Oklahoma City Thunder: How To “Fix” Dion Waiters

Feb 8, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dion Waiters (3) shoots the ball over Phoenix Suns guard Archie Goodwin (20) at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Oklahoma City won 122- 106. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 8, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dion Waiters (3) shoots the ball over Phoenix Suns guard Archie Goodwin (20) at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Oklahoma City won 122- 106. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports /

Many view Dion Waiters as just another one of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s “mistakes”, but here’s how they can salvage him

Something in me always knew that Dion Waiters’ destiny was to have a full game’s-worth of his gaffes immortalized in a youtube clip set to Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On.

No seriously, it really happened. Don’t believe me?

Watch the magical creation for yourself: 

I really hope Dion knows some Mandarin, because my clairvoyant alter-ego sees his inevitable stint in China coming in the very near future. The man is terrible. His game has fallen completely off the map, his confidence is close to reaching Jeb Bush levels, and his play has become detrimental to the success of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Waiters’ problem?

He suffers from Jamal Crawford syndrome. In fact he’s the face of the disease. Don’t know what Jamal Crawford syndrome is? My bad. I’ll explain. Those affected by the affliction possess the unbecoming combo of Kobe Bryant’s ego, JaVale McGee’s basketball IQ, and Jimmer Fredette‘s talent (Jimmer really isn’t a fair comparison for Crawford or Waiters, but he’s back in the NBA for maybe a week, so I thought I’d give him a shoutout).

It’s afflicted numerous NBA players over the years. J.R. Smith is constantly coping with it, Kemba Walker has been terrorized by it, and I think Nate Robinson had it even before Jamal Crawford did. Dion is the proud spokesperson. I’m pretty sure that’s how he plans to subsidize his time in China. That and the money Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are almost definitely paying him NOT to shoot the ball right now.

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Waiters has been an awkward fit from the start in Oklahoma City. There’s no doubt about it. His game doesn’t really fit in with the Thunder rotation and his big ego makes it difficult for him to successfully coexist alongside even one star (let alone two). In just over a year in OKC, Waiters has proven to be just another one of the square blocks that like an infant, Sam Presti has tried to push through a circular hole.

Despite being the poster child for the Jamal Crawford Syndrome, and being the poor fit that he really is, Billy Donovan and the Oklahoma City Thunder still have the opportunity transform him into a valuable rotation guy, and maybe, just maybe, save him from having to go to China.

Fixing Waiters: Step 1

The first step is under Dion’s control, although I’m not so sure how much control he actually has over it. One of the most infuriating aspects of Dion Waiters’ game is his affinity for the long-two. There’s no way anyone in 2016 would take that many deep mid-range jumpers without being under the mob’s thumb or something like that right?

It goes against everything that the advanced stats revolution stands for, and it absolutely infuriates NBA analytics nerds. The value of the long-two rivals only the Vietnamese Dong (Vietnam’s currency, I had to look it up), and my Phil Pressey rookie card in lack of value. Broken down by distance, Waiters’ shooting percentage between 16 feet from the basket and the 3-point line is brutal. He’s taken 113 shots from that area, the 3rd highest amount of any zone. Shooting 31% from there, it’s by far Dion’s worst spot to shoot from.

This shot chart illustrates just how bad he is from just inside the 3-point line:

Graphic courtesy of Basketball Reference
Graphic courtesy of Basketball Reference /

Were Waiters to eliminate the long-two out of his game completely, his shooting percentage would jump from 39% to 42%, and would improve his quality on the court in general. It would also greatly reduce the number of emergency room visits in the greater-OKC area by Thunder fans who injure themselves in Waiters-induced rages. By now, it’s got to be a box you can check off at most Oklahoma emergency rooms.

Step 2

The next two steps go somewhat hand in hand, and are fully at the discretion of head coach Billy Donovan. The issue he has dealt with thus far in OKC is the same one Scott Brooks struggled with: Finding the right starting 5.

Between seemingly constant injuries to Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka, and the crippling inconsistency of the Thunder rotation, putting out a strong starting 5 has been a challenge in OKC for several years. Donovan is beginning to get his permanent rotation straight, but in doing so, he’s actually making a big mistake.

He just doesn’t fit on this team, and at this point, that’s not something that will really change

Dion Waiters has started just 12 games all season, but he’s been in the starting lineup in each of the Thunder’s last 10 games. The idea appears to be not to force the pressure of starting onto rookie guard Cameron Payne, but the greater impact is felt by Waiters. For Dion, coming off the bench improves nearly every statistical aspect of his game. As a reserve, he takes fewer shots, shoots a higher percentage from behind the 3-point line, and he passes and rebounds better.

As a result, his win shares creep toward 1.0 from 0.3 to 0.9, and his PER improves by .7%. The advanced stat improvements seem marginal at best, but his increased value coming off the bench is unquestioned.

Step 3

The other step, which could conceivably be executed by bringing Waiters off the bench, is limiting his minutes. In 56 games this season, he’s played 20-29 minutes 30 times, and 30-39 minutes 19 times.

Waiters’ numbers when he plays between 20-29 minutes are far better than when he plays any more than that. Playing 30+ minutes, Waiters averages 9.1 ppg, 36% shooting from the field, an offensive rating of 95, and a plus/minus of +.9. When he plays 20-29 minutes, his ppg jumps to 10.4, he shoots 42% from the field, his offensive rating is 100, and the team is +7.5 when he’s on the floor.

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Proof that this works: Waiters as a starter averages 33.5 minutes per game. When he excels off the bench–26.9 minutes per game. Just like Macklemore and Nutella, Dion Waiters is best when used in small doses.

Arguing that these three steps are the keys to solving Dion Waiters’ issues would be a vast oversimplification of his challenges on the court. As I previously mentioned, he just doesn’t fit on this team, and at this point, that’s not something that will really change.

At this point, the best thing the Oklahoma City Thunder can do with Dion is attempt to maximize his talent, and these relatively small changes could have an impact on that. Honestly, if I’m OKC, my hope is just that Dion Waiters doesn’t become a net negative during the playoffs, and that he can avoid instances like this…

And this…

Clearly, fixing Dion Waiters entirely is almost impossible. But there definitely are measures the Oklahoma City Thunder can take from protecting him from himself.