Orbiting Cleveland: Where does Dion Waiters fit?


Since being named general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers, David Griffin has spoken at length about finding the right fit and putting the pieces together.


It’s what led him to hire head coach David Blatt, who’s known to be an offensive genius, and can certainly help a Cavaliers team that was simply dreadful on offense last season.

Similarly, it’s the reason why Griffin and the Cavaliers decided to select Andrew Wiggins with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Wiggins can play multiple positions and does not need the ball to be effective as is the case with star point guard, Kyrie Irving.

To put it simply, Wiggins fits.

As Griffin continues to refine the roster, it’s going to be important that he continues to find players that fit into Blatt’s system and can play together. A team can be filled with plenty of high-upside players, but that means nothing if the players cannot find a way to work together and reap the benefits of said upside.

This then brings us to Dion Waiters.

Where exactly does the former Syracuse star now fit?

Waiters is coming off a strong 2013-14 campaign for the Cavaliers as he averaged 15.9 points, three assists and 2.8 rebounds per game while posting a PER of 14.10. He improved upon his stats from his rookie season in almost every way, and this is likely just the beginning — there’s plenty of room for growth.

But unfortunately, last season seemed to prove that Waiters and Irving might not be an ideal pairing as the team’s starting guards. Both players are ball-dominant guards and need the ball in their hands to be effective. Wiggins is precisely the opposite, which is one of the reasons that Griffin decided to make that pick.

Also, isn’t it telling to see what Griffin said about Wiggins after his selection?

“If Andrew finds greatness in this league, it’s going to be as a very big two-guard.”

That’s telling because it seemed to be a near conclusion that Wiggins would slot into the Cavaliers’ small forward spot. He might still do that temporarily, but it’s clear that Griffin sees him as a shooting guard moving forward.

So again, where exactly does this leave Waiters?

Waiters did work as a reserve for the majority of last season, and he performed well in that role. He actually started just 24 of the 70 games that he played in.

If Wiggins were to indeed start the season at shooting guard, Waiters could slide back into this role, but it does not seem as if this is something that Waiters is open to. Earlier this week, a fan suggested that Waiters could be a candidate to win the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award this year.

The Philadelphia native responded with the following tweet:

Waiters obviously does not have much say as to what will actually happen as far as the Cavaliers’ starting lineup goes, but it’s interesting that he would be so opposed to the move. He clearly sees himself as a starter and appears to be moving forward with that notion.

Except the problem is that this seems to be how Waiters would fit best with the team. When Irving missed eight games in March, Waiters arguably played the best basketball of his career. Take a look for yourself:

Dion Waiters Games FG Percentage MPG PPG APG GmSc
Overall Season Stats 70 0.433 29.6 15.9 3.0 9.1
03-18-14 to 03-30-14 8 0.440 39.9 22.0 5.1 13.3

His increased scoring can be attributed to increased minutes in Irving’s absence, but his higher game score is telling. For those unaware, game score was invented by John Hollinger to provide a rough measure of a player’s performance in a given game. The statistic takes into account almost everything a player does during a game that can be quantified, and the statistics are then weighted and added together to get a game score.

It’s great to use game score to measure a player’s effectiveness, and it’s clear that Waiters was simply more effective when he was not playing alongside Irving.

The other thing that needs to be touched on here is the chance that LeBron James returns to the Cavaliers. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve noticed that it seems as if there is a distinct possibility that James could return to Northeast Ohio.

If that’s the case, he would assuredly occupy the starting small forward position, which essentially confirms that Wiggins would take the shooting guard spot. Of course, there is a chance that Waiters might start and Wiggins could come off the bench, but that seems unlikely.

The Cavaliers drafted Wiggins because they want him to have an immediate impact. Regardless of whether LeBron returns, it seems as if Wiggins is going to start.

hi-res-169422739-dion-waiters-of-the-cleveland-cavaliers-drives-to-the_crop_exactHowever, stick with that notion of LeBron returning. If he does indeed return, that means the Cavaliers have another ball-dominant player on their team. James is certainly still effective when the ball is not in his hands, but he’s at his best when it is. It might seem crazy, but we could see Waiters struggle when paired alongside James just as he’s struggled on the court with Irving.

So, hypothetically speaking, if James decides to return to Cleveland, Waiters would be best served to revert to his role as a super sub, yet he’s already made it clear that he opposes such a move.

Here’s that question again: Where exactly does Waiters fit?

It’s likely that Griffin and Blatt are asking themselves the same question. This weekend, reports began to circulate that the Cavaliers would be open to moving Waiters. It seems unfortunate given his age and upside, but it might be the appropriate move for this team.

Then again, all of this speculation might be a tad premature. And perhaps we should give Blatt the benefit of the doubt.

One of the main reasons that Griffin hired Blatt was because of his offensive prowess. While he has no experience coaching in the United States, Blatt is known to be an offensive genius, and if anyone has a chance at getting Irving and Waiters to play together, it’s Blatt.

He likely realizes the upside that he brings to the table, and he will want to find a way to cultivate it.

It often just takes time to break something in. That’s certainly true with a new pair of sneakers. After a few months, they’re almost immediately a much better fit.

Let’s now hope that age-old metaphor holds true for Waiters and the Cavaliers.

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