Waiters vs. Barnes: Comparing Players, Teams, And Situations

No Cavs player is more polarizing among the WFNY crew than Dion Waiters (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

dion waitersThe Golden State Warriors are in the middle of a thrilling second-round series with the San Antonio Spurs. Rookie Harrison Barnes, the 7th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, has had an increased impact in the postseason at both ends of the floor, averaging 19 points in the series and posting a stat line of 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting and seven rebounds in 39 minutes. Meanwhile, Dion Waiters is in the midst of offseason workouts. The 4th-overall pick by the wine and gold found out yesterday that he joined Barnes on the NBA All-Rookie First Team (and gained more points as well as first-team votes than Barnes) along with Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, and Damian Lillard.  

While the media and Cleveland faithful are starting to rally around what they’re watching on their television screens and wish they had Barnes instead, it’s not as simple as that.

For full disclosure, on the night that the Cavaliers selected Waiters, I wanted Barnes after Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Beal came off the board.

However, by that time, we had all heard the late pre-draft murmurs on that Thursday about Dion Waiters being high on the Cavs’ list. Therefore, when the “pick out of nowhere” came for a second straight year (Tristan Thompson the year prior), I was way more prepared for it. I heard Byron Scott rave about Waiters, I read the Brian Windhorst “inside the draft room” article a short time after the draft, I talked to my uncle that lives in Syracuse and absolutely loves the kid, and I was suddenly not feeling so bad about the selection. You need two players on offense in this league that can create shots for themselves. You’ve seen what’s happened to the Thunder without Russell Westbrook.

harrison-barnes-golden-state-warriorsWhat does Harrison Barnes have that Dion Waiters doesn’t? Well, he had a lot better supporting cast this year with Steph Curry, David Lee, Andrew Bogut, Klay Thompson, and Jarrett Jack. He also had a first-year head coach in Mark Jackson who changed things up after a 23-win season the year prior in 66 games. There would be a commitment to the defensive end of the floor (1st in defensive rebound percentage, 8th in effective field goal percentage defense, and 14th in defensive rating after being 27th just one year before). The result? The Warriors made the playoffs, grabbing the sixth seed after winning 47 games. They took care of the 57-win Nuggets in six games in the first round including a Game 2 win in Denver where the Nuggets had only lost three times all season. Now, they’re battling the 58-win Spurs in the second round, trailing 3-2 after last night’s loss, though they stole a game in San Antonio as well.

In the regular season, both players struggled with consistency. Waiters was used a lot more than Barnes was (Waiters – 26.1% usage rate compared to Barnes’ 17.7%) due to injuries to Varejao and Irving along with less shot takers and makers on the Cavaliers roster. Because of that, Waiters edged Barnes in PER and points per game along with assists and steals. Barnes posted better rebound numbers, a higher shooting percentage, and less turnovers. Barnes had a solid rookie campaign in a starting role, but he didn’t score more than 21 points in any game in the regular season. Meanwhile, Waiters did that 8 times and had a season-high with 33 against the Kings. Dion also did this playing 20 less games than Barnes due to various injuries.

Who is to say that Waiters couldn’t be doing this same thing given a similar situation? For the most part, Barnes is just taking more shots and being more aggressive in the postseason given some of the struggles of his backcourt that includes the ailing Curry. Barnes had the edge with shooting percentage, but anyone who watched the Cavs all season and saw how relentlessly Waiters attacked the hole and failed to get fouls called due to his rookie status knows the real score. If Dion was a third or fourth year player, that 41.2% shooting percentage would be at least as good as Harrison’s 43.9% clip. When Barnes disappeared, other vets and the young core were there to take the shots and pick up the slack. When Dion was struggling, he for the most part had to just keep shooting and playing through it.

So, watching this young, up and coming team, it begs the question, what is separating the Cavaliers from being a Golden State-type story next season? Well, health is certainly one factor. The Warriors were remarkably healthy this season. Their top eight missed very few regular season games: Klay Thompson (82), Barnes and Carl Landry (81), David Lee, Jarrett Jack, and Draymond Green (79), Curry and Festus Ezeli (78). Really, Andrew Bogut with 32 games played was the exception, though Curry certainly had nagging ankle injuries throughout. The young cores of Curry, Klay Thompson, and Barnes and Irving, Tristan Thompson, and Waiters don’t really differ that much in terms of ability. Golden State had health, more veterans, and a coach committed to changing a bad culture.

Most believe the Cavaliers will make some sort of move this offseason whether via trade or free agency to bring in a more veteran presence. If they can get lucky with health, I don’t see any reason why Mike Brown can’t have some of the same impact Jackson did this year in the Bay Area. Watching this Golden State team has been fun in the playoffs, and I hope they push the Spurs to a game seven and give them one hell of a fight. Because what I’m playing through in my head is the Cavaliers having a chance to be in that same position one year from now if the ping pong balls bounce right and Chris Grant gets busy.

Has Harrison Barnes been fun to watch? Absolutely, but the jury is still out and years away from determining who the better selection with the 4th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft ultimately was.

(Photos: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images and Jason Miller/Getty Images)

  • First and foremost, are you a poor listener, or just slow to comprehend? I’ve NEVER said Irving has stated anything, you can take his not saying anything however you want too. I said its MY OPINION (based on what I’ve seen from him, what I’ve heard from him, and yet to hear) that he has NO INTEREST in being here long term. He hasn’t been a difference maker, or the saviour that most have made him out to be. I think they both have different persona’s, are driven by different things.

    I think Irving is more bright lights and attention seeking, and Thompson is more lunch pale and hard hat I think Thompson has embraced Cleveland, while Cleveland has embraced Irving. It’s my belief Thompson is more committed to changing the culture in Cleveland, and wants to be a part of that transformation. I think when Irvings time is up here, his time is up. (MY OPINION)

    Also in regards to Irving, I said its important for the organization to keep the channels of communication open. When the have an opportunity to extend him to a max deal, he will either accept, or DECLINE. IF he declines, if I’m the organization, I ask him what he wants? If he wants to be a part of the long term goal here, or does he want to take his talents elsewhere. No room for MISUNDERSTANDING, or MISCOMMUNICATION. No reason to be told one thing when intent is something else altogether. Honesty never has to be explained. If Irving doesn’t want to be here, then move him for MAX value, and move on without him, no need to be a part of another ass kiss parade with a bad ending.
    I appreciate the links, never really paid attention to the new CBA other than changes that interested me. I know 1st round picks had 2 years guaranteed and then there were up to 2 options, be it team or player options. Players ALWAYS have a say, they DON’T have to sign. They could sit out, or go overseas, EVENTUALLY something will have to give. Teams have the right to take TEAM options, they don’t have to accept or exercise them.

  • mgbode

    I was just asking why you think that of those two players. Irving has gotten more national press/marketing because he’s the better player, but they both have shown similar things in the media to me.

    heck, Tristan is the one represented by LRMR. but, I think they both have also shown a willingness to work hard at their games. I don’t know what either really wants long-term, but I’m interested to know “why” you feel that Irving wants out of Cleveland and seem so sure of it.

  • No question Irving gets the most media attention, and national exposure, he was a #1 overall pick. I think more was expected of Irving than Thompson, who most considered a project at best. Irvings star is not as bright here in Cleveland, as it could be elsewhere, or if the team was winning. He has NOT transformed the team into a winner. He shoots, he scores, and you can usually catch him on sportscenter.

    I know that Thompson is represented by LRMR, if I’m not mistaken his agent is Richard Paul (Cleveland) I disagree with you in regards to how they deal with and interact with the media. Irving as the face of the franchise, teams best player, etc has on most occasions shied away from the tough questions regarding the team, etc usually having no comment (has no problem speaking on his perceived greatness though) Thompson has always been forthcoming, has an opinion, doesn’t shy away from questions, no matter how tough. At times (IMO) comes across more so as the leader of the team (best players aren’t always the best leaders)

    I’ve never questioned the work ethic of either player, Thompson’s improvement is more visible because he was viewed as a project. I think Irving wants to build his brand, national exposure and recognition seems important to him, he’ll make more money off the court than Thompson will, so Cleveland being able to offer and pay more, may be more appealing to Thompson. The Cavaliers being able to pay LeBron more was never the bargaining chip they assumed it would be.

    If OKC could move Harden, why couldn’t the Cavaliers move Irving? Harden has had a bigger impact in both places he’s been, going to Houston CLEARLY elevated them to a playoff team, Irving HASN’T had that impact here in Cleveland. What are your thoughts?

  • mgbode

    okay, the only times I thought he shied away from questions was when he was injured(basically disappeared for a stretch). I don’t know which player is more of a leader off the court (it actually seemed to be Andy from the limited exposure I saw from a distance). it is a good point that Kyrie will make more off the court, so extra money from the team will have less weight. I don’t think Tristan is getting anywhere near a max deal from anyone though, so the Cavs wouldn’t actually be giving him more $$$ than anyone else ‘could’.

    and OKC traded Harden because they also had Durant and Westbrook. and, despite that, it was a big mistake. one of the few Presti has made. yes, Harden (along with Lin, Asik) helped Houston improve by 8 games and make the playoffs. if Presti could have that trade back, don’t you think he would? and then amnesty Perkins instead?

    you seem to be completely tying Irving’s success to the past W/L records when it was pretty obvious that the FO was banking on lottery selections in order to build the “right way” this time (also seen in their willingness to have players either sit out or shut down in what seemed to be much larger fashion than the injuries warranted). we have a ton of cap room and precious few veterans on the team for a reason.

  • I thought Irvings whole attitude and disposition changed after returning from the All-Star break. No question he’s a talent, but he isn’t the difference making impact player that LeBron was, and maybe that was an unfair, and unrealistic expectation of him. He hasn’t made anyone in Cleveland forget about LeBron. Irving seemed to have the most to say when something good was being said about him, its as if team struggles, and failures had nothing to do with him. Varejao is nothing more than an overpaid role player, who’s played in 81 games the last 3 seasons. Thank goodness his AWFUL deal is finally coming to an end. What else was Varejao going to do BUT cheer? #DoNotPickUpTeamOption

    I’m not saying that Thompson is a max player by any means, in fact, I don’t think being a team’s best player qualifies you as a max player, but that’s just me. Cleveland is NOT a prime destination, never has been, quite possibly never will be. They are in a position of having to pay above market level. When you have bad contracts in the locker-room, it creates an imbalance, and could create hostility. If I’m Thompson, I don’t take less than what Varejao was making, makes NO SENSE doing so. Most were saying how Hickson didn’t deserve Varejao money (Varejao didn’t deserve Varejao money) when, Hickson who is still under 25 is an all around better player with UPSIDE. Someone just needs to give him 12-15 FGA per game. AS a UFA I would like to see him back in Cleveland, paired with Thompson.

    What OKC has done, is identified their own young talent, developed it, retained it, and in the case of Harden trade for MAXIMUM value. I never thought Perkins was a missing piece, that’s a deal I know they wish they could have back, especially with how Ibaka is developing. Perkins has really brought nothing to OKC, the deal with Houston, though it may have caused them to take a step back, really puts them in good shape in the future, and allows them to sustain being championship competitors. Cleveland has yet to make deals like that, They give up young talent and get guys in return like Casspi, Walton, Kapono, etc. (draft picks that amount to nothing)

    Why shouldn’t the Cavaliers lack of success be tied to Irving? If the team was performing well, no doubt he would get all the credit. The fact is, he just hasn’t made a difference, he hasn’t made them better. He’s a scorer… that’s it. If Irving shot only 8-10 times a game, what impact would he have? I refuse to believe or accept any notion that this team, this organization wanted to lose. They have 3 top 4 picks the last 2 seasons, and are still no better than 13th in the East.

    Lottery selections mean nothing if you draft piss poor. You don;t get better by substituting duplicate parts. Irving has missed 37 games in 2 seasons. I think they have been very cautious with injuries, its seems the least little thing and irving is down for a few games, when you’re eliminated from the playoffs by the All-Star break, why take the risk? Personally, I’d like to see guys get out there and play. If players aren’t going to play, then they should be t tables in the concourse signing autographs, interacting with fans. I bet that would get guys off the bench and back on the court quicker.

    Having cap room means what if players don’t have a desire to come here? I don’t want guys coming here for a cash grab, then being malcontents, sulking, demanding trades, or rolling over after being paid. You guys spend too much time on unrealistic scenarios, or moves that just make absolutely no sense. There is no way would bring a guy like DeMarcus Cousins, or Josh Smith to Cleveland (in what has to be given up, and paid to the player) when JJ Hickson is available as a UFA, and give him the same time on the floor and shot opportunities. The Cavaliers have precious few veterans here, because no one wanted to come here, and the few that are here, really had no choice. When Varejao, and Walton are the 2 highest paid players, nothing else need be said.

  • Eleqtrique

    Klay is less than a year older than Dion.