After my initial negative reaction to the choice of Dion Waiters with the No. 4 pick for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2012 NBA draft, I’ve come around on him and have since spewed eternal praises for the 6’4” shooting guard.
I did some extensive research on the pick and there’s a lot to be excited about with Waiters.
Like most Cav fans, I was really excited about watching Waiters play with Kyrie Irving in the Summer League in Las Vegas. That dream was of course was derailed due to insufficient padding on the walls of the gym where the Cavs were practicing.
Understandably there is a lot of attention being placed by fans and media in Cleveland on the Cavs' top pick during these first three summer league games.
Waiters showed up about ten pounds overweight and has struggled with his shot, which has led to a ton of criticism from many fans. I even heard one fan on the radio say that it’s safe to call him a bust already.
Let’s all just calm down a bit, back away a little and survey what we’ve seen so far.
First of all, it’s NBA Summer League. Don’t get carried away with what happens in these games. One might even say that “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” (Too easy.) Long-time Cav fans I’m sure remember the promising performances of Dwayne Jones and Pooh Jeter in past summer leagues.
You can’t overreact to what happens in these games either good or bad.
Second of all, it’s three games. Three. That’s about as small a sample size as there is for evaluating a player. Can we let the guy play a handful of games before we start crying about not having Harrison Barnes?
And third, he’s shown flashes of the potential to be an amazing player.
In each of the three games he’s had two or three hard drives to the basket in which he split double teams, creatively weaved around the bigs and finished with a layup that left you in awe of his talent.
Do I wish that he would do that more often than shoot a spot-up jumper? Yes, but if there’s a time for him to work on that jump shot, it’s now.
If he has two more 4-for-13 type games during the summer? No sweat, because poor shooting now doesn't impact any real games. I will admit that—as a shooting guard in the NBA—Waiters has to be a better shooter.
But again, three games of poor shooting is of no concern within the broad scheme of his Cleveland career.
As long as he continues to show that aggressive style of play and make those acrobatic finishes at the rim, Waiters will continue to give me hope of what is possible (especially if he loses those ten pounds).
The other thing that I’m very impressed with about Waiters is his court vision, which I didn’t realize was such a big part of his game.
His attacking, penetrating style of play draws defenders and opens up other guys, whether it’s for jumpers on the perimeter or dump offs for dunks and layups. I think that the perception of Waiters coming in was that he was a ball hog—which couldn’t be further from the truth. He’s a very willing passer and makes smart decisions when the ball is in his hands.
Make no mistake, Dion Waiters is a playmaker. One of the things I've come to like about him the most over these three meaningless games is that—even on nights when his shot isn't falling—he can still have a profound impact on the game, be it through passing or drawing fouls and getting to the line.
That's something you can't say about Barnes or even Jeremy Lamb, who are so dependent on their jump shots to have an impact on the game.
And I haven't even brought up the fact that he obviously has some major stones to step up and knock down that huge go-ahead jumper in the final seconds of the game against the Bobcats. Don't underrate that shot just because it was in what I've admitted is a pointless game. For him to step up and take that shot in his first game as a professional player says a lot about the confidence with which he plays.
Oh yeah...and the shot went in, too.
For the record, Waiters isn't fat. He's ten pounds overweight. There's a big difference.
It's not like he's Khalid El-Amin or something.
He has a naturally thick frame, so perceived weight issues will always be there much like they have been for Baron Davis throughout his career. But just like Davis, Waiters doesn't seem to be lacking in the athleticism department even with the extra poundage. If anything it should make Cavs fans excited to see him when he's in tip-top shape.
And after everything we've heard about Byron Scott's training camps, are you really worried that Waiters is going to be out of shape during the season? I'm not.
The final aspect of Waiters game that I've enjoyed watching is how his game gels with the other players on the court.
He's had great chemistry with Donald Sloan, with both players alternating between manning the point and playing off the ball.
It's not too tough to imagine how it will look when Waiters gets to play alongside Kyrie. Sharing the ball with a talented and versatile backcourt mate will do wonders for Irving, who had to do pretty much everything last year during his rookie season. I'm sure he'll welcome another ball handler on the court to ease some of that pressure.
Not to mention that Kyrie is a much better spot-up shooter than Sloan could ever dream of being.
So don't overreact to a couple games and a couple extra pounds. Dion Waiters is going to be fine. Instead of being a pessimistic Cleveland fan, focus instead on the positives in his game and let the hope of teaming Waiters with Kyrie and Andrew Bynum...er...Tristan Thompson warm your dreams at night this summer.
You can follow Benjamin Flack on Twitter @ClevelandFlack.