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Why Moving Up for Dion Waiters Could Help the Pacers
With the NBA Draft today, the Pacers have a chance to further solidify an already promising future. In a deep draft, Indiana should be able to find an impact player even with the 26th pick in the draft. But Kevin Pritchard has famously been a fan of moving up to make a big splash on draft day. And there may be a very good reason to try to swing a major deal today that nets them a top ten pick: Syracuse sophomore, Dion Waiters.
Waiters is one of the more polarizing players in the draft. No one seems to be able to agree on where he should be drafted. The Cavs have reportedly expressed some interest at taking Waiters as high as fourth overall. Since DraftExpress has him going to Golden State at #7, that seems like a reach. Then again, the Cavs took Tristan Thompson last year at #4 in what many considered a reach, so I wouldn’t put it past them to surprise some people again.
Regardless, it’s safe to say that Waiters will still be on the board at pick #4, definitely gone before the lottery ends and likely gone by pick #10.
However, he does have a lot of the attributes that lead to a player slipping in the draft. For starters, I would bet my vintage #37 Nick Van Exel Warriors jersey that Jay Bilas uses the word “tweener” when describing him. At 6’4, it is tough for scouts to pencil him in as either a point guard or a shooting guard. He has rarely played any point guard in his career, but 6’4 is a little short for the prototypical shooting guard according to some scouts (you know, because it hasn’t been working out for Dwyane Wade or anything).
Another red flag for some teams is that he is only a sophomore and he came off of the bench last season. While Jim Boeheim brought him off the bench in order keep a balanced lineup, the point is that he is not the most experienced player on the board. The other big deterrent for some teams is that his ceiling seems relatively low compared to some other players in the draft. He doesn’t exactly scream All-NBA First Team. The most common NBA comparison used for him is DeShawn Stevenson.
But all those things are for if you want to focus on the negatives.
The positive attributes about Waiters are just as apparent. While some may have issues with his height, he comes into the league with NBA-strength and he will only get stronger. He showed flashes of great defense in college and if he commits himself to the craft he could make a name for himself as great perimeter defender.
He is a very solid spot-up shooter and most believe that his shot will only improve. He also showed a nice stroke off the dribble in college so he would not be helpless in one-on-one situations. More importantly, he is has a constant motor and is always looking to run in transition. His strength and desire to take it to the rim in the fast-break are a great qualities that should at least allow him to draw fouls on a consistent basis.
And when we compare him to DeShawn Stevenson we are not claiming that he will get a five dollar bill tattooed on his neck, put an ATM in his kitchen, or get arrested for public intoxication. We’re talking about the Stevenson who has carved out a twelve-year career (and counting) and brought toughness and tenacity to a Dallas Mavericks’ championship team.
Waiters has the opportunity to be a high-energy player that will not back down to big moments or high-profile opponents. He is the type of player that the Pacers could have used against the Heat in the playoffs this year. I’m not trying to say he would get huge playoff minutes as a rookie, but he could contribute and that is what’s most important right now for an Indiana team that wants to take another step forward next season: immediate contribution.
Waiters is not shy on confidence either. He has always been quick to point out his skill set and the talents of his teammates. By coming off the bench for an incredibly talented Syracuse team he proved to have that rare combination of confidence and willingness to do what is needed to help the team. He is ultra-competitive and he seems to be a willing student of the game.
If the Pacers are hoping to keep the bulk of their team together moving forward (a very sensible plan in its own right) then small moves like adding Waiters in a trade that may cost them an older player who will become more expensive sooner (like, say, Darren Collison) can make all the difference. Ironically, I could see Waiters having a similar rookie impact as Kawhi Leonard, whose draft rights the Pacers traded to the Spurs a year ago.
Waiters may not come in and win Rookie of the Year, but he could be a huge spark for the Pacers if given the opportunity.