This April marks the 10th anniversary of the Syracuse national championship and Carmelo Anthony’s MOP award in the tournament. This June marks the 10th anniversary of his selection as the #3 pick in the NBA draft by the Denver Nuggets, and the last time a Syracuse player was drafted in the 10 ten and went on to succeed.
Or is it?
Dion Waiters, a surprise to many as the 4th player selected in the 2012 draft, has put together a modestly successful season to date in his rookie year.
His overall numbers easily outdo the rookie years of Wesley Johnson and Hakim Warrick, former Orange players who are in various stages of journeyman careers in the Association, and are eerily similar to those of Jonny Flynn, who quickly transformed from a promising rookie to a flameout whose cold shooting kept him off a roster this season.
A little digging, however, shows a player moving in the right direction. In his first full month of his first season, Dion shot 37% from the field, averaging 5.3 3-pointers per game at the same rate (All stats per Basketball-Reference.com). After a dip in a December marred by injury, his field goal percentage has risen every month, as his 3-point attempts have dropped (42% and 2.6 per game in January, 51% and 2.0 per game in February). His free throw attempts have risen from 3 in November and 2 in December to around 4 in both of the last two months.
Advanced stats tell a similar story. Of the first 20 of his 50 games this season, only 4 merited a double digit Game Score (indicating an above-average game), while 3 scored a negative (very poor). His next twenty games produced 7 double-digit performances to only 2 negatives, and he’s already matched that number of 7 in his last 10 with nary a negative game alongside.
Injuries and the presence of the emerging Kyrie Irving may have stymied Waiters’ performance early on, but he’s beginning to find his game. Time will tell whether he’ll grow into a full-fledged star (a small sample of performances show him to be a better overall performer in the sixth-man roll we’re all so familiar with), but with the direction he’s headed, we may soon be bragging about him almost as often as he will.