After years of disappointing fortunes at the shooting guard and small forward positions, the 2012 NBA draft was thought to be the best wing-heavy selection pools in years. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bradley Beal were the clear runaway winners in the wing category, and by and large they’ve delivered – MKG has developed heady all-around player with potentially fixable offensive flaws, and Beal has turned into one of the NBA’s best shooters over the course of the second half of the season.
It was Syracuse’s Dion Waiters – a hopeful Dwyane Wade-clone – and ultra-talented North Carolina small forward Harrison Barnes that stood up for that second tier. And as with the case with MKG and Beal, they’ve progressed as expected. Cleveland’s Waiters can get shot happy from the outside and too often takes long bombs off the dribble (off the catch, actually, he’s quite good). Barnes can seemingly score from everywhere, but too often gets lost in a potent Golden State Warriors offense.
What we found out on Monday night, despite their two disparate styles, is that both can dunk quite well. Out-of-your-seat-y’all-well, even.
From Monday’s Cleveland Cavaliers loss to the depleted Miami Heat, here’s Waiters’ throwdown in the second quarter:
(I love Heat center Chris Andersen’s hesitation, before deciding to contest the dunk. Thinking that Waiters looks a little too D-Wade’ish to attempt to block it before realizing that, dangit, he’s The Birdman and that he’s going to give it a try. Always keep trying to attempt to block dunks, Birdman. We’ll always respect it, even in personal defeat.)
Despite the highlights – and there have been plenty of highlights – it hasn’t been a standout season for Waiters in his rookie year. He’s just 21, but this is an undersized shooting guard that is going to need quite a bit of attention from the coaching staff in order to round out some of the more lacking aspects of his game. His defense is rookie-styled suspect, but what’s more concerning is the lack of production in areas that would seem to go hand in hand with his athletic gifts.
He’s only 6-4, we’re not forgetting that aspect, but Waiters only hauls in a rebound once every 12 minutes. And for someone that was pegged as a pell-mell slasher and scorer, his 4.3 free throw attempts per 36 minutes seem a little low. Perhaps he was a victim of the rookie-ignorin’ whistles all season long, but I didn’t see too many instances where Waiters should have earned more trips to the line. Just a combined 1.5 steals/blocks per 36 minutes, as well.
This is also a player that only worked up a 20 minutes per game average in college, and clearly one with plenty of upside. He’s young, and he may get a fresh start with a new coaching staff this summer. Still, there are things to work on.
In Tuesday’s late game, San Antonio Spurs guard Gary Neal failed to close out on Harrison Barnes’ strong hand, and, well … you’ll see:
Warriors analyst Jim Barnett nails it. Harrison Barnes does need to get “more greedy.” It was the image that accompanied him from North Carolina, and while Harrison doesn’t look like the next Marvin Williams (he’s too skilled, and his shot is too good, for that), there is that worry.
Barnes is six months younger than Waiters, despite far more NCAA experience, and his struggles are less obvious. He’s started all but one game for the Warriors this season (sitting out a meeting with Waiters’ Cavaliers in late December, incidentally), and at age 20 he’s had a rough time fitting in with what could statistically be the finest shooting backcourt in NBA history – the devastating pairing of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Oh, and there’s also David Lee’s 18 points per game and Jarrett Jack’s Sixth Man Award-level play off the bench to adapt to. Find a role, kid.
As with Waiters, Barnes’ workable three-point touch hasn’t come along, as he’s hitting for around the league average (36.1 percent) while shooting only 2.6 of them per 36 minutes, and just 3.3 free throws per 36 minutes. Whether this is a lack of aggression or a function of his role probably won’t be determined until after his first full training camp as a veteran, though we wouldn’t mind seeing Harrison bring that same sort of derring-do to Golden State’s first playoff appearance in six years later this month.
All this criticism, thankfully, come with caveats.
Cleveland Cavaliers coach Byron Scott hasn’t been known for his work with the youngsters, as most of his greatest successes have come in coaching the fully formed (Richard Jefferson), or those who are obvious All-Stars (Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving). Rumors abound that Scott won’t be back next year, and Waiters could find some new guidance to follow through on his fantastic February under Scott – one that saw him shoot 51 percent from the floor and average 15.8 points in just 28 minutes a contest. This guy is still a massive, massive talent who is just getting used to the idea of actually starting basketball games, which he didn’t do at Syracuse.
Barnes just needs a fire lit under him, something the Warriors could get away with not lighting while Curry and Thompson lit it up. Harrison shot over 45 percent from the field and 40 percent from the three-point arc in January, and yet only averaged 9.1 points per game during that turn – and you’d expect percentages like those to result in more points even with the presence of others and his mere 26 minutes per game.
It’s true that taking shots away from the ultra-efficient Warriors backcourt could take away from the team’s offense, but that doesn’t mean Barnes can’t be a broken play aficionado, as we saw in his drive and dunk from Monday night.
Even with the up and down rookie years, it’s nice to see the shooting guard and small forward ranks replenished so nicely. Keep driving, young men.