Outside of the inevitable debate over which college QB the Browns should select in this spring’s upcoming NFL Draft, the most widely debated sports topic in Cleveland will continue to be Dion Waiters and his place on the Cleveland Cavaliers. Ever since being drafted No. 4 last year Waiters has had plenty of doubters (to put it lightly) in Cleveland. People didn’t like the fact that he didn’t start in college. People didn’t like his shot selection as a rookie. Now people are freaking out again because they can’t handle the fact that he’s not starting.
Just as it seemed like a lot of the noise was starting to die down a little, Bleacher Report came out with a story yesterday purporting that “Dion Waiters wants out of Cleveland”…a story Waiters refuted prior to the game yesterday. But the notion of trading Waiters, for beloved former Ohio State star Evan Turner no less, only got Cavs fans talking again. The theory has always been that Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving don’t “fit together” on this team…a theory which I believe is just plain lazy.
The reason I think it’s lazy is because the notion of trading away a guy because he doesn’t “fit” for a lesser talented player who does doesn’t jive well with me. I will always be of the belief that you find a way to make the pieces work together. Which, incidentally, is something that the Cavs are figuring out by sending Waiters to the bench. I would rather Dion be starting and so would he. I’m annoyed that this notion of him being “benched” has anything to do with his poor play. Rather, the decision to move Waiters to a reserve role was more an effort to maximize the talent on the team. And you can see that it’s having a positive effect lately.
Last night, for the second time in the past three games, Kyrie and Dion combined to score 50+ points. And for the second time it was Waiters who went on his own little personal scoring run to start the fourth quarter and ignite the team while Kyrie was on the bench. Now the detractors will point to the fact that Dion has been doing this without Kyrie on the court as further evidence that they don’t work well together. However, I believe that it only serves to show his value even more. We all know that when on the court Kyrie is going to dominate the ball. He’s the best player on the team and a point guard so that’s going to happen. But the kid has to rest. And when he does you’d like to have someone out there capable of picking up the slack. Lately Waiters has been doing just that and more.
In my mind you can’t undersell the value of having guys that create shots and score points. That’s the whole reason that they brought in Waiters in the first place. They didn’t want Kyrie to have to shoulder the load all himself and wanted to get another ball-handler on the team to ease the pressure on the young point guard. However, the perceived “problem” with the Kyrie/Dion duo is that they both need the ball to score and effect the game. While this may seem to be true it is more likely an out-growth of the fact that both players are still very young and are still learning how to play with each other. Good coaching should help them learn how to be better compatible together on the court.
When people talk about “fit” I assume they’re talking about this whole “can’t affect the game without the ball” thing. That notion, however, is falling apart this season. In Waiters rookie year he took a lot of ill-advised, off-dribble, pull-up jumpers which lead to a poor shooting percentage (.412), particularly from three (.310). Now in his second season Waiters is still trying to figure out how to better convert on dribble-drives at the rim. However, what he is getting much better at is limiting his pull-up jumpers and instead shooting more out of spot-up opportunities—a skill that would “fit” quite nicely with Kyrie’s dribble-drive abilities I might add. This season Waiters is shooting .451 on spot-up three pointers, putting him in the same range as three-point specialists like Ryan Anderson (.452), Klay Thompson (.465), Damien Lillard (.455), Kevin Martin (.455), and Bradley Beal (.466). Now I will note that Dion isn’t taking as many spot-up threes as most of these guys at only 2.4 a game, compared to a guy like Thompson who shoots 6 a game—so the sample size is a little small.
But what’s encouraging about those numbers is that it adds proof to what I thought I was seeing in games and that’s that Dion looks much better and more comfortable/confident shooting in spot-up opportunities. In fact, Waiters three-point percentage is much improved overall at .410 this season, likely because he’s shooting them more in spot-up situations as opposed to pull-ups. It’s also worth noting that at this early stage in the season that Dion is actually shooting better from three than the other guards in Kyrie (.331), Jarrett Jack (.390), and CJ Miles (.338). Only the great enigma Matthew Delevedova is shooting better at .458, though with the fewest attempts of the bunch.
Because of his improved shooting off spot-up threes that should make Waiters even more compatible with Kyrie. And I think the improved play that we’ve seen from the team these past several games has been in large because of the improved play of the young guards both alone and together. If they can put together more of those combined 50-point performances then the Cavs will be in really good shape going forward. The last thing they need to do is go out and make a panic trade of Dion for a ball-dominant, undersized, small forward who isn’t a good shooter and is in the final year of his contract which also so happens to be his first decently productive season of his career.
What the Cavs and Mike Brown should be focusing on is continuing to work at making the current pieces fit together better. The notion that just because Kyrie and Dion don’t have the on-court chemistry of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade after only one and a quarter seasons together to start their careers doesn’t mean that it can’t work. On the contrary, I think we’re seeing how it’s starting to come together. It’s not all the way there yet…but it’s getting better. In the NBA you build teams by amassing talent and then figuring it out from there because at the end of the day talent is what wins in this league. The Miami Heat are extreme example of this. Those pieces don’t fit together perfectly. But they’re so much more talented than everyone else and the coach has found a way to make them fit that they’ve won two straight titles. Worry about making the talent fit together instead of getting lesser that seemingly “fits better” together.
The Kyrie Irving/Dion Waiters duo is only just getting started. The future is still very bright for these young guards in Cleveland.
 Getting some foul calls would be start.
 Delly can only best be described as an enigma. I had no idea he’d be this affective and this good of a shooter. More than anything though I’m impressed with his defense. I don’t know if he’s a guy you can count on to play big minutes, but I love him the role that Mike Brown is currently using him as a kind of spark-plug, igniter off the bench.
 This is just counting guards. Earl Clark is shooting a very impressive .434 this season. I love that we’ve found some worth for this guy.
 I’m talking about Evan Turner in case you didn’t pick that up.
 The biggest issue for the Cavs this season isn’t that Dion didn’t work as a starter. The biggest issue was early poor play of Kyrie. It seems like he’s breaking out of his funk finally which is coinciding with the team’s improved play. For the Cavs to make some noise in the East Kyrie is going to need to shoot better than .331 from three and .411 from the floor. I thought Kyrie had a shot at being a 50/40/90 guy this season and make a push to be an All-NBA player. Instead his terrible start has those splits sitting at 41/33/81. Furthering the problems is that Kyrie is only shooting .392 on dribble-drives which is actually worse than Dion’s .446. It truly is puzzling why his shots haven’t been falling this season like they did the last two. But again, hopefully he’s breaking out of that funk.