Dion Waiters. Perhaps the most polarizing role player in the NBA today. He’s perceived by many to be nothing but a ball-hogging, over-dribbling, step-back long-two chucking wannabe star. And hey, it’s possible that claims like these aren’t that far from the truth. I mean, let’s face it – we’ve all seen Bad Dion. You know, the one that makes you vigorously throw your hands in the air, and not in the I’m-at-a-Wu-Tang-concert kind of way, but more in a when-the-hell-is-he-getting-traded kind of way.
Then there’s Good Dion. That ferocious competitor, whose heart, hustle, and determination is unmatched by all Thunder players not named Russell Westbrook. The guy that, despite what he lacks in length, uses his broad and dense stature to compete every single second on the defensive end. Waiters was not thought of as a defensive specialist when he was traded to Oklahoma City. Far from it. In fact, most basketball "experts" argued that defense was a glaring weakness of his.
Boy how things have changed.
Forced into the starting 2-guard role due to Andre Roberson’s right knee injury, Waiters is actively showcasing that he’s flipped his biggest weakness into his greatest strength. No, he’s not quite on Roberson’s level on the defensive end, that we know, but one must admit that his all-out effort has triggered admirable results.
Roberson gives up a stingy 37.8% shooting to his opponents, a number that’s good for seventh-best in the NBA among those who qualify. Waiters, on the other hand, allows opponents to shoot 42.2%. A decent number, but not an elite one. Aside from his physicality, it’s Waiters’ deceivingly quick hands that catch your eye. For instance, Waiters single-handedly broke up two consecutive Warriors possessions on Saturday, helping spark the Thunder’s impressive second-half comeback.
It’s plays like those that could earn Waiters the starting 2-guard spot permanently.
We now know that Waiters isn’t a huge drop-off defensively from Andre Roberson. We also know that he’s a pretty significant upgrade from Roberson on the offensive end. See, the thing about Waiters is he frequently gets himself into trouble when he over-dribbles. Whether it results in an ugly turnover, a hideously overambitious layup attempt, or one of his patented step-back long-twos, they’re all equally as sigh-provoking.
But with Waiters in the starting lineup, he’s not asked to handle the ball as much. He’s not asked to create as much. He’s not asked to do much on the offensive end PERIOD, due to, you know, playing with these dudes named Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. By default, Waiters is essentially forced to focus primarily on the defensive end, a role that he’s seemingly accepting with open arms.
Additionally, sharing the court with Kevin and Russell minimizes Dion Waiters’ biggest offensive downfalls, turning him into primarily a catch-and-shoot player, a role I feel he can adequately fulfill. As a shooter, Waiters is a drastic upgrade to Roberson:
Yeah yeah, the Russ-to-Andre alley-oops are a ton of fun, but I’ll take threes over twos any day.
Come playoff time, it’s all but a foregone conclusion that defenses will refuse to guard and respect Roberson’s jump shot. It makes sense to make the change now rather than wait until Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals and abruptly make the switch. I mean, I thought Scott Brooks got fired?!
So now there’s this: if Andre Roberson doesn’t start, what exactly is his role on this team?
I think it’s pretty simple. Roberson’s strengths appear to fill exactly what the Thunder’s second-unit has been lacking. Defense and hustle. And it’s not to say he shouldn’t play with the starters at all, because he absolutely could. Coming off the bench, Roberson would likely play a similar number of minutes as he did as a starter. He’s a very situational player, anyhow. And who’s to say Cam and Dre couldn’t develop that alley-oop chemistry that Russ and Dre share?
If you watch Oklahoma City Thunder games, you know how valuable Roberson’s defense is. There’s no denying it. He’s well on his way to being one of the top-5 perimeter defenders in the league, if he’s not already. But with Kevin Durant’s free agency looming, the Thunder are in a win-now situation. There’s no time to wait on Andre Roberson to develop a jumpshot. Luckily, Dion Waiters has one.