NBA Draft: On Dion Waiters, Ben McLemore and starting

saccle-130102-07Disrespectful. A late-May, one-word re-tweet from the account of Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters was all it would take for fans of the Wine and Gold to give pause when considering the upcoming NBA Draft, set to kick off one week from Thursday.

Waiters’ response was in regard to a local media member insinuating that he should be the Cavaliers’ sixth man in the coming seasons. The thinking is that Waiters played the sixth man role well during his time at Syracuse and other NBA teams have thrived with a sixth man who would be good enough to start, but provide balance with their respective squad’s reserve unit. With the poster boy of this role being James Harden during his days in Oklahoma City, we discussed this very idea during the onset of Waiters’ rookie year. During his limited time as a reserve for Byron Scott, Waiters saw improvement in his shooting percentage—both from the floor and the line, shot selection, and, thus, points per game. In his first game off of the bench, Waiters provided 20 points in 29 minutes; two weeks later, he dropped 33. The Cavaliers’ efforts, however, was not yielding wins, so the fourth-overall pick was inserted back into the starting lineup.

The record still didn’t reflect changes made as the Cavaliers struggled mightily. In his post-season interview, Waiters discussed growth and maturity, experience and education. Since then, the offensively focused off-guard has done everything in his power to remind fans and media alike that he longs to be a starter within the NBA.

“I’m a starter in this league,” Waiters recently said in regard to a discussion he had with Mike Brown. “Coming off the bench, those were my college days.”

Coupling these words with those of disrespect, Cleveland fans—glass-half-empty worry warts at heart, of course—instantly drum up the potential chaos that could evolve from selecting Kansas’ shooting guard Ben McLemore with the first-overall selection. Sure, he may be the next Ray Allen. The 6-foot-5-inch swingman has all of the tools—the beautiful release, the ability to run off of screens, the perfect combination of athleticism and finesse—to provide the Cavaliers with a much-needed scoring punch, effectively taking the load off of superstar point guard Kyrie Irving. But what if it creates a pseudo-quarterback controversy? After all, the Cavaliers used a lottery selection on a shooting guard just one year ago; doing so with another one could prove fatal from a chemistry standpoint. And we all know Mike Brown doesn’t do well with locker room issues1. Why create an unstable environment when there are other options?

[Related: WFNY Podcast: Scott Raab touches on McLemore’s potential impact on Waiters]

mclemoreYou do so because of superstar potential. We will never know what transpired behind those walls in Independence on Wednesday afternoon when McLemore was alongside other would-be first overall selections with immense defensive prowess. We do know that the shooting guard has struggled in previous visits, and we are well aware that his representation issues have created a bit of a mess2. But we also know that, despite the Cavaliers’ need for a small forward as well as a defensive stopper in the post, many teams have been able to flourish with a three-guard rotation.

The Thunder and Spurs have perfected this model, but upstart teams like the Golden State Warriors (Steph Curry, Jarret Jack and Klay Thompson), New York Knicks (Ray Felton, Iman Shumpert, and JR Smith), and Los Angeles Clippers (Chris Paul, Willie Green and Jamal Crawford) all excelled by having a offensively focused shooting guard coming off of the bench. In the Knicks’ case, Smith started in zero contests, but still led the team in minutes—thus, proving the adage, it’s not who starts, but who finishes.

Recall that it was the sixth-man role which almost forced Waiters to transfer out of Syracuse. By all accounts, the 21-year old wants to start. But he has, per himself and those around him, matured greatly over the last year. Around this time one year ago, Waiters was overweight and entitled. Today, he has been a frequent visitor at the team’s pristine practice facility in Independence, spends a lot of his energy promoting charity events, and goes home to Philadelphia not to run around with Meek Mill and the hustle, but to spend time with family. As 92.3 The Fan’s Anthony Lima puts it, “He’s a different kind of dude.”

Waiters is also different in the way that he impacts the game—he and McLemore are far from identical players when it comes to playing the shooting guard position. Waiters is undoubtedly a dribble-drive, embarrass-the-Birdman kind of dude with a bit of a mean streak. The impending rookie—while explosive in his own right—prefers to pick you apart from a longer distance, while doing so at a higher efficiency. A silent assassin kind of dude.

One week from now, all of the speculation surrounding who will be taken versus who should be taken will cease. Sure, there will be a vocal cabal who will prematurely cast their disdain for whomever is taken, doing so until the cards shake out and we all get a better idea of what we have versus what could have been3. But if it is, in fact, McLemore’s name who is called, and the Kansas product places a flat-brimmed Cleveland hat on his head before shaking hands with the Basketball Beelzebub, know that the Cavaliers (as they have in the past) did all of the due diligence needed prior to making the selection. If you draft Kevin Johnson when you employ Mark Price, you waste zero time selecting Ben McLemore when you employ Dion Waiters. No disrespect.

David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

  1. You know, because there was a monumental collapse of an ego-built house of cards back in 2009-10, he obviously cannot handle players without catering to them. Obviously. []
  2. McLemore has signed with Rivals Sports Group but is at the center of an investigation surrounding his former AAU coach accepting payments in return for influence. []
  3. See: Thompson, Tristan. []

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Scott bringin’ the snark, I love it! Waiters would do well to let the enormous chip on his shoulder spur his game rather then sink it. Loved the points about Mike Brown and his ability to handle “personalities” but the seal on the deal was “Basketball Beelzebub!”

  • JHop

    A true sign of maturity would be embracing the Sixth Man role knowing that it would benefit the team as a whole. Waiters could go to all the charity events and workout sessions he wants, but if he doesn’t put the team before his personal pride in starting, I’m not sure he’s “matured” all that much.

  • Lunch

    Assuming the performance of McLemore, during his workout with the Cavs, is the same as this report, then I got a feeling the Cavs may be looking elsewhere:

  • JHop

    Offensively the three guard offenses could cause some major damage, especially if McLemore can be consistent from beyond the perimeter.

    The problems would come up on the defensive end. How is McLemore/Waiters/whoever’s at the #3 guard spot supposed to guard the likes of Durant, Carmelo, LeBron or even Deng, Iguodala, and George? If Brown can make the team disciplined enough on defense to eliminate that glaring weakness, then I say go for it.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Very true I just got enamored with the three guard offense from watching so much of Golden State. People forget Thompson is 6’7″ which helps that set.

    But as far as the Cavaliers go McLemore might not be the right fit personality wise too. I’ve read in more then a few places concerns about Ben. With Waiters persona being somewhat questionable it may not be such a great idea to add in McLemore. Especially with the new old head coach.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    That’s one of the things I read raising questions about young McLemore. Oh what a great year to have the #1 overall pick, lets get excited!

  • Ezzie Goldish

    What about McLemore coming off the bench? (Or any other G they might draft, for that matter.) Obviously people jump to Waiters doing so because of his Syracuse days, but why not let him start and let the other G come off the bench?

    This would let Kyrie stay in a bit longer to start but then rest for an extended period of time, with Dion coming back to start the 2nd. They could then do the same in the 4th, with Kyrie returning with about 6 minutes left.

  • woofersus

    It remains to be seen how he would handle that, but I think the level of drive and determination he has is the single most vital part of his chance to succeed in the NBA. I’d be much more worried if he tweeted “whatever will be fine”

  • Jaker

    The Cavs have to decide whether the 3 guard set is worth the value of the 1st overall pick. If they think that this will be the future of the franchise, leading them to the playoffs and possibly winning them a title in the near future, than you take BMc. But if they feel that Waiters can get it done, that he can be the Robin to Kyrie’s Batman, and that having a third guard isn’t as important as having a solid center or SF, then I think we know where this pick will be heading.

    I like Mclemore a lot. A whole lot. I think he’s gunna be an All Star in a few years and I would love to see him along side Kyrie. But if the Cavs are commited to Waiters, I understand why they may not choose BPA and instead go with the longterm answer at the C position. We know that the Cavs have been busy, and there’s no doubt that they’ve lost a lot of sleep over what to do with this pick.

    I think the pick will be Noel. I’m not sure if I want that to happen, but I think Grant goes that way because he sees the potential to be an outstanding C.

  • BenRM

    Know your role! Accept your mediocre job! Don’t try to improve yourself! Don’t strive for anything greater!

    In Communist Cleveland, sixth man plays you!

  • Harv 21

    Mike Brown handled Delonte’s serious issues as well as any org has. Like Scott I’m not worried how a guy who was forced to massage LeBron and his Merry Band of Idiots for 6 years would handle either Dion or a possibly very immature and petulant rookie.

    I’m thinking that maybe their hirings of Igor Kokoskov as guard guru or the Ukraine Train as big man assistant coach might tell us they’re looking for both a Ukranian big man and a guard. Oh lord, lissen to me, T-minus 7 days and spouting baseless conjecture like my name’s Chad.

    It would be beautiful, though, if McLemore’s pre-draft weirdness made him drop a bunch, we move up from #19 with those second rounders and another player and we get both Noel/Len and him.

  • Phil Smith

    Ben McLemore isn’t worth the possible distraction. He’s the most overrated player in the draft. When the game is on the line, he’ll be hiding in the tunnel. I’ve never seen someone so talented yet so weak in the mind and disappear for entire games numerous times throughout a season. He’s afraid of driving to the basket and if his shot isn’t falling, he’s a total non-factor. Give me Karasev at #13 or #19 or whenever, he’s the better fit.

  • Lunch

    All they need is to draft/trade/sign a PG that can create for everyone, including himself, and come off the bench, and your good to go with this scenario.

  • “But if it is in fact McLemore’s name who is called, and the Kansas product places a flat-brimmed Cleveland hat on his head before shaking hands with the Basketball Beelzebub, know that the Cavaliers (as they have in the past) did all of the due diligence needed prior to making the selection.”

    How could you possibly know this? What’s the basis for assuming that all Cavs draft picks (or just this one) will be executed with perfect due diligence?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Some STELLAR points Harv your well on your way to being taken off “my list” now. Keep up the good work.


  • Harv 21

    hold on there, babalooey. Maybe I want on this list of yours. Please list all benis and and downsides so I can make an informed consumer decision.

  • Speaking mostly for Chris Grant’s reign as GM. He and his staff talk to everyone they can get their hands on throughout the entire process, oftentimes as early as when specific players whom they like are still in the high school ranks. They’re not allowed to talk to the players directly, obviously, so digging for information from other sources is imperative.

    Use the Waiters pick, for instance. The team never directly interviewed him (for several reasons). In the end, they didn’t have to as Grant (or David Griffin or Mike Gansey or…) attended countless Syracuse practices; they spoke to everyone—high school coaches, collegiate coaches, trainers, former teammates—they could in addition to watching countless hours of video and using their advanced metrics to determine how he would fit in the Cavaliers’ system.

    I’d say that it’s more of a belief in a crew of well-paid, highly intelligent basketball minds doing their job. Given the last two drafts and the players Cleveland has obtained from them, I’d say that this assumption is pretty well supported.

  • CK Dexter Haven

    Suggested Edits:
    P1: something/someone can “GIVE pause.” You don’t “have pause.”
    P2: THE thinking is that…. / IN his first game off the bench…. / A record cannot yield wins. The DECISION was not yielding wins.
    P3: Did you really mean to suggest that Waiters is “offensively-addled?” Meaning, ‘ineffective’ and struggling? / Are you saying Waiters is trying to remind fans that he longs (WANTS) to be a starter, or DESERVES to be a starter? / IN the NBA, not within.
    P4: Coming off the bench—those were my college days. Em-dash, not a comma.
    P5: first sentence is a trainwreck /
    P7: Smith doesn’t PROVE the adage. He might exemplify it or illustrate it or give credence to it. But, an example is not proof. And, it’s ADAGE, not addage.
    P8: “per” isn’t proper English. It’s more ‘business speak.’ / He’s not a frequent visitor TODAY. You probably mean CURRENTLY, to contrast with “one year ago.”
    P9: Period after “game” in first sentence?
    P10: last word, first sentence should probably be CEASE, not seize. / Commas around “in fact” / McLemore’s name WHICH is called….

    [Burn After Reading]