Everyone has different opinions when it comes to basketball. It’s funny, because it seems like basketball should be the easiest sport to objectively breakdown due to a lot of built-in factors with the sport1. But there are still massive disagreements all the time on whether players are good or not.
Of course, words like “good” and “bad” can and do mean different things to different people. So perhaps that’s why arguments break out over this stuff. Either way, in case you missed it or aren’t on Twitter and/or don’t follow CBS Sports’ Matt Moore (@HPbasketball), last night a huge debate broke out between Moore and Cavs fans over Dion Waiters.
Now, for those who don’t know, Matt Moore doesn’t like Dion Waiters. I ‘m not talking about Waiters the person, but Waiters the basketball player. Moore has been a very vocal critic of Waiters all season long, and he’s evidently tired of Cavs fans defending Waiters’ game.
I don’t mean that as an attack on Matt. I like and respect Matt a lot. But if you look at his Twitter timeline, that’s the truth. He doesn’t think much of Waiters and whenever Waiters has a good game, many Cavs fans call him out on Twitter about it, which can sometimes lead to Matt making sarcastic comments about Waiters and Cavs fans.
So I feel the need to say a few things about this debate. I’m not doing this to go after Matt Moore, that’s not my intention. I’m doing this to defend Dion Waiters the basketball player. Not as a Cavs fan or a Waiters fan2, but as someone who believes that credit should be given where it is due.
So lets start with what happened on Twitter last night. I’ve compiled many of Moore’s tweets about Dion so you can read them for yourself:
Now I know Cleveland sports fans can be rabid and viciously go after those who say bad things about the city or its players. Yet I also don’t think it’s fair to intentionally incite fans with inflammatory statements that skew what the fans are trying to argue, and then play the victim card. I don’t think either side is fully innocent in any of this.
But I hate all this drama and people getting emotional about this stuff. It’s just basketball and everyone is entitled to their opinions. So with respect to that last part, I wanted to share some opinions on Dion Waiters and whether or not he is improving.
I think most people agree that Dion has been playing better lately. Moore even seems to acknowledge this fact, but writes it off as just a 13 day stretch and doesn’t feel it tells the whole story. I agree with that. 13 days is way too small to decipher anything. But lets compare his first month numbers with January and February (a slightly larger sample).
When it comes to Moore’s assertion that Dion’s shot selection is still horrible, there’s obviously more to it than just shot zone, but check out these numbers:
|Month||% of FGA at Rim||eFG% at Rim||16-23 feet||eFG% 16-23||3 pt||eFG%||FG%||FT%||3P%|
This seems to me to be more than a 13 day trend. I think it’s pretty clear that Dion has been much better at not only going to the rim more, but he’s also making more of his shots at the rim. Every month in this chart he has taken a smaller percentage of his shots from three and a higher percentage at the rim. His eFG% at the rim has improved every month. His overall FG% has has gone up every month despite his 3P% going down. What does that tell me? It tells me he’s jacking up fewer contested threes and going into the lane and driving more. Not only that, but he’s getting much better at finishing at the rim as well.
Look, Dion Waiters has not been objectively ‘good’ this season. I don’t think anyone is arguing that, unless Matt is following very different Cavs fans on Twitter than I am. But we shouldn’t be surprised by Waiter’s struggles with consistency. We predicted it over and over again in our comments before the season and even during the season. SGs typically have the hardest time adjusting to the NBA.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Cavs fans being encouraged by the steps Dion has made toward improvement. Watching the Cavaliers play all season, there’s no doubt in my mind Dion is a much different player than the one we say the first month of the season when Dion was playing a lot of hero ball. At the time, his shots were going in, but they were mostly bad shots. As he came back down to the law of averages, his shot stopped going in and for a long stretch Dion looked lost and really struggled.
Then to start January, Byron Scott benched Dion and rather than sulk, Dion seemed to take it as a real learning opportunity. He refocused his game and started attacking the rim more often. His all around game started looking a little better off the bench. By the end of the month, he was back in the starting lineup and rather than reverting to his old style, he has continued the overall trend of improvement.
I don’t think any of us know how good Dion will or won’t be. He has a ton of work to do before he lives up to being picked #4 in the draft, but it’s just way too early to either call him or bust or to say he’s lived up to the pick. All we can really say is that it’s encouraging to see Dion playing better basketball and we hope it continues and gets even better in the future.
[Editor's Note: In discussing this with Matt via email, he made his case for why he feels the way he does and why he sent the tweets that he did. He wanted to be able to share his side with you guys, so here's what he had to say about it. Before I paste his comments, too, I just wanted to take a moment to reiterate what I said in the post. I respect Matt as an NBA writer a lot. He's been a friend to this site and he is often sticking up for small market teams. If you follow Matt on Twitter, you'll know that he watches a TON of basketball. He frequently can be found tweeting about Cavs games during the games, so I know he's been watching and even if I disagree with his assessment of "bad" in this particular case, his opinion still carries a lot of weight. What follows are Matt's comments about Dion, some Cavs fans, and Twitter in general:
I have 26k followers. I don't think that's a lot. I'm not proud of that figure. I have 183,000 tweets, which, God almighty, what have I done with my life, but regardless, if you tweet that much, you SHOULD have that many followers with any sort of national branding. But I do have them. Which means I get a lot of mentions. A LOT of mentions. And many of that are the worst parts of the internet who come calling.
I hated the pick at the time. I want Cleveland to succeed, to rebuild, because I love small market teams, and regardless of LeBron v. Cleveland, I want them to recover from something that sucked. Waiters largely got drafted because of a few workouts, and a strong half-showing at the combine. His resume was suspect. He was out of shape for summer league. Then he enters the league and starts chucking. Just chucking like mad. Kyrie's in, Kyrie's out, whatever, you can control your shot selection and it was poor. I didn't like his feel for the game, his shot selection, or his percentage.
The kid's probably very nice and there's no reason to think it's impossible he can improve. There's a good chance he winds up an OK role player. There's a very good chance he winds up a decent rotation guy. There's a small chance he's great, just if he defies all the information we've seen on him. I want him to succeed. I want every rookie to succeed. I don't root for anyone to fail, especially the kids.
But he's been bad. Really bad. Most of this started when I was doing some data for a piece I sometimes do on who has more shots than points. At one point Waiters was really high up there. I tweeted it. That started things. He's improved since then, though it's still not great obviously, seeing as he's still shooting 40 percent on the season. I talked to Byron Scott, and he talked about the biggest thing Waiters needed was to learn to work without the ball. And it's not that he can't do that, it's that I've seen SO MANY GUYS with Waiters' ball-dominant approach never really get over it. There are guys who have. Look at Ben Gordon, who was a .411 shooter his rookie season. But the shot selection, on top of everything else, concerns me.
Has he gotten better at getting to the rim? Absolutely! Why? Because he desperately needed to and Kyrie is spreading the floor! The problem? Eventually, what I call 'the book" is going to get out on him, which is when the scouts pass on strategies to limit a player. And that's going to cause a downslide,most likely. Not definitively, but likely. So an uptick is going to be countered with adjustments, and then we're back where we started. Maybe not though.
I actually wrote a little bit after I saw them in Denver about how I liked his game more and more. He was moving off-ball better, had better instincts, was aggressive without hurting the team. But it waivers, a lot, and honestly, those games where he gets hot and goes on a tear? They're bad for him because it teaches him bad habits. That Clippers game this season was the worst thing possible for him. That game gave him confidence, which is good, but in the wrong shots, which is bad.
So here's where we go back to the Twitter followers. What do you think happens when you have 26k followers, many of whom are Cleveland fans, and Dion Waiters has a good game? What do you think my mentions look like? I've bagged on Amir Johnson this year for being primarily a hustle player. (I've also listed him as a Sixth Man candidate, but whatever, let's ignore that for now.) When Amir Johnson has a good game or hits a gamewinner? My mentions detonate. And when Waiters has a good game, the same thing happens.
That's how this started.
I get "DION WAITERS SHOWING YOU WHAT'S UP." There weren't a ton last night, but there were a few. Do you know how irritating that is when you make your case based off watching a lot of Cavs basektball when you're not a fan? I try and be educated about the teams, and I watch a LOT of Cavs ball and actually like some of their team a lot. But you make assertions based on a season' worth of data, within the context of what you've seen from ALLLLL the other teams in the NBA not just Cleveland, and people come at you because he has one quality game (where he blows the final rotation and leaves Kawhi Leonard open for the one shot you absolutely cannot give the Spurs, but whatever, he's a rookie, those rotations are hard for veterans to learn)?
So I respond.
Did anyone suggest he was going to win ROY? No. (Though I will say I can remember three people tweeting at me that he would win it, just you wait, Moore. They're out there. Seriously.) That was trolling, as you said. Should I have reacted?
OF COURSE NOT. THIS IS THE INTERNET. IT'S SPELUNKING IN A SEWER. THE ONLY RESULT IS THAT EVERYONE IS COVERED IN POO.
But I do, and I did, and I'm not proud of it, but it is what it is. i won't get into why I got perturbed at various people because they made it about me, and not about Waiters or the argument, as you did in your analysis. But I try really hard to be open to criticism, to be open-minded about opinions, and to be fair. If Waiters plays like this for another month and a half? You're DAMN RIGHT I'll write about his improvement and include it in my weekly awards. He'll land on the ROY list if that happens.
But that's what happens. The worst of the internet comes out, then I turn into the worst of the internet, and then it's a spiral. Cavs fans are defensive and aggressive. Hilariously, my DM's filled up last night with Cavs writers saying "OH GOD I'M SO SORRY WE'RE NOT ALL LIKE THIS BUT SO MANY OF US ARE. I CAN'T SAY THIS PUBLICLY BECAUSE I FEAR FOR MY FAMILY'S SAFETY." Basically. (Not basically, it's an exaggeration for humor's effect.) But I mean, I fanned the flames. Do I wish it wasn't personal? Sure. Is it OK to let that get to me? NO. This is part of the gig. I get to write about basketball professionally instead of working in the dead-end office job I did for years and I take that privilege very seriously. It's why I work hard to actually watch and read blogs like WFNY and do research and talk to coaches and players as much as possible. I don't make this stuff up to get a reaction.
When I say Dion Waiters has been bad this season, I mean it. When I say he can improve, I mean it. And when I say I think they should have drafted Beal, regardless of relative statistical production this season, I mean it. (They would have had to trade up which they had an opportunity to do, but still.)
Is all this unnecessary OF COURSE. IT IS TWITTER. But it's also about discussion, and approaches to communication, and about knowing more about basketball. We all have to get a little better at it, including me.]
- fewest number of players playing at one time, individual players making bigger impact on team, strong advanced stats, just to name a few… [↩]
- in fact, I’ve been pretty hard on Dion myself and like Moore have faced some angry Cavs fans for my comments about Dion’s game [↩]