Dion Waiters Loving Himself and His Game

In the 2012 NBA Draft Bradley Beal, the one year player out of Florida, was selected before Dion Waiters. Waiters had a successful career at Syracuse, was known nationally because of the coverage Syracuse gets and was thought to be the better pro just from the eye test. Beal was selected number three by the Wizards and Waiters was chosen number four. Damian Lillard was drafted two slots down from Waiters at number six. Both Beal and Lillard have amassed seasons scoring 20 or more points per game, and more importantly, have been significant in the playoffs, while Waiters has had an average career as a role player.

2012 Draft Points FG% 3Point% PER
Bradely Beal #3 17.0 43.4% 39.5% 15.2
Dion Waiters #4 13.1 41.2% 34.1% 12.1
Damian Lillard #6 21.9 42.8% 36.6% 19.8

In the last year of his rookie deal, Waiters was traded to the Thunder from the Cavs- LeBron wasn’t on board with Waiters- and he signed a two year deal with the Miami Heat this past summer with a player option come July. Beal and Lillard are still with the team(s) that drafted them and were paid max $100 million dollar deals.

The recurring narrative on Waiters was he overvalued his talent. He was arrogant. He was selfish. He wasn’t a team player but more importantly he wasn’t that good. He was an overreach as a lottery pick. He wasn’t a max talent. To his surprise, he was never going to be a superstar.

Waiters had a decent rookie year of 14 points a game but lacked efficiency as a scorer, 41.2%. His highest field goal percentage was during his second year 43.3%. Consistency was always a problem for Waiters. He would have stretches of making shots and then his game would go in the tank. He had the ego of a shooting guard but he didn’t have the humility nor the shot making game, and he was an average rebounder and ball mover.

In Miami this season, Waiters, sensing an opportunity, has reversed some of the criticisms of his game. He is rebounding career high numbers, same with assists. His shooting can still be hit or miss; love it or not Waiters is a streaky player. Currently his hot streak is on and the Heat are two games out of the 8th seed, a bad move for them because they need young talent and this draft is supposed to deliver that. But winning right now is what they are doing and Dion Waiters is doing his part.

He brushed back all the shade about his game when the Heat played the Warriors and Waiters was the star. The Heat beat the Warriors because Waiters was consistent all the way through. As usual, his shot selection left a lot to be desired but that was splitting hairs because he made the tough shots, particularly down the stretch. In the last three minutes, he took five shots. He made two of them which pretty much falls within the Waiters efficiency, 40%. The first three he made gave the Heat a five point cushion. He missed his next two and made a clutch 25 footer to break a 102-102 tie. It was the game winner. Waiters, who loves when he is special, basked in the glow from the Heat fans but it was more than that. This is what Waiters always knew he was.

After the Warriors game, Waiters, who dropped 33 on the Dubs, shooting an eye-popping 65% and 75% from three, had a nice follow up game of 24 points, 55.6% and 66.7% from three against the Brooklyn Nets and another game winner. Since then it’s been 19 points, 17 points, 20 points, 21 points, 12 points. It is exactly what the Heat need from Waiters. They don’t need him to be Kobe. Or Wade. They need him to compliment Dragic on the perimeter and to feed Whiteside.

Since the Brooklyn game, Waiters has shot 60%, 11%, 50%, 50%, 83%, 0% from three, an important metric because the Heat are in the middle of the pack in three point makes and they need Waiters to drill the open jumper.

Against the Timberwolves, Waiters stepped on Gorgui Dieng’s foot and sprained his ankle to disrupt what had been a hot Waiters creating havoc on the court.

A few days ago, Waiters said, “I’d rather go 0 for 30 than 0 for 9 because you go 0 for 9 that means you stopped shooting. That means you lost confidence.” Forget for a moment that it was a straight rip off of Kobe Bryant when commenting on how Deron Williams played against the Heat in the playoffs. It was a true Waiters moment, Waiters unplugged. However entertaining it was, talk like that will derail this season if he doesn’t rein his inner Kobe in. He’s a career 41% shooter, not a 46% scorer like Bryant. He doesn’t have an array of moves. No jab step. No fadeaway. No two dribble pull up. No step back. He is a perimeter shot maker, a confident one who has yet to have a consistent 82 games so let’s dial it back a bit with all the loving on yourself.

The Philly born Waiters is currently going through the best stretch of his pro career. If he can maintain his efficiency (he had a terrible game against the Twolves because of the ankle sprain) he might find himself in the playoffs. But he was in the playoffs last year with the Thunder and it didn’t go so well for Waiters in the Western Conference Finals. But don’t tell Dion Waiters he came up short.

He won’t believe you.


photo via llananba