Way of Waiters: Making Sense of Dion’s Surge
The Miami Heat are supposed to be bad, but don’t tell Dion Waiters that.
The ultimate #OfCourse is happening; Miami has inexplicably won five straight games, putting them in some elite company as of late:
List of teams currently riding a 5+ game win streak:
San Antonio Spurs
— #NotYouFatJesus (@NekiasNBA) January 26, 2017
For whatever reason, Waiters has been leading the charge. He’s been absolute flames on offense and a menace defensively.
He’s actually given us…positive meme material:
— Joe (@hhh9191) January 26, 2017
For the #TankSZN disciples, don’t worry: the tank is still alive and well.
Even if Miami ends the year with the fourth worst record, the lottery could change things. If it doesn’t, the fourth pick still puts them in reach for one of Dennis Smith, Josh Jackson, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, or Jonathan Isaac.
With that in mind, we should all relax and appreciate Waiters’ (and Miami’s) hot streak while it’s happening. Let’s dig into Waiters’ recent success, and why it’s happening.
During Miami’s winning streak, Waiters is averaging 23.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists. He’s one of 13 players with those averages (or better) over the last five games. That list includes names like Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and LeBron James — who, ironically, wants another playmaker on the roster.
Funny how that worked out.
The efficiency Waiters has displayed has been the most impressive part of this run. In terms of raw numbers, we’ve seen a similar hot stretch from Waiters this year back in November. The difference between the two stretches were wins and efficiency:
Waiters has been much better in the “Morey Zones” — both three-point corners, and at the rim. Over his last five games, Waiters has knocked down two-thirds of his looks at the rim, and 75 percent of his corner threes, including a a seven for seven mark from the left corner.
Waiters has been a good shooter from the corner all season. The finishing is the real revelation:
He’s been more patient up top, and more under control on his forays to the rim. The fact that he’s been shooting and finishing well as of late has opened up more opportunities to showcase his underrated vision.
Peep this play against Golden State:
Durant attempted to steal the pass intended from Waiters, and failed. Taking advantage of the mishap, Waiters drove hard down the middle of the lane, forcing JaVale McGee to step up to challenge the potential shot. In sly fashion, Waiters gathered aggressively as if he was setting up for a floater. But instead of going up for the shot, he dropped off a dandy for Willie Reed for the easy flush.
Waiters has always shown flashes of those kind of plays, but we’ve seen them more frequently over the last couple of weeks.
The most fun part of Waiters’ run has been his fourth quarter heroics.
He’s set Twitter ablaze with a game-winner against Golden State:
He also slammed the door against Brooklyn on Wednesday:
How’s this for insane: during this five-game stretch, in what NBA.com defines as clutch time, Waiters is averaging 38.7 points and seven assists while shooting 57.1 percent from the field and 100 percent from deep per 36 minutes.
Defensively, Waiters has been his usual pesky self. He still occasionally dies on screens, but ultimately, his effort has been fantastic.
His individual numbers certainly bear that out; over his last five games, with Waiters as the closest defender, opponents are shooting almost eight percentage points lower than their season average.
The team numbers, however, don’t back him up; Miami’s defense is 10 points better with Waiters on the bench over the last five, though Miami’s defense has been around one point worse without Waiters over the course of the season.
WHAT CAN WE TAKE AWAY FROM THIS?
First and foremost, be ready for a bit of regression soon. As fun as it would be, Waiters suddenly turning into a consistent threat for 20-5-5 is about as realistic as Donald Trump releasing his tax returns.
We’ve seen Waiters had a solid stretch of two-way play earlier this year. We’ve seen him show flashes everywhere he’s played in his relatively short career. Hot stretches notwithstanding, advanced numbers and efficiency numbers still aren’t kind to him.
On the bright side, Waiters is still having a career year, and this is probably the best stretch of basketball he’s ever played in the NBA. He has clearly grown more comfortable in Miami, and truly appreciates the trust that head coach Erik Spoelstra has shown in him as of late.
All season, Waiters has played hard, defended well, knocked down spot-up treys, gotten into the lane at will, and found guys out of pick-and-roll. Those are all positive traits that made Waiters worth taking a risk on this summer.
It’s still very possible that Waiters falls apart like post-December Gerald Green last year. In the event that his regression isn’t steep, it may behoove Miami to invest in Waiters further.