Disrespectful. A late-May, one-word re-tweet from the account of Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters was all it would take for fans of the Wine and Gold to give pause when considering the upcoming NBA Draft, set to kick off one week from Thursday.
Waiters’ response was in regard to a local media member insinuating that he should be the Cavaliers’ sixth man in the coming seasons. The thinking is that Waiters played the sixth man role well during his time at Syracuse and other NBA teams have thrived with a sixth man who would be good enough to start, but provide balance with their respective squad’s reserve unit. With the poster boy of this role being James Harden during his days in Oklahoma City, we discussed this very idea during the onset of Waiters’ rookie year. During his limited time as a reserve for Byron Scott, Waiters saw improvement in his shooting percentage—both from the floor and the line, shot selection, and, thus, points per game. In his first game off of the bench, Waiters provided 20 points in 29 minutes; two weeks later, he dropped 33. The Cavaliers’ efforts, however, was not yielding wins, so the fourth-overall pick was inserted back into the starting lineup.
The record still didn’t reflect changes made as the Cavaliers struggled mightily. In his post-season interview, Waiters discussed growth and maturity, experience and education. Since then, the offensively focused off-guard has done everything in his power to remind fans and media alike that he longs to be a starter within the NBA.
Coupling these words with those of disrespect, Cleveland fans—glass-half-empty worry warts at heart, of course—instantly drum up the potential chaos that could evolve from selecting Kansas’ shooting guard Ben McLemore with the first-overall selection. Sure, he may be the next Ray Allen. The 6-foot-5-inch swingman has all of the tools—the beautiful release, the ability to run off of screens, the perfect combination of athleticism and finesse—to provide the Cavaliers with a much-needed scoring punch, effectively taking the load off of superstar point guard Kyrie Irving. But what if it creates a pseudo-quarterback controversy? After all, the Cavaliers used a lottery selection on a shooting guard just one year ago; doing so with another one could prove fatal from a chemistry standpoint. And we all know Mike Brown doesn’t do well with locker room issues1. Why create an unstable environment when there are other options?
You do so because of superstar potential. We will never know what transpired behind those walls in Independence on Wednesday afternoon when McLemore was alongside other would-be first overall selections with immense defensive prowess. We do know that the shooting guard has struggled in previous visits, and we are well aware that his representation issues have created a bit of a mess2. But we also know that, despite the Cavaliers’ need for a small forward as well as a defensive stopper in the post, many teams have been able to flourish with a three-guard rotation.
The Thunder and Spurs have perfected this model, but upstart teams like the Golden State Warriors (Steph Curry, Jarret Jack and Klay Thompson), New York Knicks (Ray Felton, Iman Shumpert, and JR Smith), and Los Angeles Clippers (Chris Paul, Willie Green and Jamal Crawford) all excelled by having a offensively focused shooting guard coming off of the bench. In the Knicks’ case, Smith started in zero contests, but still led the team in minutes—thus, proving the adage, it’s not who starts, but who finishes.
Recall that it was the sixth-man role which almost forced Waiters to transfer out of Syracuse. By all accounts, the 21-year old wants to start. But he has, per himself and those around him, matured greatly over the last year. Around this time one year ago, Waiters was overweight and entitled. Today, he has been a frequent visitor at the team’s pristine practice facility in Independence, spends a lot of his energy promoting charity events, and goes home to Philadelphia not to run around with Meek Mill and the hustle, but to spend time with family. As 92.3 The Fan’s Anthony Lima puts it, “He’s a different kind of dude.”
Waiters is also different in the way that he impacts the game—he and McLemore are far from identical players when it comes to playing the shooting guard position. Waiters is undoubtedly a dribble-drive, embarrass-the-Birdman kind of dude with a bit of a mean streak. The impending rookie—while explosive in his own right—prefers to pick you apart from a longer distance, while doing so at a higher efficiency. A silent assassin kind of dude.
One week from now, all of the speculation surrounding who will be taken versus who should be taken will cease. Sure, there will be a vocal cabal who will prematurely cast their disdain for whomever is taken, doing so until the cards shake out and we all get a better idea of what we have versus what could have been3. But if it is, in fact, McLemore’s name who is called, and the Kansas product places a flat-brimmed Cleveland hat on his head before shaking hands with the Basketball Beelzebub, know that the Cavaliers (as they have in the past) did all of the due diligence needed prior to making the selection. If you draft Kevin Johnson when you employ Mark Price, you waste zero time selecting Ben McLemore when you employ Dion Waiters. No disrespect.
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
You know, because there was a monumental collapse of an ego-built house of cards back in 2009-10, he obviously cannot handle players without catering to them. Obviously. [↩]
McLemore has signed with Rivals Sports Group but is at the center of an investigation surrounding his former AAU coach accepting payments in return for influence. [↩]