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2014-2015 Thunder Player Grades: Dion Waiters' upside still a long ways off

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Dion Waiters is not lonely on Waiters Island

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Dion Waiters

Nickname: "Waiters Island"

I've also seen him referred to by many other names, which I won't reproduce in this family-friendly space.

Contract status: $4.1 million (2014-15), $5.1 million (2015-16), $6.8 million (2016-17; team option)

Notable factoid: At this very moment, Dion is calling for the basketball.

Player history:

  • Born December 10, 1991 in Philadelphia, PA.
  • Played two seasons of collegiate hoops for Syracuse. In his second year, he won the Big East Sixth Man of the Year award and was named to the All-Big East third team.
  • Drafted 4th overall in the 2012 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, that one year where they didn't have the first overall pick. Waiters would go on to be named to the All-Rookie first team.
  • In two and a half seasons with the Cavs, he averaged 14.3 points on a .420 field goal percentage and a .328 three-point percentage.
  • Joined the Thunder on January 5th, when they sent a first-round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Lance Thomas to the New York Knicks as part of a three-way deal to acquire him.

Expectations:

For the Thunder to think Waiters was worth a first round pick (top-18 protected this year, which means it won't be conveyed until next season at the earliest), they must've thought he could help them immediately. Curious thinking, since Waiters developed a reputation as a hot head, ball hog, shot jacker and basketball punchline in Cleveland. The odds on this gamble didn't seem favorable.

But at the same time, if you really squint, you can see what the Thunder were thinking. Some tools are present: a rough outline of a shot creator, who can knock down difficult jumpers off the bounce and carve his way into the lane at times, and just enough athleticism to keep alive dreams of a two-way player. Adding a tertiary scorer to support Reggie Jackson (and perhaps pave the way for a trade, as Jackson's contract was expiring and Waiters has one year remaining on his rookie deal) would've helped the team sustain offense in a season where they were pelted by non-stop injuries.

The Thunder took a leap of faith, simple as that. Power to them, if they saw a buy-low opportunity on a young guy with upside. Maybe in some alternate universe, Waiters is doing the same things that J.R. Smith (also involved in that three-way deal that brought Waiters to the Thunder) is doing for the Cavs now.

Regular season grade: D

Whatever it was that the Thunder hoped of Waiters, he didn't fulfill expectations. Instead, he lived up to every last bit of his bad rep. He was inefficient, inconsistent and impossible to assimilate on either end. In 30.3 minutes per game over 47 games, Waiters averaged 12.7 points on a .397 field goal percentage and .319 three-point percentage, both decidedly inefficient marks.

There was simply no utility discovered in putting Waiters on the floor. He turned plays into isolations (tenth in isolation frequency), and he turned isolations into a few size-up dribbles before a stepback long two (he ranked in the 39th percentile in isolation efficiency). Waiters shot below-average percentages from all locations on the court except midrange, and he just about hit the sub-40% league average mark from that range anyway:

Every once in a while he'd flash a high-level shot creator skill – dart into a teensy gap and convert a toughie layup, or penetrate into the second layer and dump the ball off to a lurking big man. String together enough of those types of plays, maybe with some luck in hitting home on jumpers, and you'd get the occasional good game from Waiters.

But largely, those were the exception to the rule, an outburst and little more. If anything, they'd vindicate Waiters' 4-of-12 clunkers, of which they were way more. At his worst, he'd be a black hole sucking up offensive possessions to brick away, and run around with no real clue of what to do on defense.

One can hope that spending a training camp with this team, under a new coach (even if that coach will be the fifth head coach of Waiters' three year career), can help bring Waiters along. Maybe in some world where Waiters irons out the wrinkles in his jumper, improves his shot selection and learns how to play defense, he can be the player that the Thunder gambled for. If not, let's at least hope that next season's coach won't play this Waiters thirty minutes per game.