215 pounds, Waiters has a nice blend of size and athleticism to score from multiple areas on the court. When talking about shooting, Waiters' efficiency has improved steadily as the year has progressed. Here are his overall percentages from different areas on the court, courtesy of Hoopdata:
Overall, these numbers don't scream anything but role player, but it's worth noting that they have been on the rise since earlier in the season.
Before the All-Star break, Waiters was shooting just 39.6 percent from the field and 30.9 percent on three-pointers. Post-All-Star break, these numbers have improved to 46.8 percent from the field and 35.7 percent on threes. Because of this added efficiency, Waiters has seen his overall scoring rise from 14.2 to 16.9 points per game, despite not even increasing his shots.
Given that Waiters has greatly improved his efficiency combined with his skill level and overall scoring ability, there's no reason to believe he won't be a supreme scorer for years to come.
Scoring Level: Star
Passing will never be the most scrutinized part of any shooting guards' game, but having someone who can handle the ball is important.
For the season, Waiters is averaging 3.0 assists and 1.9 turnovers per game. This breaks down to 1.56 assists for every turnover—a solid number to have as a shooting guard. This number ranks Waiters 16th overall in assist-to-turnover ratio among qualified shooting guards in the NBA. For comparison, Kobe Bryant (1.58) and James Harden (1.60) are very similar in their numbers to Waiters.
Taking a look at Waiters in college and now, it's clear he can make a tough pass when needed, but also needs to work on his decision-making.
Oftentimes, Waiters will still try to force a pass that just isn't there. This is common of almost any NBA rookie guard, however, and Waiters' passing should improve with time.
He may never be an elite passer like a Dwyane Wade at the position, but it should never become a weakness for him either.
Passing Level: Starter
Coming from a zone defense at Syracuse, it wasn't clear how Waiters' defense would translate to a man-to-man NBA system.
So far, so good for Waiters.
While he won't be in the running for any All-Defense teams, Waiters has been solid when asked to defend either guard position on the opposing team.
According to 82games.com, Waiters is currently holding opposing shooting guards to a 15.6 PER, slightly above the league average. His play on smaller, less physical point guards has been much better, though, as they have only registered a meager PER of 8.3 against him this season.
The major complaint I have about Waiters right now is his tendency to leave shooters too far open. When an opposing team begins moving the ball around, I've noticed Waiters gets caught up watching the ball too much, and therefore, is too slow to get back to his man, resulting in a wide-open shot.
Such a mistake can be easily fixed, and likely will be, as his career progresses.
Defense Level: Starter
Selecting Waiters was all about potential at the No. 4 spot.
He wasn't a college star, didn't lead the nation in scoring and didn't take home any major postseason awards.
Still, general manager Chris Grant saw something in Waiters that made him feel confident enough to pass on Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Jeremy Lamb and others.
With all that talent still on the board, it now seems as if Grant made the correct pick.
The fact that Waiters has improved so much in just a matter of a few short months is very promising. At times, he's shown flashes of a young Dwyane Wade or James Harden with his ability to score in multiple ways from the shooting guard position.
Considering that NBA draft website Draft Express said that Waiters' best-case scenario was to become the next Rodney Stuckey, I'd say anything close to Wade or Harden would be a huge success.
Speaking of Wade and Harden, let's compare their rookie seasons to Waiters' first year, with all stats averaged out over a 36-minute span.
Impressively enough, Waiters actually has the highest-scoring average of the three, minutes adjusted, for their rookie seasons. The fact that he's at or around all of the same numbers as two of the game's best shooting guards screams for his potential.
What is Waiters' ceiling in the NBA?
Overall, there is no reason why Waiters cannot develop into a star in this league. His scoring ability is outstanding, as is his potential. Passing and defense are still very much areas he needs to work on, and will, given that he's still just 21 years of age.
While I don't see Waiters reaching the level of a Wade, his ceiling certainly isn't that of Stuckey either. A player like Harden would be a nice goal or a less athletic Vince Carter circa 2004.
Even though he was a sixth man in college, it appears Waiters will be starting for the Cavaliers at shooting guard for years to come. With any luck, stardom is very much within his reach.
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