Swagger is the currency of kings in the NBA. From Kobe Bryant berating other players for unwillingness to take (and miss) 30 shots a game to the televised opus of self-regard that we know as The Decision, it’s obvious that the best players in the world don’t lack for self-confidence.
So if confidence were all it took to succeed, we could start carving Dion Waiters’ Hall of Fame bust tomorrow. Few guards have come into Syracuse with as much belief in their own abilities as Waiters, and even fewer have received as much validation of that belief on their way out (Where have you gone, Eric Devendorf?*). Being taken at #4 in the 2012 draft was a serious validation of his talent.
Since then, isn’t hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing. Waiters joined a Cavaliers team led by a high-usage star point guard in Kyrie Irving with whom he meshed neither on the court, given his preference for dribble penetration, nor in the locker room (sadly rumors of fisticuffs between the two were proven false; everyone knows that Dookies can’t fight).
It’s become a popular opinion that Waiters’ outsized sense of pride has been an obstacle to his success in the league. His draft position and perception of himself as a star, and what that means on the court, have prevented him from integrating with his team and making best use of his skills. His ballhandling is serviceable, but nowhere near the level of Irving’s, and he hasn’t been able to finish at the rim like he thinks he can (40.7% shooting on drives, 136th out of 184 players with at least 100 drives last season).
Dion has some high-level skills. His 41.6% on C&S 3PT attempts last year was better than new teammate Kevin Love, but his 2.5 attempts per game were less than half of Love’s volume. He has the handle to run a second-unit offense, and we know what he can do on defense when he has the focus.
This wouldn’t be the first time that Dion has shown up on a new team and thought he knew better than everyone else. His struggles with backing up Brandon Triche during his freshman year with the ‘Cuse were well-documented: the weight troubles, the poor defense, the scandalous fake-cousin claims.
What set Waiters straight was the presence of an undeniable force of basketball nature: Jim Boeheim. He let Waiters know what he needed to do to succeed with the Orange, that the Syracuse program would be fine with or without him if he wasn’t alright with that. The boundaries and challenges set by Jimmy B. were a large part of Waiters’ sophomore success and elite draft status.
Now, Dion is getting the same opportunity with the Cavs. No coach short of Phil Jackson has the clout in the NBA that Boeheim has in college, but the pro game is the players’ game, and there’s no player bigger than Lebron James.
James joining the Cavs gives Waiters the opportunity to play with one of the best facilitators in the history of the game, but more importantly it frees him from the burden of his draft position. He can work towards the elevation of his career by playing as one with his teammates in pursuit of the sweetest thing of all: an NBA title.
All stats via Stats.NBA.com