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The Comparative Advantage of Dion Waiters

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After the Cavs' six-game road trip, Dion Waiters has proven that he's starter-quality. However, the Cavs need his ball-handling and scoring off the bench more than they do in the starting lineup.


[Byron] Scott has stated that his intentions are to leave Waiters, a shooting guard who is actually very good at handling the ball, in the off-guard position as to not overwhelm him with responsibilities during his rookie season. His confidence, however, may lead Scott to amend his wishes, leaving Waiters on the floor for longer stretches as the season wears on. Irving’s ability to play off of the ball may be one of his biggest assets; Waiters’ ability to play with it may be exactly what the otherwise barren second unit needs to flourish.

-Scott Sargent, "Cavaliers' bench issues are far from permanent"

Hey did you catch that Cavs-Nets game Tuesday? You didn't? Good. That's for the best. Even with Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao notching career highs in points, there was some ugly basketball happening. I mean, on this road trip, the Cavs starters (Irving, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson, and Varejao) have been fantastic.

The Cavaliers bench. They are--how do I put this?--not good. Bad. Gross. Inefficient. Ineffective. Parking cones.

About 10% of the season has passed, and for me, that's enough time to make some tweaks to the rotation. I'm not calling for anyone's head, and I'm not demanding any trades (yet), but I think it has become painfully evident that this team needs a shakeup to make sure that the bench doesn't completely derail any hopes of winning a game for the rest of the season. And the biggest tweak that I think needs to be made is Dion Waiters needs to come off the bench.

The quality of play on the bench is oddly reminiscent of what the entire team's play looked like immediately after LeBron left. Sure, there's not much you can do to make up for a player like LeBron, but his ability to create for others--whether it was by having defenses collapse on him or by just being a fantastic passer--was, to me, the biggest thing missing after he left. Mo Williams and Daniel Gibson were put in charge of ball-handling duties for the Cavs in 2010-11. While they've both been labeled "point guards" in their careers, I think anyone who has seen either of them play knows that they are more accurately described as "shooting guards who have to guard point guards because they are 6-2." Now, there's nothing wrong with that, either. Williams and Gibson are great shooters from multiple places on the floor, they can find an open man, and they can create for themselves. However, they play best when they're not the primary ball-handlers.

Fast forward to February 2011 when Mo Williams and Jamario Moon are traded to the Clippers for Baron Davis and the pick that would become Kyrie Irving. As great as Irving has been, I think people forget how much Davis's existence on the roster helped that Cavs team gel again. They won games and looked like a semi-competent professional basketball team, and it's because they had someone who could create for everyone in charge of the ball.

Fast forward again to this season. Who's manning the ball-handling duties on the bench? Daniel Gibson and Donald Sloan. Sloan's not nearly as good a player as Mo Williams and Gibson is still Gibson (but a bit older). Neither is comfortable being the primary ball-handler, and as a result, neither can create for the other players on the bench. So the bench languishes and gets outscored 57,000 to 4.

Now, we know that Waiters is a good starter for this team and that he plays off Irving well as a co-distributor. We also know that he played the 6th man role in college, and he was good at it. In the NBA's most-recent seasons, the 6th man has again become a coveted and stigmaless role. Look at Ginobili, Harden, Odom, Kevin Martin, Ray Allen, Jason Terry. Did those guys see the 6th man role as relegation? No. And Waiters shouldn't either, especially since he has done nothing deserving of a "punishment." On the contrary, he has been playing better than most fans thought he would (and certainly better than all detractors thought he would). The Cavs have looked great allowing both him and Irving to play on-and-off the ball. That setup allows them both to control the floor spacing, to score, and to get the frontcourt involved. But there's no one who can do that on the bench.

If Waiters swapped slots in the rotation with Daniel Gibson, what would the team have? Gibson is a good shooter who can run up and down the floor and has drastically improved his on-ball and perimeter defense in the past two seasons. Pair him with Irving in the starting lineup and he may even be able to create for a few big men in the post while also probably defending shooting guards better than Waiters.

Then put Waiters in control of the bench unit. He can find cutters. He can find shooters. He can get to the basket himself. He can hit free throws. He can run on the break. And what's to keep him from playing in crunch time, too? Nothing. He should absolutely play in crunch time. What's the saying? "It's not who's on the floor at the beginning of games that matters. It's who's on the floor at the end of close games." Waiters is definitely the second best guard on the team, and this team needs to use him to the best of his ability while also using him to the best benefit of the team.

And it's time to bring him off the bench.

Photographs by spatulated, Triple Tri, and chrischappelear used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.