Should Dion Waiters Start or Be Cleveland Cavaliers' Sixth Man?

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Should Dion Waiters Start or Be Cleveland Cavaliers' Sixth Man?
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Even with such a magical offseason for the Cleveland Cavaliers, some tough decisions still need to be made.

First and foremost, who wins the starting shooting guard job?

Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao have four spots guaranteed in the starting five.

What about Waiters?

“I want to start and I believe that I should at the 2,” Waiters told Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com.

Despite his plea, head coach David Blatt has remained noncommittal on Waiters' role with the team, telling David Pick of Basketball Insiders:

Dion is a lot of things to this team. I’ve never seen any particular importance to the emphasis of starting or not, I see an emphasis on playing and helping the team win. That’s not to say he will or won’t start, that’s not the point. I think his and every player’s motto and desire needs to be to help the team win. That’s what’s important.

He's easily the most talented shooting guard on the roster, but is Waiters necessarily the best starter for this team? Should Cleveland reward his strong play at the end of last year with a spot between Irving and James, or should Waiters be used as the team's sixth man?

He may not like it, but the Cavaliers' best option is to start every game with Waiters on the bench.

 

Waiters' Strengths, Weaknesses

Waiters' best quality, without a doubt, is his ability to score the basketball.

Unfortunately, this doesn't always come within the flow of the offense.

Waiters is a strong isolation player with a quick first step. His body is muscular enough to absorb contact on the way to the basket and finish in and around traffic.

As a reserve, this is a tremendous quality to have, especially when less skilled offensive players are on the court and scoring is at a premium.

Waiters played mostly as a reserve last season, coming off the bench 46 times to just 24 starts. While the team needed his offense in the starting lineup, the Cavs chose to use Waiters as the sixth man.

Why?

His type of play never did mesh well with Irving's. Both are ball-dominant players who didn't fare well as second fiddle. While some guys' games would be elevated by playing next to a star point guard, Waiters' play suffered.

Here's how he performed with and without Irving on the court last season, per 36 minutes of play, per NBA.com:

Waiters' Stats PTS RBS ASTS FG% 3P% FT% +/
w/ Irving 17.6 3.2 3.1 42.6 35.5 62.6 -2.7
w/o Irving 21.2 3.6 4.1 43.9 38.0 73.4 +0.9

Waiters doesn't need a great supporting cast to be an effective player. If anything, quite the opposite is true.

More of his scoring came via pull-up shots (4.6 points) than catch-and-shoot (3.9 points), via NBA.com. Waiters isn't a strong off-the-ball guard, something he'd be forced into playing next to Irving, James and Love.

Coming off the bench would allow Waiters to continue his more natural and effective style of play by keeping the ball in his hands.

 

Plenty of Scoring Already

As we just saw, Waiters' best quality is his scoring.

And if there's one thing Cleveland's starting five probably doesn't need more of, it's scoring.

With James (27.1), Love (26.1) and Irving (20.8), Cleveland now possesses three of the top 15 scorers from a season ago, including two of the top four. Only one other team (Oklahoma City Thunder) has even two players in the top 15.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Cleveland has plenty of firepower in the starting lineup without Waiters.

How much offense does a starting lineup need?

Stats show a strong amount, unless your team has a bench like the San Antonio Spurs. In 2013-14, eight of the top nine teams in scoring by starters made the playoffs, via HoopsStats.com. San Antonio was the only member of the bottom five who managed to clinch the postseason (not surprisingly, it leads the league in bench scoring).

The Portland Trail Blazers topped all teams, with 82.9 combined points from their starters. With James, Love, Irving, Varejao and Mike Miller, the Cavs would have come in at 89.5.

Clearly, they should be just fine scoring the ball without Waiters.

 

Value of a Sixth Man

USA TODAY Sports

Championship teams need a good bench and someone they can turn to when the starters aren't getting the job done.

Manu Ginobili has long been one of the Spurs' best players, but it's been his effective play off the bench that has helped carry them to four titles. In three of those championship postseasons, Ginobili didn't start a single game for San Antonio.

Ray Allen was key for the Miami Heat to win the 2012-13 title. Jason Terry was the Dallas Mavericks' second-leading scorer as a reserve in their 2010-11 championship season. 

James Harden's play off the bench helped lift the Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA title three seasons ago, and the team has yet to advance that far again since trading him.

Were those players talented enough to start?

Absolutely.

Were their teams better and more balanced by those players swallowing their pride and coming of the bench?

Clearly.

Ned Dishman/Getty Images
Waiters is best suited as the team's sixth man.

In the last six years, only once has a champion team's sixth man scored fewer than 10.8 points per game. With Waiters in the starting lineup, who on the Cavaliers' bench would be capable of reaching such a total?

Cleveland's reserve core would consist of Tristan Thompson, Miller, Shawn Marion, James Jones and Matthew Dellavedova. All carry their own skills and abilities, but they aren't adept at creating their own offense and would be better paired with a playmaker such as Waiters.

How should Cavs use Waiters?

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In fact, that seems to be just the type of group Waiters could thrive with while taking a comfortable amount of shots. In the starting unit, there's no way he'll be happy splitting stats with three superstars, especially with a contract extension possibly on its way next summer.

Is Waiters the Cavs' best shooting guard?

Without a doubt.

If coach Blatt wants more balance while maximizing the talent and strengths of his team, however, Waiters will once again be the Cavaliers' sixth man this season.

 

-GS

All stats via Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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