How Dion Waiters Must Raise His Game to Complement Kyrie Irving

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How Dion Waiters Must Raise His Game to Complement Kyrie Irving
Brock Williams-Smith/Getty Images

Dion Waiters flashed some serious offensive upside in his first year in Cleveland. The Cavaliers selected him No. 4 in 2012 with the belief he'd develop into a guy Kyrie Irving can go to in the offense.

Waiters ultimately played a huge role as a rookie, finishing the year as the second-leading scorer in his draft class. But despite his production in the box scores, Waiters wasn't credited with having a standout rookie season. There were significant holes in his game that neutralized some of the positives he brought to the table. 

Irving and the Cavs will be counting on Waiters to raise his game for their first playoff push. And for that to happen, he'll have to make few tweaks and adjustments on both sides of the ball as a sophomore.


Defense

Waiters had all sorts of problems on the defensive end as a rookie, and not because he lacks size, strength or quickness. More than anything, Waiters lacks focus and discipline.

He made dozens of bonehead errors that can be avoided with just a little more concentration. 

Take a look below at some of Waiters' defensive mishaps in 2013-14. 

Waiters is supposed to be guarding Bradley Beal, who's spotting up in the corner just like any good three-point shooter would. 

But for whatever reason, Waiters is found playing a good five steps off his man, in what appears to be a complete mental lapse. 

Point guard John Wall recognizes Waiters' odd positioning and quickly fires a pass to Beal in the corner. Given how much room he has, Beal is able to catch and set his feet without being disrupted. 

Waiters' closeout is unsurprisingly late, as Beal is able to get off a clean, uncontested three-ball in the half court. 

There's just no possible excuse for an error like this one, which resulted in three free points for a guy who did nothing to work for them. 

How about this mistake that could be found in Chapter 1 of the basketball textbook. 

Waiters appears mesmerized by LeBron James, as his eyes seem fixated on him from across the floor. It's as if he forgot he was guarding Dwyane Wade, who's anxiously surveying the play from the corner. 

After James takes two dribbles into the lane, Waiters breaks the No. 1 rule of defense—he loses sight of his man while focusing on the ball. 

Waiters allows himself to get distracted and ultimately loses track of his man, who's now in the process of slipping backdoor behind him.

James tosses a pass to an open Wade, who throws down an uncontested dunk without even needing a dribble.

Waiters doesn't get a rookie pass on plays like this. He's essentially been a curtain at a position that requires a wall, especially next to a point guard who isn't known for locking down. 

For the Cavs to maximize the talent they have in the backcourt, Waiters will have to return as a more alert and assertive defender.


Shooting Conversion Rate vs. Usage Rate

A dark cloud hovers over Waiters' 14.7-point-per-game scoring average. Despite the impressive number for a first-year guard, Waiters was brutally inefficient on the offensive end. 

Waiters shot just 41.2 percent from the field and 31 percent from downtown on 13.4 total shot attempts per game. He took the second-most shots on the team by a wide margin, yet his conversion rate was just awful. 

He wasn't much of a factor at the stripe either, where he made just 74.6 percent of his 3.5 attempts per game. 

Waiters was also used a ton in Cleveland's offense. He ranked No. 6 amongst all qualified shooting guards in usage rate, with Kobe Bryant, Eric Gordon, James Harden and Dwyane Wade making up four of the first five.

When you combine the huge chunk of the offense that goes through Waiters, with his 49.2 true-shooting percentage, which ranks No. 59 out of 75 shooting guards, that's what I like to call damaging inefficiency. 

Shooting-Guard Rankings

Usage-Rate Rank True-Shooting Percentage Rank 
Dion Waiters No. 6 No. 59

 

The conclusion is rather straight forward: Waiters has to make more shots if he's going to be this heavily involved in the offense. 

His shot selection wasn't exactly spot-on throughout the year. 

Really, Waiters' overall decision-making as a playmaker was shaky in general. At times, he let his scoring confidence get the best of him, often settling for hero shots—pull-up three-pointers and the one-on-one step-back jumpers. Waiters is a sucker for the heat check, something he'll have to cut down on to improve his efficiency. 

He showed little awareness with regard to recognizing good shots from bad ones. 

Check out Waiters in isolation on the wing. Notice two things—first, that there is absolutely nobody on the left side of the floor or protecting the rim in the paint. It's a perfect opportunity to drive in without any help defense present.

Now notice the shot clock as Waiters chooses to launch a deep three-pointer with a man in his face. 

There was 19 seconds on the shot clock when Waiters jacked up this contested three. Not only did he fail to notice the driving lane he had to the rim, but also, he took a bad shot only five seconds into the shot clock. 

Waiters made it a habit of settling on the perimeter, and I bet I could tell you why. 

Despite his strong body and powerful athleticism, Waiters wasn't comfortable with traffic at the rim. He struggled finishing around the trees inside, frequently looking to avoid contact instead of initiate it. It led to a lot of off-balance, acrobatic attempts, as opposed to trips to the line.

Waiters' shot chart illustrates his struggles scoring at the rim, where he shot just 49.56 percent, which is below the league average. 

Given his ball-handling and explosiveness attacking the basket, you'd think that Waiters would excel in this department. 

Between his shot selection and decision-making, his poor shooting numbers and his trouble finishing inside, Waiters just gave away too many scoring opportunities as a rookie. 

His talent is undeniable. But Waiters' inefficient offensive performance and Swiss-cheese defense might have ultimately hurt the Cavs more than his scoring touch helped. 

Waiters has to do a better job of activating damage control. He shouldn't worry as much about shooting his team into games. Rather, he should worry about not shooting it out of them. 

With a year under his belt, the bar gets raised a notch higher. The Cavs will need Waiters to value each possession a bit more on both sides of the ball.

An Irving-Waiters backcourt has the potential to make some legitimate noise in 2013-14. But it's the second-year man from Syracuse who will determine just how dangerous they can be.

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