Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters were consecutive first-round picks by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2011 and 2012. Both have proven to be skilled offensive players and represent the core of the Cavs' rebuilding plan.
So what's the problem? They work terribly together.
When general manager Chris Grant puts a draft plan together, he has always selected players based on overall talent rather than team need.
For instance, Cleveland took power forward Tristan Thompson fourth overall in 2011, despite having then 22-year-old J.J. Hickson on the roster.
The Cavs passed on Harrison Barnes and Andre Drummond for Waiters, having just drafted a score-first guard in Irving the previous year.
This past summer, Grant drafted power forward Anthony Bennett two years after taking Thompson.
We get the whole "best talent available" strategy, but at some point the team's specific needs has to be addressed.
Irving and Waiters simply don't work well together, and here's why.
Talent in the NBA only gets you so far.
Kyrie Irving is already an All-Star and a great offensive player.
Dion Waiters is one of the best young shooting guards in the NBA.
When on the court together, however, they both see a drop in stats and overall production.
Why does this happen? It involves a breakdown of their games.
Both Irving and Waiters make their living inside the three-point line.
For Irving, 73.2 percent of all his field-goal attempts are either from mid-range or in the paint. He's at his best when he's beating his defender off the dribble and getting to the basket, or pulling up for a mid-range shot. Although a capable three-point shooter, Irving is connecting on just 35.4 percent from deep this season, the lowest of his career.
For Waiters, the numbers are very similar. 77.7 percent of his field goals are attempted from inside the three-point line. He also does his best work off screens and cutting to the basket. Not a particularly strong outside shooter, Waiters is making just 36.2 percent of his three's in his new role off the bench.
Now, not all professional ballers with similar playing styles don't work well together.
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson make up the Golden State Warriors' tremendous starting backcourt. But the difference between Golden State and Cleveland is that Curry and Thompson are deadly three-point shooters. Curry (40.9 three-point percentage) and Thompson (also 40.9 percent from deep) thrive together with similar deep-threat styles because of the extra floor spacing their range creates.
With Irving and Waiters both sucking defenses into the middle of the paint, neither can be relied on from the outside to help space the floor like Curry or Thompson can.
Even LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who both excel at driving to the basket, went through playing style problems when first teaming up. James and Wade had the advantage of 14 seasons of combined NBA experience, while Irving and Waiters have just three total years between them.
What Do the Stats Say?
Well, basically that Irving and Waiters are terrible together.
Terrible might be a strong word, but let's just say both are much better when the other one is watching from the bench.
Let's start with Irving. Here's how his stats compare with Waiters in and out of the game, per 36 minutes of play.
With Waiters on the floor, Irving becomes a volume shooter with a low percentage. Without his running mate, Irving is putting up All-Star numbers at a very high efficiency. How this affects his free-throw shooting is anyone's guess, but even that number improves with Waiters on the bench.
Now let's look at Waiters' numbers with and without Irving, per the same 36 minutes.
No surprise here, as Waiters is a much improved scorer without Irving by his side.
His assists and shooting percentages go up, as does his concentration at the free-throw line.
They say numbers never lie, and this data backs up what a clash of playing styles can do to a player's efficiency on the court.
Irving was drafted by the Cavaliers first, and was immediately dubbed as a franchise player coming out of Duke. He responded with a 18.5 point, 5.8 assist season while earning Rookie of the Year honors.
Waiters was Syracuse's best player while in college, but came off the bench in favor of upperclassmen. Coming to the Cavs was probably difficult for Waiters to once again swallow his pride and play second fiddle to a player he likely feels he's better than.
There was the rumor that Waiters verbally attacked Irving in a players-only meeting this season, accusing him and Tristan Thompson of playing "buddy ball" (via ESPN.com).
The article went on to detail the relationship between Irving and Waiters, saying:
Waiters and Irving are not close. Waiters believes the Cavaliers have a double standard when it comes to Irving, sources said. Waiters feels that while Irving is allowed to get away with loafing defensively, making turnovers and taking bad shots, he is taken out of games for such things. Waiters has shared his views with Brown and Grant.
Putting all these factors together, it's no wonder why Irving and Waiters don't work well together on the court.
Both are still on their rookie contracts, though Irving is eligible for an extension this summer. Cleveland will likely offer him a maximum five-year contract, a deal they can only use on one player.
Knowing all well that he won't get close to that kind of money while in a Cavs uniform, how will Waiters like seeing Irving sign a deal in the $80 million range?
The one good thing about drafting for talent over team need is a higher trade value.
Cleveland should take advantage of that this season.
Irving and Waiters, together, just isn't working out.
All stats via NBA.com/Stats.
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