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2015-16 Thunder Player Grades: Dion Waiters' performance has yet to match his confidence level

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Dion Waiters has always been able to make his presence known and never been overshadowed by super stars. But Waiters has not lived up to his potential and his performance has yet to match his confidence level.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Full Name: Dion Waiters

Nickname: "Waiters Island,"  "Dion Freaking Waiters," "Kobe Wade" (this one has yet to become official but I think we should all honor his wish.)

Contract Status: Waiters is heading into free agency this summer. He will become a restricted free agent, which means the Oklahoma City Thunder can match any offer from another team if they want to bring him back.

Notable Factoid: Waiters did not work out for a single team before the 2012 draft. Waiters shares a close friendship with Philadelphia fellow rapper Meek Mill and he celebrated the OKC trade by dancing with his friend.

Player History

  • Waiters was born December 10, 1991 in Philadelphia, PA.
  • Waiters played two seasons of college basketball for Syracuse. Never started in his 71 collegiate games but in his sophomore season, Waiters was named the Big East Sixth Man of the Year and was named to the All-Big East third team.
  • Waiters was drafted 4th overall in the 2012 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Waiters would go on to be named to the All-Rookie first team and finished fifth for NBA Rookie of the Year.
  • Waiters averaged 14.3 points in his two and a half years as a Cavalier.
  • Waiters was involved in a three-team deal on Jan.5 2014 that eventually sent him to the Thunder. He then started 20 of 47 games and averaged 12.7 points on 39.2% shooting last season.

Pre-Season/Early Season Expectations

With Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant finally set to play together, the Thunder emerged as a championship contender. Adding to that upbeat feeling were the high expectations to OKC's role players. While Waiters only had a less-than-mediocre performance last season with the Thunder, the most mysterious man of the roster was expected to bring out a better side of his enigma playing along side his all-star teammates. After all, Dion Waiters seemed to be the only qualified shooting guard on Thunder’s roster to evolve into a two-way wing player.

Though he had his doubts, out site’s Cray Allred projected 2015-16 to be the Year of Dion. Way to go, Cray!

Regular Season Grade: C-

Waiters played with two of the top 5 players in the league yet at times he seemed to be convinced that he’s the chosen one. He never doubted that his step-backs would find the bottom of the net and when he attacked the rim, he wanted every drive to end up with an and-one play. Every year, as long as he wants, could be the Year of Dion.

His confidence was certainly appreciated but his stats sheet unfolded a different story. In the 78 regular-season games he played, Waiters averaged a career-low 9.8 points at a 39.9 percent clip, including 35.8 percent from deep, while playing the team's fourth-highest 27.6 minutes per game. According to NBA.com, the Thunder scored seven points more per 100 possessions without Waiters on the court. The Thunder also couldn’t  unlock the defensive asset they looked for in Waiters’ size and strength.

(I couldn’t find specific stats about his step-back but as for his and-one, he had 14 this season according to Nbaminer.com. That’s one less than Shaun Livingston.)

Waiters did little to alter his reputation of being a quirky baller. When Andre Roberson hurt his right knee in February, Waiters was slotted into Billy Donovan’s starting lineup for 10 games. He posted double digits in first three by shooting 18-of-33 from the floor, but then failed to shoot more than 45 percent in all but one game in the next seven.

This kind of inconsistency was an epitome of his season. He could drop 25 points on 7-of-10 in one game and fell to 4-of-13 in the next. He could flash so much potential that it convinced people the Year of Dion could fuel what would eventually become the Year of Thunder but then reminded you of the reason why the Cavaliers chose not to keep the formal fourth overall pick.

The Thunder were already plagued by turnovers and it didn’t help when they couldn’t find stability in Waiters’ hands. Waiters committed 1.5 turnovers per game, which was the third most on the team.

Heartbreaking Loss of Dion's Brother

On the night of Mar.8, Demetrius Pinckney, Waiters’ half-brother, was killed in Philadelphia violence. Waiters missed four games due to the tragedy and penned a touching tribute to his late brother.

It was a tough period for the 24-year-old. The whole Thunder organization has showed enormous support behind Waiters and our thoughts are with him as well.

Post Season Grade: B-

Waiters failed to find his mojo in the regular season. However, in his first trip to the playoffs of his four-year career, he emerged as a pivotal member to the Thunder. Considering Donovan later was applying what could actually be described as a seven-man-or-eight-man rotation, Waiters stepped up really big time in the post-season.

While he only shot a combined 4-of-17 in his first two playoff games, Waiters found his rhythm and went 8-of-15 from deep in the next three against the Dallas Mavericks to help the Thunder cruse through the first round.

In the second round against the San Antonio Spurs, Waiters limited his shots and had a decent control of his game on both ends. He averaged less shots in the series (6.3) compared to the regular season (9.1) on a higher percentage (44.7 to 39.9). Defensively, he was part of the legion that gave Kawhi Leonard a hard time.

(Side note from the series: the Dion-Manu in-bounds play was the ultimate matchup)

In the epic seven-game serious against the Golden State Warriors, Waiters’ offense served as a barometer of the final results. In Thunder’s three wins, Waiters made a solid contribution by going 13-of-24. In the other four, he went off and bricked 23 of 29 attempts. However, Waiters did continue to make his presence known on the defensive end.

Per nba.com, the Thunder scored 0.6 points more per 100 possessions when Waiters was on the court in the post-season. The progress was not enough of an impact to save the season but it was nice to have the big stage experience under his belt.

Future Expectations

Waiters has had quite an adventure so far but he hasn’t lived up to the potential that earned him a fourth overall pick, so no matter where he ends up, he has enormous room to improve. As for the free agency, rumor was that Waiters and the Thunder have expressed mutual interest to continue his alliance with The Thunder.

Waiters does not need a system to flourish and is more than capable of creating offensive opportunities. The question remains if he can captivate and make wiser decisions with an I-am-the-one level confidence.

It is my belief that the Year of Kobe Wade will eventually occur.