Confidence clearly won't be an issue for Dion Waiters in reaching his NBA goals.
In an interview with Hoopsworld's Alex Kennedy, Waiters said he feels like he has what it takes to become the best off-guard in the league:
Without a doubt, I really believe that [I'll eventually be the best shooting guard in the NBA]...I don't need praise and all of that. I just want to be respected. I'm coming...I've taken my work ethic to another level and I feel as though I still have something to prove. So, watch out.
There are a few things working in Waiters' favors to make good on his lofty claim.
For starters, the position is already undergoing a change of the guard. Kobe Bryant spent his 35th birthday trapped in a lengthy rehab from a torn Achilles, while Dwyane Wade's nagging knee injuries are threatening to force him out of the ranks of the elite.
Waiters' own body of work, while admittedly a minuscule sample size, bodes well for his ascent. He was the second-highest scorer of the 2012 draft class at 14.7 points per game, despite battling fits of inconsistency with his shot (.412/.310/.746).
But whether Waiters is aiming at an impossible target could fall on the shoulders of his backcourt mate, Kyrie Irving. Irving's willingness to share the spotlight—or lack thereof—is the key to Waiters' rise and that of the Cleveland Cavaliers as a whole.
Sharing the Rock
Few players operate with as high a ceiling as Irving. Just 21 years old, he already has a Rookie of the Year award and an All-Star selection under his belt.
The Cavaliers know as well as anyone just how good he can be. That's why they tasked Irving with the fourth-highest usage rate last season (30.2 percent), trailing only perennial All-Stars Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook, per Basketball-Reference.
If Cleveland can shake the lottery grip that has engulfed the franchise since LeBron James' 2010 departure, a similar workload for Irving will be required. The transcendent star is too talented to be continually asked to defer to teammates.
But a similar workload doesn't mean an identical one.
As a rookie, Waiters found 13.4 field-goal attempts per game. He's hardly a forgotten commodity but still just a stone's throw ahead of players like Ty Lawson (13.3), Greivis Vasquez (13.0) and Raymond Felton (13.0). Not to take anything away from that trio, but the next player out of that group to be tabbed as the league's next great point guard will be the first.
And remember, those players are all floor generals; their responsibilities go far beyond making shots.
Waiters, though, is a shooting guard, a scorer by trade. If he's going to rise to the top of his position, he'll have to unseat players like Bryant (20.4 field-goal attempts per game), James Harden (17.1), Wade (15.8) and J.R. Smith (15.6).
Some of this increased exposure will have to come schematically. New Cavs coach Mike Brown will have to find more touches for Waiters, both as a secondary scorer alongside Irving and the primary option without him.
But some of it will have to come from Irving, too. He might have a decent look at the basket or a favorable matchup, but Waiters might have better ones.
It's vital that Irving strikes this delicate balance between scorer and setup man.
Sharing the rock might not sound glamorous, but Irving will find that it has its perks.
The more Cavaliers offensive trips that end with someone else supplying offense, the more defenses will have to divert their attention away from him. Of course, this dynamic works both ways. With Irving producing at an All-Star rate, the efficiency of Waiters' scoring chances only increases.
Unlike many young players, Waiters doesn't need someone else to create offense for him. He's strong off the dribble and rebounded from a rocky start to finish with a 53.8 shooting percentage at the rim.
But Waiters isn't about to refuse help.
With Irving on the move, Waiters can frustrate defenders with his improving, already better-than-advertised shooting stroke (31.0 percent from deep). When Irving, a career 39.4-percent three-point shooter, plays a decoy role, Waiters can utilize the most NBA-ready skill he brought from Syracuse: isolation skills.
None of Cleveland's regulars moved the offensive needle more than Waiters last season. The Cavaliers scored more points per 100 possessions with Waiters on the floor than they did with any of their other starters:
And that production came without the benefit of Irving and Waiters having found the best way to blend their talents.
That day is coming, but not without the pair working together.
Perceived Regression for Real-World Progression
Irving is Cleveland's most marketable star in the post-James era and already one of the biggest draws around the league. He finished with the 11th-highest selling jersey last season, via NBA.com, moving more units than Russell Westbrook and Dwight Howard.
From a business standpoint, the worst thing Irving can do is limit his production and risk losing appeal among the casual fans.
But hoops heads would appreciate a more generous approach.
He already stands to lose some touches with the arrivals of (a hopefully healthy) Andrew Bynum, Anthony Bennett, Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark. But keeping those players involved while also fueling Waiters' rise could put dents in his production across the board.
Of course, this isn't about Irving—it's not even about Waiters.
This is about giving Cleveland the kind of multilayered superstar presence that today's NBA demands.
With Irving on board, the Cavs already have a superstar on the roster. Common perception was that the second star would be arriving next summer, when they will have no guaranteed financial commitment larger than Jack's $6.3 million salary, per Hoopsworld.
But there's no need to wait. If Waiters can start his ascent, the Cavaliers could have two stars to use as free-agent bait in the offseason—three if Bynum shows signs of life.
...is incredibly bright.
He plays a vital role on a playoff-hopeful roster, but does so without the leading role found on the shoulders of, say, an Anthony Davis. Expectations are great, but not overwhelming.
As for what he expects from himself, his progress depends on him and Irving. As strange as it sounds to say this about a player with 61 games of NBA experience, he has a shot to claim the top spot at his position.
The windows are already closing on Bryant and Wade. Harden's is wide open, but it's hard to gauge how Howard's presence will affect that.
Waiters' defensive game needs work, but the same could be said about Harden, Smith and other potential challengers like O.J. Mayo, Monta Ellis and Jamal Crawford. Klay Thompson's a two-way contributor, but his isolation game has as much room for growth as Waiters' defense. Ditto for DeMar DeRozan's perimeter skill. Eric Gordon has the talent, but also an injury history that scares even his supporters.
Admittedly it's a long shot for Waiters, but one that could become infinitely easier with an assist from Irving.
And isn't that what elite floor generals are supposed to do?
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