There are many options that the Cleveland Cavs GM Chris Grant has this off-season and some difficult decisions. There has been a stated desire to add some veteran help for this team and get them playoff ready in 2013-14. Grant has consistently shown a preference to add talent via the draft and, if needed, trades. Either because of a perceived inability of Cleveland to attract free agents or simply Grant’s preference, most have speculated that the Cavs will be forced to add that veteran help by a trade. Our pieces to trade are certainly limited and, in speculation, Dion Waiters name has surfaced from time to time.
My thoughts on this possibility are clear. Trade Dion Waiters at your peril. I say this knowing that, except for Kyrie Irving, there are no untouchable players on the current Cavs team. So, if the trade were clearly tilted in our favor, Dion could be included. My warning is a result of my visual analysis of Waiters, the statistics he compiled this year compared to other rookies, and what I have heard about Waiters this off-season. I think that Waiters has the ability and the toughness to be a dynamic All-Star talent in the years to come. It might not be next year, but I believe it will happen soon. At first I kind of scoffed at the speculation that Waiters looked a bit like a young Dwayne Wade. I now think that comparison is at least possible to discuss if still unlikely.
As I watched Waiters last year, he came in out of shape to the Summer League and then was injured. Although this was mostly his fault, it set him back considerably. As the season started, he was in fairly good shape but was still behind. As the season progressed, when healthy, he showed clearly why he was the fourth pick in the draft and deserved to be the fourth pick. His offensive game is dynamic and almost no single defender can stay in front of him off the dribble. That places enormous pressure on the defense and makes him a force even before he has refined his game. He forced too many drives last year looking for fouls but seemed to learn that the better approach was finding a way to avoid the defense and make the shot. I think he did get some “rookie” treatment last year on his drives but that should even out as he proves his ability to the officials.
Although Waiters was a bit prone to turnovers in his rookie year, he showed an excellent handle and can certainly provide point guard minutes as a backup to Kyrie if we do not obtain a high level back-up point guard. Dion will always have some questions about his three point shooting, but I certainly think it will develop over 31% and will likely end up around 38% if he works hard. As long as he realizes that the three point shot is not the key part of his offensive skill set, he will only get better as an offensive player. He may very well turn out to be the most accomplished offensive player of the 2012 draft class and may be already.
Something not really discussed when talking about Waiters is his defensive potential. In the few times he really put the effort needed on the defensive end, he was a real pest with a decent ability to steal the ball and disrupt the offense. In fact, as I analyze his lateral quickness, I think he has all the tools to be an excellent defender. The key to defense, as everyone knows, is consistent effort and focus. Most rookies don’t have the mindset to defend as hard as they play offense. Dion, unfortunately, fell into that category. But he possesses the toughness, quick hands, solid frame and lateral quickness to be a good defender. I believe that, under Mike Brown, he will begin to show the focus to be a top defender. If so, his stature as a pro will rise accordingly.
In addition to my observations above, Tristan Thompson recently related that Waiters was working extremely hard this off season. I would be shocked if he came into camp out of shape this year. In fact, I expect him to be ready to have an immediate impact on the Cavs next year. One far in excess of his impact last year. If Thompson was being completely honest, I can’t wait to see Dion this summer.
When I correlate my observations with the statistics of the top rookies last year, Waiters compares very favorably despite his injuries and slow start. Dion had the absolutely best points per game average when his points were extended out to a 36 minutes per game total. As I looked over the stats of the top rookies from last year, here is what I found:
Key stats per game calculated to 36 minutes:
Player Points Assists Turnovers Rebounds Steals
Waiters 18.3 3.8 2.5 3.1 1.2
Lillard 17.8 6.0 2.8 2.9 0.8
Davis 16.9 1.2 1.7 10.2 1.5
Beal 16.1 2.8 1.9 4.4 1.0
Kidd-Gilcrist 12.5 2.1 1.8 8.1 1.0
Barnes 13.1 1.7 1.8 5.8 0.9
Drummond 13.8 0.9 1.7 13.2 1.7
Zeller 10.8 1.7 1.7 7.8 0.6
As you can see, there is more than idle speculation to support Waiters future potential. The stats also imply that Dion does play like a true “combo guard” as some of his stats are closer to Lillard than anyone else on the list. These numbers were generated despite the challenges faced by Waiters during his first year. I absolutely want to see what Dion can become as a Cavalier and not as an ex-Cavalier. The Cavs trade Dion Waiters at their peril. I would hate to be Chris Grant during the years going forward watching Waiters emerge as a star for another team.