When Dion Waiters was drafted fourth overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, many experts believed the Cleveland Cavaliers made a huge mistake. Coming out of Syracuse, Waiters was the teams sixth man, a gifted athlete who could get to the rim and finish at will but lacked the shooting range to be consistent from deep.
For the most part, Waiters proved the naysayers wrong, earning a spot on the NBA All-Rookie Team in 2013. Alongside Kyrie Irving in the Cleveland backcourt, Waiters started 48 games his rookie year, averaging 14.7 points, 3.0 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game. While his game seemed to translate to the NBA, his three point shooting was still in need of dramatic improvement. Waiters only averaged 31-percent shooting from behind the arc (an average number at best) and struggled to find consistency, connecting on just 41-percent of his field goals. Although not solely to blame, Waiters missed 21 games his rookie year, battling ankle and knee injuries that lingered throughout the season.
Realizing the desperate need to be a reliable shooter from three point land, Waiters improved dramatically on his three-point shooting last season. Finishing with 47 more attempts than his rookie year, Waiters connected on 37-percent of his shots from deep, tying him with Chris Paul among league leaders, while averaging 15.9 points per game.
After the Cavaliers drafted Andrew Wiggins first overall in this year’s NBA Draft, it was believed that Waiters would be kicked back to his sixth man role and left out of the starting lineup. In an interview with Chris Haynes of Comcast Sports, Waiters said, “I want to start and I believe that I should at the two.” The “two” meaning the shooting guard spot, became a bit more crowded with the additions of Wiggins, James Jones and even Mike Miller. Fortunately for Waiters, Wiggins will soon be dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a trade to acquire All-Star forward Kevin Love.
With the dynamic trio of LeBron James, Love and Irving, Waiters has a golden opportunity to continue to improve, albeit with far less of the defenses attention focused on him. Playing on the wing, Waiters will get a plethora of open looks if he lingers around the three point line as Irving and James will do much of the ball handling. With his ability to drive into the paint, he will continue to put up great numbers for a player that is the fourth scoring option on his team.
“I know this is a big year and I have to make a statement,” Waiters said. “With this opportunity that we have now, we can’t let this slip away; we really have something special going on.”
Last season, Waiters attempted nearly 1,000 shots during the regular season, ranking him amongst the top 50 in the league and with a trio of teammates that all had field goal attempt totals in the top 20, Waiters will need to learn how to defer to his more prolific counterparts and not force contested shots. Expect rookie Head Coach David Blatt to get creative with his lineups, pairing Waiters with James when Irving is resting on the bench and vice versa in order to put him in the best position to continue his success.
“He is going to definitely make it easier for everybody,” Waiters said about teaming up with James. “My main focus is just knocking down open shots. I know I’m going to get a lot of open shots playing off of him.”
While his numbers will dwindle in shot attempts, Waiters has a chance to drastically improve and be a factor passing the ball. Despite only averaging 3.0 assists per game over his first two seasons, Waiters will have the opportunity to increase those numbers with the star power that will be surrounding him.
“(LeBron) wants to bring a ring to Cleveland and it’s up to us to help him bring one to the city,” Waiters said.
Indeed, there is a golden opportunity to capitalize on this newly devised roster of stars, which at the moment are 3-1 odds favorites to win the NBA Championship. Entering his third season, Waiters has demonstrated that he is a top option at the shooting guard position in this league and with the necessary improvements, he could set himself up for a big season going into a contract year.