Time to progress this series with a look at rookie shooting guard Dion Waiters. The fourth pick in 2012 turned twenty-one in December, and provides much promise, but with plenty of room for improvement. Let’s get into it.
Instantly thrust into a prominent role in the Cavalier offense, Dion uses over one-quarter of the team’s possessions, the highest of all rookies. Prominently featured as a pick & roll ball-handler and allowed fairly free rein in isolations, Waiters controls the ball a lot. Sometimes this is good, other times, less so; he flashes a brilliant first-step, but also a propensity for hoisting 20-footers early in the shot clock.
Posting the second-most points (14.5 per game) and fourth-most assists of all rookies, Dion doesn’t waste his sixth-highest number of minutes. Undoubtedly a volume scorer early in his career, 38% conversion on field goals and 47% true shooting leave much to be desired. A relatively skilled passer, his assist rate ranks 29th of 64 qualified shooting guards, with maintaining the 24th lowest turnover rate.
One issue riddling him involves lack of love from referees; of 66 shooting guards playing twenty or more games, he takes the 7th most frequent number of shots at the rim, but resides in the bottom half for ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts. Fortunately, this rose to a reasonable 1:3 ratio in January, compared to a pitiful 1:7 in December, as he becomes increasingly aggressive. Through December, Dion attempted 27% of his shots at the rim, and only made 43% of those. In January, those numbers rise to 34 and 57. Ideally, Dion reduces his quantity of off-the-dribble jumpers even further, but the movement towards more frequent and reliable forays to the rim definitely bodes well for his future.
A solid on-ball defender, Dion’s off-ball performance needs work. RAPM considers him around a 15th percentile defensive player, while Synergy Sports also rates him poorly, primarily due to 317 players contesting spot-up shots better. Waiters battles waning attentiveness, and loses his man away from the ball. He also ranks among the dregs of shooting guard rebounders.
Let’s move on to recaps…
January 19th at Utah – Early on, I started noting how often Dion receives the ball more than 25 feet from the basket, or how when Kyrie has the ball, Waiters gravitates to spots far removed from the rest of the offense. The first quarter proved uneventful, as Dion finished with zero points and assists; a shot was blocked at the rim, and an iso-fadeway as the quarter expired represent his shots. His defense was fine, other than Gordon Hayward losing him by about 15 feet around a couple of screens.
The first play of the second quarter allowed Utah to exploit Dion. Oblivious to the screen behind him, Dion’s man slipped away to receive a pass. As Dion tried to catch up, his man drove and dished to Derrick Favors for a layup. It seems Utah expected Dion to be asleep at the switch, but I also wondered, “why doesn’t Cleveland run more back-screens and get Dion the ball in space”? Later in the quarter, Dion split the pick-and-roll defense and exploded to the basket for a ferocious dunk, catching Favors by surprise. As far as jumping, Dion leaps faster than he does high. This was a particularly aggressive quarter for Waiters, as he picked up two Jazz fouls, ran the court for a transition slam, and finished a sweet cross-over with a layup.
The third quarter featured more aggro-Dion: twice driving and drawing fouls, a sweet drive & dish for an assist to Zeller, and also an Iverson-assist, where he drew the big, missed the layup, but left another Cav an easy clean-up. His defense featured some good possessions, like fighting through a series of screens to stay with his man, and battling Randy Foye into a tough miss from isolation. He needs to work like this 100% of the time, and not like the rest of the Foye play, when he relented after the shot, only to watch Foye grab the offensive board. In addition, lazy transition defense allowed a wide-open Jazz three, and another non-anticipation of a backscreen resulted in an easy Foye jumper. On offense, in the last eleven seconds of the quarter, he took two isolation jumpers, both of which missed. I noted something similar in my profile on Kyrie, but Dion is 5 of 22 on shots in the final fifteen seconds of a quarter (despite the notable heroics, Kyrie is only 18 of 52).
The final stanza featured more of Dion attacking, including six free throws, one emphatic dunk, and an assist for an easy Luke Walton bucket. One Dion drive resulting in free throws probably could have been an easy Zeller dunk, if Dion chose to pass. This goes for him and Kyrie, but it would be good to see more of their forays to the paint net slams for waiting teammates. He made a spot-up corner three, however still faded left. On one spot-up with an opponent closing rapidly, Dion shot & missed, but a pump-fake probably offered a lightly-contested trip to the bucket. Several possessions included marginal defense: allowing a Demarre Carroll board, mis-reading a screen and allowing a corner-three, and leaving Zeller in a tough position in transition by defending the ball poorly.
Offensively, this was a high quality game for Dion. His ten made free throws helped towards 23 points on 60% True Shooting, and he also pitched in three assists versus only one turnover. It wasn’t enough though, and sporadic defense aided the Jazz to their eleven-point victory.
January 29, 2013 – at home versus Golden State - Along with two assists, Dion flashed several other nice passes early in this tilt. Twice he found Gee open in the corner to no avail, and on a pick & roll, Tristan got a good look from eight feet, but missed. Dion also set up a play that netted two A-Gee free throws. Trouble scoring resulted despite two open catch & shoot opportunities; even when set, his upper body leans away from the basket, and hopefully this is something correctable in the offseason. Waiters finished the first quarter with two points. One possession keenly exhibited Dion’s offensive woes off-the-ball; as Gee dribbled and eventually drove from the opposite corner, Waiters stood with his hands in the air for three seconds, instead of cutting to the basket for the potential dime from Alonzo.
The second quarter featured two ill-advised jumpers; isolation twenty footers with double-digits left on the shot clock (he did this a couple of times in the second half, too). His passing continued gaining open looks or teammate free throws, as he tallied seven assists for the game, plus Livingston and Gee foul trips. Other highlights included two awesome pick-and-roll drives into sweet finger rolls, and a steal that gained him two free throws (he was fouled hard). Several defensive miscues occurred; twice wandering too far from his man then being unable to close out, another mis-played fast break when he stopped at the foul line, and also an ill-advised leak-out on a Warrior shot that allowed an offensive board. Cleveland gave up 32 points on the quarter.
For the second half, it gets repititive; with the ball, sometimes Dion drives aggressively, finishing nifty layups or finding open cutters…sometimes he shoots ill-advised twenty footers…without the ball, he tended to wander to spot thirty feet from the basket…he made one of two catch & shoot jumpers…he intersperses promising defensive possessions with periods of limited focus & discipline.
Dion finished with 18 points, 7 assists and 2 turnovers on 54% true shooting. In 28 minutes, he snagged only one rebound though, and posted a team-worst minus-22.
I like Dion. His ability to penetrate & pass, and the recent improvement at finishing are nice NBA skills. With a higher dosage of team-generated easy looks, and improvement in shot selection, his offensive efficiency will grow immensely. To reach his full potential, Waiters needs to focus on four aspects of his game.
First, stay attentive on defense and give constant solid effort. Much of the Cavs defense could stand to better understand their responsibilities and fulfill them, and hopefully this comes with age and experience.
Second, don’t over-dribble. If a play is there, attack. If not, move the ball and don’t take several seconds beating the ball into the ground.
Third, he needs to cut down on his pull-up jumpers, and maybe work on reconstructing his shot a tad. He shoots moving backwards or sideways far too often. When spotted-up, Synergy Sports says he is the NBA’s 26th best shooter this season though.
For the final item, I am not sure if Dion is the victim or the crime. According to Synergy, over 57% of Dion’s used plays are in isolation or as the pick-and-roll ball handler. Less than 5% are off cuts or screens. A majority of the time, his plays start from stationary, battling one or two defenders. Other high profile guards use the following amount of their plays from isolation or as the pick-and-roll ball handler: Kobe – 48%, Harden – 52%, Wade – 43%, Ginobli – 36%, Eric Gordon – 52%, Westbrook – 52%. Each of these players develops more of their offense from transition, spot-ups, cuts, screens, rebounds, post moves, etc. Over the next few years, the organization needs to create additional ways for Dion to score. This needs to come through Dion’s effort to learn playing without the ball, but also the Cavalier offense providing more creativity in how the ball & personnel move. Cleveland currently sits second-to-last in the NBA for team assist rate.
Anyways, I like a lot of what Dion shows, but would like to see more. His development, and the construction of an offense around the team’s talents could go along ways towards determining the ultimate success of the rebuild.