Why Dion Waiters Was the Correct Choice for the Cleveland Cavaliers

Benjamin Flack@@ClevelandFlackSenior Analyst IJuly 6, 2012

There has been a bevvy of discussion swirling around the choices that the Cleveland Cavaliers made in the 2012 NBA draft, specifically centering around No. 4 pick Dion Waiters.

The pick was relatively unexpected for most fans, who, like me, took the rumors about Waiters leading up to the draft to be nothing more than a smokescreen.

Waiters was a player who early on in the draft process did not appear very high on most draft boards. Back in April he was No. 23 in Chad Ford's mock draft on ESPN.com.

Many fans looked at these mock drafts, saw Waiters' moving up the charts to the point that he was No. 8 in Ford's final mock last week and were thus confused how a player could rise without playing any games or in Waiters' case participating in any workouts.

As fans we so often make the mistake that the opinions of media experts are in line with the opinions of teams.

The Cavaliers, according to an excellent piece by Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com (must-read for Cavs fans, by the way), had been very high on Waiters for a long time, going all the way back into the college season, when they scouted him thoroughly at games and practices.

The "eyeball" study, along with the use of advanced, stats put Waiters at the top of the Cavs' draft board, along with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and—according to Windhorst—ahead of Bradley Beal and Harrison Barnes.

Personally I'm always intrigued by statistics and the way that the game can be broken down to numbers.

I remember hearing last year that the Cavs used these advanced stats to decide to select Tristin Thompson ahead of where he was "projected" to go.

In a 2011 column by John Hollinger of ESPN, he similarly had Thompson rated as the best big man in the draft, ahead of Derrick Williams and ninth of all big men since 2002. Thompson landed at No. 3 on Hollinger's big board (ahead of Jonas Valanciunas, for all the skeptics).

(If you need convincing about Hollinger's work, he had Kyrie Irving as the highest-rated player in the draft and the only sure thing. Irving was, in fact, the second-highest-rated point guard since 2002, just a shade under Chris Paul. Hollinger's work is very highly respected.)

When evaluating the 2012 draft, Hollinger slated Waiters at No. 4 on his big board after the rater showed him to be the best perimeter player in the draft, well ahead of Beal, Barnes, Jeremy Lamb and Austin Rivers. Hollinger writes that "Waiters projects as the best small wing since Dwayne Wade."

Only nine other wing players since 2002 have rated in the elite level with Waiters (along with Kidd-Gilchrist from this year).

Five of those players have played All-Stars, and there's still a chance for four that have not, two of which obviously have yet to play in the NBA.

The only player to really "fail" in the NBA after posting this high of a rating was Josh Childress.

But I decided to do some research of my own on the matter and made several very intriguing findings.

While Waiters' basic stat line of 12.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.8 steals a game is not impressive at all for a lottery pick, that needs to be weighted against the fact that he was playing only 24.1 minutes per game. Waiters scored better on a points-per-minute basis than most of the other wing players in the draft.

Another factor that must be taken into consideration is that Syracuse with its zone defense plays a slower game, which leads to fewer possessions and lower scoring games.

The website DraftExpress.com does some really great work with statistical breakdowns of each player with some in-depth metrics.

One cool stat qualifier they have is for each player broken down per 40 minutes "pace adjusted," which means simply that their stats are evened out so that a team like North Carolina that runs all game doesn't have inflated stats.

With this qualifier Waiters was the top-scoring shooting guard taken in the first round.

Here's how he stacked up against other notable guards:

Waiters: 21.2 PPG
Jeremy Lamb: 19.4 PPG
Austin Rivers: 18.0 PPG
Bradley Beal:17.4 PPG

(Harrison Barnes as a small forward also came in at 21.2 points. More on him later.)

Waiters' overall stats here were impressive, with 4.2 assists (good for second) and 3.0 steals (first by a large margin). Rebounds was much less impressive, at only 3.9, tied for last with Rivers among this eight player group.

The numbers were also similar from a points-per-possession perspective:

Lamb: 1.21
Waiters: 1.20
Beal: 1.14
Barnes: 1.12
Rivers: 1.09 

But the game of basketball isn't just about scoring (though that is something the Cavs sorely needed); it's about the ability of each player to affect his team positively and efficiently.

PER (player efficiency rating) is best stat to measure just how good a player is. PER, from the brilliant mind of Hollinger, is highly regarded around the league. One look at the 2012 NBA rankings, in which LeBron James was the run-away leader, proves its accuracy.

The guys at DraftExpress.com did their own PER evaluation of each player. This is how they stacked up:

Waiters - 26.1
Beal - 22.0
Lamb - 21.9
Barnes - 21.0
Rivers - 16.8

I was really blown away with how well Waiters measured out in all of these areas, especially in comparison to other guys who were talked about that should have been selected ahead of him. 

This also really helps to explain the Cavaliers' decision to select Waiters even though he did not have the opportunity either to work out for or talk to the team prior the draft.

The Cavs are a team that places a lot of stock and value in the advanced metrics such as I have laid out here. It's why they drafted Tristan Thompson last year and was a contributing factor for sure in the selection of Waiters.

Chad Ford talked about this specifically with regards to the Cavs when he was on The B.S. Report with Bill Simmons a week ago. (The whole thing is great, though a little dated already, but if you go to the 1:13:00 mark you'll hear this discussion.)

Ford made the comparison using numbers analysis combined with visual scouting of Waiters to Dwyane Wade, remarking that when you put in the work, the result is that the pick is a lot easier to make.

Ford also had the following to say about the Cavs pick: 

Waiters is the most dynamic scorer in the draft -- his ability to get to the basket is truly special -- and a handful of GMs thought that after Davis, MKG and Beal, he was the guy in this draft with the most star potential. He has NBA skill and, together with Kyrie Irving, should create a dynamic backcourt in Cleveland. Some will say taking Waiters at No. 4 was a bold pick, but I think it was a smart one with both MKG and Beal off the board. People said the same thing a few years ago when the Thunder took both Russell Westbrook and James Harden higher than expected.

Look, I don't know if Dion Waiters is the next Dwyane Wade, and I'm certainly not bold/stupid enough to make that prediction here before he's even yet to play an NBA Summer League game.

But what I do know is that after looking at all the data and taking off the blinders of the 984,834,532 mock drafts (give or take), you can see why the Cavs felt comfortable taking Waiters over Barnes, Rivers and Lamb.

Time will ultimately tell if Chris Grant and his staff made the right decision.

But as of today I believe that the Cavs made the right choice, and I for one am very excited to see it all play out.

I can't wait for July 15 and the Cavs first NBA Summer League game. (I might be the only person on earth who gets more excited about the NBA Summer League than the Olympics.)

If Waiters pans out, then the Cavs could have the best backcourt in the NBA in four or five years.

And boy won't that be fun.

There I go getting ahead of myself...




You can follow Benjamin Flack on Twitter @ClevelandFlack.


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