By Michael McAllister
When the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Dion Waiters with the fourth pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, there were mixed reactions. Some loved the pick, citing Waiters upside and NBA-ready skills. Others ripped the pick saying it was a reach that early. Many Cavs fans harped on the fact that Waiters never started a game in his college career. One writer in particular summarized the feelings of many Cavs fans. That writer is Larry Phillips of the Newark Advocate.
He wrote an article ripping the pick and ripping Dion. You can read it in its entirety here
. In the interest of fairness, accurate information, and calming down some upset Cavs fans, we offer the following rebuttal to Phillips' piece. Phillips' Point #1:
"Once Waiters joined the Orange he never got off the bench in two years. Not one start. Mostly because coach Jim Boeheim could not convince him to play defense, and this is a program that plays zone all 40 minutes, not the most taxing defensive scheme." Rebuttal:
That point shows a lack of understanding of Jim Boeheim, the Syracuse system, and the Orange zone. It seems to fall back on the cliche that zone defense allows you to rest and doesn't require effort. Simply not true. Watch the Syracuse defense and you can see how hard this team works at it. You can see the complex rotations, traps, and scheme set up within the framework of the zone. That's why it is the best in college basketball. As far as starting, that meant essentially nothing. Especially this year. As Brent Axe point out, all that meant was his name was not called by the P.A. guy. He played a starter's role on this team. Waiters was in the game down the stretch of close games. He was the best offensive player on the team. And, despite his comment above, the best defensive guard on the team. But we will get more into that later. Waiters didn't start not because he was not worthy, but because Boeheim played Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche. Two veteran guards who were already starters. Boeheim generally does not remove veteran starters from the starting lineup in favor of younger players. It's part of Boeheim's way. Phillips' Point #2:
"Waiters dug in his heels, and stayed on the bench, managing 6.6 points in 16 minutes as a freshman while displaying a bad attitude, bad body language and a bad aura." Rebuttal:
There really isn't a rebuttal here. We all know Waiters' issues his freshman year. But it is to his credit that he grew up, matured, and corrected those issues. Phillips' Point #3:
"The stories we've read ever since draft night are that Waiters underwent a dramatic transformation before his sophomore year. Although he never started a game, he played starter's minutes this past season. Both of those claims are erroneous.
Waiters played just 7.8 minutes more per game as a sophomore (24.1) than as a freshman (16.3). Boeheim had four other players (Fab Melo, Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, and C.J. Fair) all log more than 25 minutes per game. Most legitimate major college starters average even more than that." Rebuttal:
Once again, this shows a lack of understanding of the Syracuse team last year. Yes four players averaged more than 25 minutes per game. But only one of those was at Waiters position. How does Fab Melo playing over 25 minutes per game at a thinner position mean Waiters should have played more at a deeper position? That simply doesn't make sense. Syracuse primarily played three guards last season. Scoop Jardine averaged 25.2 minutes per game, Waiters 24.1, and Brandon Triche 22.5. So we are now going crazy over the extra 1.1 minutes per game Scoop played? On this team, Waiters minutes were starter's minutes because of how deep this team was. He played the second most minutes of any guard, despite not being a starter, behind a senior point-guard. In fact, only one player averaged over 30 minutes per game. And that player (Kris Joseph) didn't play Waiters' position. So to argue Waiters only playing 24 minutes per game is a detriment to his draft status is simply inaccurate. Phillips' Point #3:
"Waiters posted 12.6 points and 2.5 assists while jacking up the second-most shots among the Orange. Getting his teammates involved is not in his repertoire either, another unfavorable trait for a smallish 2-guard allergic to defense." Rebuttal:
Yes Waiters took the second most shots on the team. But that was because he was the best offensive player on the team. You would expect that. As far as his numbers being "low" as he suggests, he mentions previously that Waiters didn't play legitimate minutes. How can one put up big time numbers if they aren't playing enough minutes? It seems those two points he makes actually contradict each other. Waiters "only" put up 12.6 points and 2.5 assists per game because he "only" played 24 minutes per game because the team was so deep and talented. Context is key here. But look at his other numbers. Two-to-one assist to turnover ratio and shooting nearly 48% from the floor.
The last point is the one that might be his worst. Allergic to defense? Has Phillips watched any Syracuse game other than the Ohio State game? Waiters, despite the limited minutes Phillips harped on previously, averaged nearly two steals per game in a zone that does not lend itself to an individual accumulating high steal totals. He led the country in steals for a large part of the season. Waiters was also easily the best defensive guard on the team. Watch the games and it's clear. He rotates well, has quick feet, stays with his man, is intelligently aggressive, and forces turnovers. But just in case further evidence is needed, I present two pieces of information. The first from Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated
who analyzed the Syracuse zone in a statistical way.
"As I wrote earlier, a difference of just a few points in DRating is significant, so the gap between Waiters (82.9) and fellow guards Brandon Triche (87.1) and Scoop Jardine (88.3) should be regarded as immense. Waiters creates turnovers at a much higher rate than the other guards do, and he has the size and range to recover and contest more shots on the perimeter. Boeheim said that he's instructed his guards to extend the zone and apply more pressure to shooters in the past two years, and Waiters and Triche do the best job this"
And from NBA Draft Express
: "While Waiters has been somewhat of a mixed bag on the offensive end this season, the same cannot be said for his defensive performance, where he's been one of Syracuse's most effective and disruptive defenders this season, as chronicled in great depth by SI's Luke Winn.
Waiters is extremely aggressive on this end of the floor, extending Syracuse's zone well beyond the college three-point line, being constantly in motion, and frequently picking off balls in the passing lanes to fuel his own transition game. He does a great job jumping out to contest shots and shows very good hustle and focus overall. Waiters also does a good job using his strength to get over picks on pick-and-rolls, and works hard to stay in front of his man on the rare chance he sees a true isolation in Jim Boeheim's zone."
So to argue Waiters is allergic to defense is simply inaccurate and untrue. Phillips' Point #4:
"We have also been told Waiters shows up big for big games. That would be great if it were accurate. It's not....Waiters was a good player who came off the bench for a very deep Syracuse team, and wilted when his squad needed him most in the same scenario. Fans at the Cavaliers' draft party booed his selection. It's understandable." Rebuttal:
The article outlines several games against ranked opponents where Waiters had sub-par games. Those are fair points. However, to say he did not show up for "big games" and "wilted when his squad needed him the most" are simply inaccurate. He also mentions Waiters performance in the "Big East championship game loss to Cincinnati." Syracuse did not play in the Big East championship game. It was the semi-final.
The biggest games in college basketball are the postseason. This includes both the Big East Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. In those games, Waiters shot 50% from the floor and 50% from beyond the arc. Both above his season average. He also scored over 16 points per game, also above his season average. That suggests to me he did not "wilt" in the games they needed him the most. Do we not consider his 18 points against Kansas State in the NCAA Tournament "clutch" because they won by double figures? What about against Connecticut in the Big East Tournament where he scored 18 points on 8-11 shooting? How about scoring 13 points in a low scoring affair against Wisconsin in a close win in the Sweet-16? Yes he had a poor performance against Ohio State. But in his team's six postseason games, he stepped up his game in five of them.
So yes, Waiters at number four. Really. Many considered him to have the second highest ceiling in the draft behind Anthony Davis. His game compliments rookie of the year Kyrie Irving perfectly. So before we go ripping Waiters and the Cavs, let's look at accurate information. Follow Nation of Orange on Twitter Like Nation of Orange on Facebook Photo credit: cleveland.com