What an interesting year it has been for Dion Waiters and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Heading into the 2013-14 season, the Cavs had playoff hopes in a weak Eastern Conference, but those quickly vanished as the team reportedly lacked chemistry. Waiters was kicked out of a practice and the most notable part of how their 33-49 season ended was a dual interview at practice between him and star guard Kyrie Irving about how the two are the best of friends despite rumors and words from NFL star Josh Gordon saying otherwise.
Now, things are a lot different. LeBron James has returned home to play for the team he left four years ago, Euroleague coaching star David Blatt has come back to his homeland as a rookie NBA coach and the team selected Andrew Wiggins with the first overall pick in June’s draft. After a miserable year, the hype for the Cavaliers may be higher than it has ever been. To add to the drama, Waiters, who often responds to fans on Twitter, answered a question about coming off the bench with an apparent no on Tuesday.
Many, including myself, figured Waiters would be the team’s sixth man and first player off the bench, but it seems like he has other ideas. With all of these organizational changes, what will his role be with the Cavaliers next year?
Waiters’ response to the question comes as a surprise, especially since coming off the bench is a role that he has played often the past three years. As a sophomore at Syracuse, he earned Big East Sixth Man of the Year honors. In two NBA seasons, he has come off the bench a total of 59 times in 131 games. This past season, he came off the bench in 46 of 70 games and had a better year compared to his first with increases in points per game, field goal percentage, rebounds and three-point percentage.
With their current roster lacking rim protector depth, they could play some small ball. Wiggins, at 6-foot-8, is big for a two guard and has the ability to guard guys who play the three position. James also played a lot of stretch four for the Miami Heat and has become comfortable with it, so why can’t all of them be on the court at the same time? Think about those three and Irving. Strong, aggressive and athletic on defense, which would turn into some lethal fast break opportunities. Coming off the bench probably wouldn’t affect Waiters’ minutes too much either.
With all of that being said, Waiters may have a point that he deserves to be the starter at the second guard position. He will be entering his third year in the league while Wiggins is an unproven rookie. Plus, his numbers this past season were better when he was in the starting lineup. Waiters averaged 18.3 points per game as a starter opposed to 14.7 off the bench, shot one percent better from the field, dished out 3.5 assists as opposed to 2.7 and averaged 1.3 steals compared to .7. He also hit a game-winning buzzer beater as a starter. Some of this came with Irving injured so more of the offensive burden fell on him, but the difference in his numbers in both roles is impressive regardless.
Waiters still has a lot to prove in his young career. He has shown he has the potential to be an elite scorer and his size and athletic ability make him built to be a very good defender in this league as well. With an extremely new look for the Cavaliers this coming year as compared to the one they had last year, look for Waiters to mot likely come off the bench and provide a spark from that spot this year. This team has a lot of potential and as they figure things out that may or may not be the answer, but look for the Cavs to start the season that way.