Why Dion Waiters Is Now the Cleveland Cavaliers' X-Factor

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterAugust 19, 2014

Cleveland Cavaliers' Dion Waiters reacts after making a three-point basket during the second half of the NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, Sunday, March 23, 2014, in New York. The Cavaliers defeated the Knicks 106 to 100. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Not even LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving could take down the rest of the league without some backup. 

The Cleveland Cavaliers will need a support team behind the franchise's new nucleus. And based on the current makeup of the roster, that support team will be led by third-year guard Dion Waiters, who'll be entering his first season as a spotlight performer on the national stage.

Despite the fact that Waiters' workload is expected to decrease, his value to the Cavaliers has gone up.

Obviously, Cleveland will only go as far as its Big Three takes it, but an effective Waiters gives this team some extra cushion and margin for error. 

Mark Duncan/Associated Press

The Miami Heat's Big Three could have used some help from Mario Chalmers during their 2014 NBA Finals beatdown, but he averaged just 4.4 points on 33 percent shooting. Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs' Big Three got their punch from Kawhi Leonard—a punch that ultimately knocked Miami right on its butt.

Waiters has to be Cleveland's extra punch moving forward—the guy who makes defenses pay for focusing all of their attention on stopping James, Love and Irving. 

Ironically, Waiters' fit in Cleveland over the past two years has been pretty poor. Though he's a potent scorer, his low-percentage offensive attack isn't meant for the featured role he found himself in on a team that lacked superior talent. 

He put up around 15 points a game in each of his first two seasons, but, realistically, most of it was empty production. Waiters shot below 44 percent both years, earning a reputation as a guy who allows the ball to stick to his hands.

Mark Duncan/Associated Press

Waiters' shot selection will have to change with James and Love entering the picture. He was used in a whopping 26.9 percent of Cleveland's possessions last year as the No. 2 option (14.2 field-goal attempts per game). 

Now, as the No. 4 option, Waiters will have to find a way to stay effective and productive with fewer touches and shots in the offense. 

We're going to have to see more of an opportunistic approach from Waiters—one that includes more shot-making off the ball and less dancing and creating with it in his hands. 

It might mean sitting around the arc and waiting for the drive-and-kick. Waiters should be dreaming about corner three-point looks next season, shots that will naturally be there with Irving and James breaking down defenses.

Every lineup needs a corner-three marksman to help space the floor and ultimately capitalize on the advantage it creates. 

The scouting report on Waiters shows he was money last year from the left corner and dreadful from the right. 

Waiters Corner Three-Pointers
Left Corner ThreeRight Corner Three
2013-1417 of 342 of 20
2012-137 of 302 of 9

Last season, he shot 41.9 percent—a solid number—on catch-and-shoot opportunities outside of 10 feet from the hoop. He shot 41.6 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, per NBA.com.

But he averaged just 3.4 spot-up attempts a game to 5.6 pull-up attempts in 2013-14. 

Something tells me those numbers will even out next season when Waiters' playmaking opportunities decrease and he gets more open looks off the ball. 

His role will be somewhat different in 2014-15. Waiters has expressed interest in starting—“I want to start and I believe that I should at the two,” Waiters told Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com—and given Cleveland's lack of depth, it's tough to argue against it. 

But in reality, Waiters has to find a way to complement Cleveland's first unit and anchor its second. 

John Raoux/Associated Press

The Cavaliers don't necessarily need Waiters to drop 15-20 points a game. They need him to be timely, efficient and consistently threatening. 

When he's playing with James, Irving and Love, he has to capitalize as a shooter. When he's playing with Matthew Dellavedova, Mike Miller and Tristan Thompson, he has to tap into that dangerous one-on-one game of his to generate offense on his own.

And let's be real here—Cleveland's defense and bench are both weaknesses for this team, though the recent signing of Shawn Marion should help out in both departments. Still, Thompson and Anderson Varejao each blocked fewer than one shot a game last season. And if Waiters starts, the Cavs are looking at Marion as their top-scoring reserve. 

Waiters is this team's X-factor this upcoming season—a guy Cleveland needs to help tip the scales in its favor. 

The less effective he is, the more pressure he puts on James, Love and Irving to dominate on a nightly basis. But if Waiters is connecting on all cylinders—hitting the shots that find him in the offense while wisely picking and choosing his spots as a hunter—we could be talking about a knockout-punch type of weapon that puts this Cavs team over the top.