The people have spoken, and while it wasn’t quite unanimous, Dion Waiters got the most shout outs in the comment section, so Dion Waiters it is. If you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Waiters, you aren’t alone, as he’s flown under the radar most of the season leading up to the draft, and didn’t even crack the top 2 shooting guard prospects in my player comparisons a while back. The two prospects that were profiled, Jeremy Lamb and Bradley Beal (which are dated, but can be found here) have in the past been seen as better prospects, although lately Waiters has been skyrocketing up some draft boards. Chad Ford currently has him ranked as the 7th best prospect, and John Hollinger has him ranked as the 4th best prospect while comparing him to Dwayne Wade. So, is he the late-lottery to mid-first round pick he was projected to be two months ago, or the second coming of one of the greatest two guard to grace and NBA floor in the past couple decades? Let’s take a look.
Waiters’ most obvious comparison in the draft is the aforementioned Bradley Beal, as they are both undersized two guards, although once you get past the height, they possess very different skillsets. While Beal prefers to most of his damage on the perimeter, Waiters is a classic slashing combo guard. Measuring 6’4” (6’2.5” without shoes) Waiters is a few inches below the optimal height for a shooting guard, but used his superior strength to bully his way into the paint at the collegiate level. Defensively, he is prone to gambling (think a slightly more responsible Barbosa) which leads to impressive steal numbers, but he is by no means a lockdown defender. While not as polished as his slashing game, he is a reliable shooter off the dribble within the arc, and has proven he can stroke from the 3 point line (albeit a college 3), and also possesses an above average floater.
He has been described as a “sneaky” athlete, as he doesn’t possess the prototypical build one might expect out of explosive athlete. Despite having good ball handling skills and being a competent passer, he doesn’t project as a point guard (although stranger things have happened), and seems positioned to enter the league as a combo guard capable of playing the point in a pinch. Despite struggling mightily in his rookie season, Waiters was a very effective bench player for the Orange as a sophomore, and some scouts believe he will continue being a “spark off the bench” type player once he enters the league. In college, he was not an effective half-court player, and did the majority of his work off the break with impressive efficiency. Waiters pulled out of the draft combine and cancelled the rest of his workouts after reportedly being promised he would be picked by a lottery team. As this article gets posted, the best information I can get points to Phoenix at 13 making the guarantee, and not Toronto (8) or Portland (6 & 11).
I’ve watched about an hour of tape on Dion Waiters (kind of depressing, I know) and for the life of me I can’t quite figure this one out. I am by no means an expert talent evaluator, but the elite level player Waiters is being compared to is simply ludicrous. Hollinger’s assertion makes no sense whatsoever; Dwayne Wade (in both college and the NBA) attacked the basket with ferocity through traffic, while Waiters takes the opportunities presented to him (mostly on the break) and finishes hard, but without much explosiveness. The other player Waiters is often compared to (in a best case scenario) is Ben Gordon, and again, I simply don’t find this to ring true. Gordon manhandled his collegiate opponents and was an absolute nightmare from the perimeter, and even he has regressed into a mediocre two guard.
The “sneaky” athlete label Waiters picked up is really just a sneaky way of saying he isn’t a great athlete. While it’s obvious that Waiters is stronger than the two guards he faces, I have doubts whether this will translate into the NBA where the majority of his opponents will be just as strong, and much larger. His shot will also be bothered by lengthier and more aggressive NBA defenders. His small stature will also be a liability on the defensive end, where he has yet to prove effective, even against inferior opposition. With a lack of a refined half-court game, and his potential to be a defensive burden, Waiters will almost certainly be relegated to the bench, at least to begin his NBA career.
While my analysis didn’t do a fantastic job of conveying it, I’m actually not as down on Waiters as it might appear, I’m just not as star-crossed as it seems some (far more knowledgeable) people are over at ESPN are. If he figures everything out, which is a big if, he could turn out to be an Eric Gordon type player. On the other hand, from what I’ve seen, I think it’s far more likely he turns out to fall somewhere in the range of Ben Gordon and a homeless man’s version of Ben Gordon.
If anyone has something they’d like me to look into, just leave me a message in the comment section and I’ll get on it for tomorrow.