While he may not have a kitschy label attached to his loyal-beyond-reproach fan base1, Dion Waiters has taken to Las Vegas as the hardwood Wayne Newton. When not spinning and driving en route to a hard-fought two points amidst a Summer League contest, the impending second-year shooting guard is turning heads in his desire to improve upon a season that saw him be named as one of the league’s five best rookies.
Last season’s trip to Sin City saw Waiters leave looking as if he was there strictly to binge on Binion’s buffet. His rookie season Summer League came complete with questionable decisions, injuries and physical comparisons to Khalid El-Amin. Fans grew concerned that the fourth-overall pick lacked motivation, that the decision to not work out for teams prior to being handed a flat-brimmed snapback from the commissioner was indicative of a larger personality trait. At the team’s annual media day, Waiters would say that he wasn’t overweight, but “thick.” Regardless, the bar had already been set higher than anticipated due to his surprising selection; Waiters’ performance immediately following his introduction left a lot to be desired. An uphill battle was placed firmly in front of the suddenly portly kid from Syracuse, a season of ups and downs (and some nagging injuries) would soon follow. It ended with the Cavs’ shooting guard being forced to watch players selected after him—Golden State’s Harrison Barnes, for instance—spend their early summers enjoying postseason play.
Anyone who follows Waiters on the myriad of social media outlets to which he has log-in credentials has seen—in addition to promotions for his upcoming charity-based bowling event2—the images and videos of his workouts. They’ve seen a Dion Waiters that looks lean; they’ve seen a Dion Waiters who appeared resigned to the fact that he missed entirely too much time leading into the grind of an 82-game rookie season. Whether it has been in a South Philly gymnasium with close friends or late-night workouts with Cavaliers assistant coach Jamahl Mosley within the confines of Cleveland Clinic Courts, Waiters has been fine-tuning his craft and improving his physical condition ((Working hard leads to typos.)). Letting fans get a sneak peak merely set the tone for what was to come.
In Vegas, flanked by teammates and hopefuls, Waiters took over. In a recap of the rookies who took part in their first taste of NBA-quality play, it was determined that Carrick Felx, the team’s recent second-round guard out of Arizona State, had shown flashes, but was relegated to a “front row seat for the Dion Waiters show.” Certainly, he started out in a bit of a shooting slump, but it would not be long before making 7-of-10 from the field for 15 points in one half against the San Antonio Spurs’ Summer League squad. Though questioned at time by sideline commentary, Waiters accrued these totals with a variety of mid-range jumpshots as well as lethal dribble-drives from various areas of the floor. At one point in the contest, Waiters would earn a trip to the line after being fouled by a Spurs triple-team; it was the only way they could hope to contain his explosiveness near the rim.
Even better signs may come in the form of focus and education. With the addition of Jarrett Jack to the Cavaliers3, no longer will Waiters be forced to play the role of reserve point guard. Though possessing plus ball-handing skills for an off-guard, Mike Brown endeavors to do what Byron Scott could not in keeping Waiters off of the ball, working with Kyrie Irving instead of attempting to alternate possessions. Coupling this with the improved work on the defensive side of the ball—the zone defense, being long in the rear view—and Waiters’ focus on film study and shot selection, it seems as if the pieces are falling into place for Dion to make the leap to a household name amongst shooting guards. After all, the only thing between Waiters and Dwyane Wade is Von Wafer4.
Waiters has set a personal goal of shooting at least 45 percent from three-point range this season, one year after barely breaking 30 percent as a rookie. In 2012-13, Waiters was an easy target for criticism due to decision making and shot selection; even those that he would make tended to be of the “no-no-no-YES” variety, one-footed and falling away. Many want to point to his explosion against the Los Angeles Clippers as a positive which would ultimately lead to the rim-attacking guard posing as the next Reggie Miller. Cracking the 40-percent mark would provide the Cavaliers with something that only Irving and teammate CJ Miles were able to accomplish a season ago. Knowing that he will not be having the ball in his hands as much as a point guard, Waiters is already lobbing tongue-in-cheek quips about having to pull down “six or seven” rebounds per game just so he can occasionally initiate the offense.
Playing alongside Irving and Jack, Waiters doesn’t have to worry much about being a vocal leader. Sharing a locker room with Andrew Bynum and a first-overall pick in Anthony Bennett5, there will not be much pressure in terms of expectation. With the season set to tip off in just three months, Waiters has already played more basketball this summer than he would have through the entire offseason leading into his freshman campaign. His role is carved out, his personal goals are set. The safety nets of being “just a rookie” will no longer be in place. The Cavaliers did very little in the way of adding NBA-ready, offensively-minded wings during the offseason. Soon, it will be up to Mr. Las Vegas to transition his show—the spinning, driving and occasional highlight dunking—back east, using his roller coaster rookie season as a springboard.
(Michael Ivins-US PRESSWIRE)