WFNY Discussion: Dion Waiters’ shooting at the rim

No Cavs player is more polarizing among the WFNY crew than Dion Waiters (Jason Miller/Getty Images) No Cavs player is more polarizing among the WFNY crew than Dion Waiters (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

As you may know from being a WFNY reader, the WFNY writers have a daily email chain that can linger on and on. Sometimes, we’ll discuss prom jokes and other unsurprisingly immature topics for a group of 10+ males. But also, we really have some great discussions off the cuff about sports. Today, we bring you inside the WFNY email thread for a stats-based discussion about Cavs rookie Dion Waiters.

Jacob: Here’s your stat of the day y’all: (Source: HoopData as of games played on 12/10)

Of all 174 NBA players with at least 35 FGAs at the rim this season, Dion Waiters ranks LAST in shooting percentage at the rim at 41.2% (28-68). The average of these 174 players is 64.7% (44.6-69.0). The average of the 59 guards in this list is 60.9% (40.3-66.2).

Of the 59 guards, Waiters ranks in the top-fifth (No. 11) with 15.7 FGAs per 36 minutes.
Of the 59 guards, Waiters ranks in the upper-half (No. 23) with 4.5 FGAs at the rim per 36 minutes.
Of the 59 guards, Waiters ranks in the bottom-eighth (No. 8) with a 44.5% efg.

Here are his per-game stats at the rim: 1.65-4.00
Here are his per-36 mins stats at the rim: 1.85-4.49

Looking at the past two NBA seasons, there was only one guy each year who had as many as 68+ FGAs at the rim and a lower shooting percentage on such shots than Waiters:

Sundiata Gaines, NJ, 2011-12 — 29-74, 39.2%
Daniel Gibson, CLE, 2010-11 — 42-106, 39.6%

Here are the few other examples I could find in HoopData’s history dating back to the 2006-07 season:

Derek Fisher, LAL, 2009-10 — 30-76, 39.5%
D.J. Augustin, CHA, 2009-10 — 50-123, 40.7%
Derek Fisher, LAL, 2008-09 — 36-95, 38.0%
Luke Ridnour, MIL, 2008-09 — 36-90, 40.0%
Pops Mensah Bonsu, TOR, 2008-09 — 28-70, 40.0%

Several people came close in both the total FGAs at the rim and percentage categories too. But those are the only ones I could track down at this time. And yes, Derek Fisher’s name is on this list twice so it must be bad.

Notably, of course, since Waiters has taken those 68 FGAs in just a quarter of the season, he’s on pace for way more FGAs at the rim over the course of a full season than any of these players. Maybe that means he’s bound to improve before being historically bad for such a volume shooter. We can only hope.

Andrew: I would caution that he’s played, what, 18 games or so? It could just mean he’s a rookie struggling to adapt, which, as we know, SGs are prone to do. He might be worse than any previous SGs in this aspect, but I’m not sure we should be worried about it just yet.

Ben: I’ve seen similar stats like this w/r/t Dion and I’m basically unmoved. I hate being on the other side of numbers and taking the “watch the game!” approach but….

I see these games where Dion was the guy expected to create for others and score and he took a ton of shots. And people are complaining about the 21 year olds shot selection and his %. I’m just not concerned that the 21 SG on a team full of scrubs doesn’t have great numbers…

And the shots at the rim. I feel it’s obvious that he isn’t getting any love from the refs when he goes inside (being a rookie, on a bad team, who scowls/frowns when thing don’t go his way doesn’t help). I see these stats and watch him play and I’m like, “OK, so he’s not finishing well at the rim. But worst in the league? Worse than Ramon Sessions? Really?”

Andrew: That’s basically how I feel. As I said on twitter last week, the Cavs are (were) 4th in the NBA in shot attempts at the rim, and dead last in FG% at the rim. They’re in the bottom 10 in FT Rate. This tells me they are clearly not getting calls, which is part of the problem. But beyond that, I don’t see anything in Waiters’ game that worries me after 18 games. He looks like a rookie on a bad team.

Now, if he’s playing like this in year 3, then I’ll be really concerned.

Jacob: IMO, 68 FGAs at the rim isn’t that small of sample size. It’s easily transferable to baseball terms — through 17 games, he’s averaged 4 FGAs at the rim. It’s just like ABs in baseball. So he’s in a 17-game anomaly in terms of his shooting percentage at the rim, a la a 17-game anomaly for a batter’s walks/strikeouts, or whatever comparable baseball stat I can come up with.

Now take a look at this JPEG. The analysis from you guys helps me to test out some clear things in the stats that I wouldn’t have been able to think of since I don’t watch near as many games.

The stats in the JPEG originated from HoopData, when I looked at all guards with at least 25 FGAs at the rim over the past three seasons. Here are some notes:

— The overall average for guards is 61.0%. There are some variations year to year, but it has hovered around that mark.

— The overall average for rookie guards is 57.5%. Quite a bit more variations here, and possibly related to the “benefit of the call” argument that Andrew and Ben both hit on.

— I included Dwyane Wade as a prolific scorer at the rim. Then a handful of other comparables in terms of rookies, guys who shoot at about the same rate as Dion, guys who shoot really poorly at the rim, etc.

— Ramon Sessions shoots more at the rim per 36 minutes than anyone on this list than Wade. He’s below average at 57.1%, but not atrocious like some of the rookies. Kudos to him though for taking such a high percentage of his shots at such an efficient spot.

— The Marcus Thornton-Dion Waiters comparison lives on in terms of the shooting rates. But Thornton has done quite well at the rim in his career. (He was at 58.2% in his first two seasons, preceding these stats).

— Looking at other rookie samples, Ricky Rubio, Austin Rivers and Ben Uzoh all have had their shares of struggles. Oddly enough, Jeremy Pargo’s 12-13 also is similar, again showing Rock’s point about how the Cavs are just awful at the rim.

So yeah, I can buy the rookie argument a little bit. It’s just an intriguing case study for observation down the road. I still think 68 FGAs is a decent enough sample size for a trend — a la a 17-game stretch in baseball — but Waiters is on pace for a historic shooting slump at the rim for someone taking that many shots. From the list I shared above, D.J. Augustin had the most FGAs at the rim with 123, so Waiters should pass that in just another month and a half. Then we’ll really be able to tell a more complete story.

Other things to potentially look at in relation to these stats: Usage%, FTA/FGA, %Blkd, %Assisted. All these stats and comparables, however, really just make me wish that SCHOENE (NBA’s version of PECOTA, developed by Kevin Pelton) was more publicized. Soo many intriguing things could be found out if you could just see the comparables for Dion’s complete statistical profile, then project that out over his future.

Kirk: I’m not overly concerned about Waiters, for reasons mentioned above, including the fact that Kyrie missing games forced Dion to take most of the big shots and jack stuff up he normally wouldn’t.

Ben: I watch these games and am really encouraged by his play making ability and how he is able to get shots. I like how he takes big shots and has made plays late in games. That he has a poor shot selection or that he’s struggling to finish at the rim during his first month of his NBA career is meh. Like, I don’t watch him and see anything “historically bad”.

Andrew: It’s more than the sample size. It’s that the sample comes in his first 18 games of his career, a portion of which was without Irving. It’s definitely interesting to think about, but not something to be worried about just yet. In my opinion, anyway.

So what do you think? Should Cavalier fans be concerned about this peculiar statistic related to the No. 4 pick in the draft? Or is this a case of the stat-analyst going a little too far with his claims on stats that don’t really matter to the game itself? We’d love to hear your take. …


(James Miller/Getty Images)


  • Kunal

    I don’t really think there is much of a reason to be concerned yet, especially considering, as some of the guys brought up, that a portion of his games so far have been without Kyrie. If it’s still around the same towards the end of the season then maybe I’ll be concerned.

  • JacobWFNY

    Kunal — Always good to see a comment from you! But yeah, I think you’re right. Very compelling stats here and that’s why I had to share them with the WFNY crew. Moderately historic and moderately inconsequential at the same time?

  • Kunal

    Yeah, I mean it’s definitely not good. But I say give the kid some time before we hit the panic button on him. Being overseas I haven’t been able to watch as many games as I would like, but based on the few that I have seen he looks more promising than his stats would show.

  • bumsquare

    I’m more pleased with the playmaking, speed, and strength that I’ve seen than I am concerned with the “at-the-rim” problems. I don’t have any basis for this, but finishing at the rim seems like a more correctible problem than handle, speed, or strength. I remember Kyrie having a bit of a problem with this to start last year, although not for a very long stretch. Hopefully Dion follows a similar trajectory. It also seems to me that he could be finishing with dunks more often, or at least not trying the “up-and-under” that he seems to shoot once or twice every game. It’s not a very high-percentage shot.

  • mgbode

    I re-watched some Cavs games this weekend. One thing that seemed evident to me about Waiters game is that he is more concerned about getting into the paint than actually what happens once he gets there. He is basically the exact opposite of Irving who always seems under control and has a backup plan to what he is doing in this regard.

    It is not necessarily a bad thing though. I think it is easier to get someone to settle down on this stuff and let the game come to them rather than to get a player to figure out how to be more aggressive in getting to the paint. In fact, the last time we had a rookie wing player who got to the paint with ease but put up some crazy silly shots, he figured things out pretty well (of course his FG% was likely higher in the paint because he was a violent dunker as well, which Waiters is not).