When adding a transcendent, once-in-a-generation talent like LeBron James, it becomes easy to ignore the pieces or players who continue to develop and add value, as well as the effect that Lebron can have on his supporting cast. Indeed, when the name Kevin Love is bandied about, it is challenging to consider those players who are poised to take a step forward when complemented by the best player in the game.
More important in understanding the LeBron effect is that it goes beyond the mere positive externality of improved spacing because of his elite scoring ability. LeBron is a basketball savant, he understands how to most-effectively utilize and complement his teammates, as well as the pieces which most adequately fit around him in order to be successful. Further, he will be coached by an offensive wizard in David Blatt, who has the capacity to cater his offense around different players and even build different sets for different units, something Mike Brown can only dream of accomplishing.
Which brings us to Dion Waiters, a scrappy guard who can play the one or the two, is best with the ball in his hands, and made solid but not overwhelming improvement in season two. One of the essential criticisms or at least question marks surrounding Waiters has always been his shot selection. Can Dion find a way to be efficient and optimize his usage? It’s an idea worth tackling.
We only need to look at fairly surface level statistics to see that in general, Dion’s shooting and, likely in tandem, shot selection improved. His true shooting percentage went from .492% to .508% and his effective field goal percentage, which weights for the value of three pointers, went from .451% to .479%, both of which are statistically significant improvements.
Before I continue with a shot improvement section as well as discuss a few issues with Waiters, his passing is an interesting consideration. While statistically he has not shown that he is anything better than average, and his turnover rate rose last season, I can’t help but think the eye test is more effective than the data right now. Dion played a lot of second-unit minutes, and was not surrounded by any real offensive talent to take pressure off of him. While I will always have a soft spot in my heart for spot-up shooter C.J. Miles, there was little Waiters could find in terms of spacing or open weapons.
And no, Alonzo Gee making a corner three once in a blue moon does not count. When I watch Waiters, from a passing and distributing standpoint, I am often more impressed than when I see Kyrie. Dion has value because both he and Kyrie can take the keys from Lebron, allowing him to rest and not carry such a significant burden as well as being good at running the floor with those two, something Lebron was starved of last season as Wade aged physically.
On to the shot charts, which are nicely prepared by Nylon Calculus, a wonderful site which provides an exciting database of shooting-heat charts from the past fifteen years.
As a quick note, size of the bubble denotes frequency, with larger bubbles denoting higher frequency.
Outside of the mid-range jumper, near the right elbow and another mid-range area near the left baseline, Waiters shot very poorly from the field, especially on shots that offer the most overall efficiency. A few quick observations of what was valuable, first, while Waiters was below average at finishing at the rim, he was very good at getting to the rim; dribble penetration has value, especially paired with finishing or passing ability. Imagine this season, when Waiters can dribble-drive at will with Mike Miller and James Jones or even Ray Allen sitting in the corner. It’s an exciting possibility in my mind.
Clearly though, when looking at Waiters’ shot chart for 2013 there is a lot to be desired. Thankfully, Dion improved tangibly in 2014 as seen below.
This is a huge step forward for Waiters for a couple of reasons, the first being the extension of range on the left wing, specifically the spiking improvement on the corner three. This is an immensely valuable shot, especially if Dion gets first unit run, receiving drive and dish spot-up corner threes from both Lebron and Kyrie, add in the potential acquisition of Kevin Love, and Dion could be looking at all sorts of space. Dion started taking more frequent shots in the right places, while also adding to his range. Yet, there are two great flaws that remain which must be discussed in order to avoid being blinded by optimism.
The first issue is his inability to finish around the rim remains and his 68% free throw shooting cuts into his value as a guy who can get to the rim. That is his points per possession around the rim is quite flimsy because of a mixture of poor free throw shooting and poor touch.
The second issue is his tendency to shoot mid-and-long-range two’s. While mid-range two’s from the right baseline and right elbow are a strength that has remained, his issues from the left baseline really spiked this season. When watching the Cavs, it was a familiar sight to see an off-balance, fading long-range two from the left corner, something he must avoid, as it opposes efficient offense.
The positive takeaways are that Waiters has become very good at selecting and hitting the corner three, he has improved from almost every space beyond the three point line, and has a plus mid-range game on the right wing and baseline. With improved spacing, and a bevy of new open looks with the arrival of Lebron and perhaps others, Dion is set to once again take a strong step forward offensively.