Following an underwhelming freshman season in which he struggled to produce and failed to find a consistent role on a very talented team, Dion Waiters
has developed into a key part of Syracuse's #2 squad as the team's sixth man this season. While Waiters' play has tailed off against more difficult competition, especially during conference play, he's had a solid season on the whole, giving Orange fans a much better idea why he was the 23rd ranked player in his high school class.
On the offensive end, Waiters has made a real impact this season by being more opportunistic pushing the ball and getting out on the break, as he sees over 28% of his possessions in transition according to Synergy, which is especially impressive given Syracuse's just 178th ranked tempo according to Kenpom.com
A physically gifted player with an excellent frame and terrific instincts, Waiters' aggressive defense definitely fuels this area of his game by creating opportunities, but he does a very good job keeping his head up and attacking when his team has a numbers advantage. He's very crafty with the ball in his hands and does a good job of using his shiftiness going to the basket, switching the ball between hands and showing a very good feel for weaving through defenses. While not exceptionally quick or fast, Waiters has perhaps helped himself most here by showing a good commitment to using his well-built frame to go hard to the basket, frequently finishing with power and playing with a real mean streak on the break.
In the half court setting, Waiters has performed best this year operating pick-and-rolls, showing a solid feel for balancing his own offense and finding open teammates. He does a good job making the simple pass to spot shooters, using separation from the pick to get a half step on his man, or pulling up for open jumpers in space.
Unfortunately for Waiters, despite his pick-and-roll and transition prowess, he's struggled to consistently perform at a high level in most other areas of offense this season, most notably showing troubles consistently contributing in the half court against top competition. While Waiters possesses good ball-handling skills, excellent body control, and flashes of potent jump-shooting ability, he doesn't have a true go-to skill in the half court if unable to simply overpower his man, while also being plagued by errant decision-making at times.
Waiters' jump shot is likely the area he can make the best short-term and long-term gains in improving his half court offense, as he shows a lot of potential in this area with his flashes of NBA range and ability to hit pull-up shots in space. He hurts himself here by often taking shots that are rushed, contested, unbalanced, or a combination of the three, while even his open spot-up jumpers are prone to bouts of inconsistency. Really buckling down in this area in either the pre-draft process or offseason should be his biggest priority going forward, and could do a great deal to ease his transition to the NBA game or take his game to the next level at Syracuse.
As far as Waiters' shot-creating ability in isolation goes, he's had some issues staying consistent this season, but to his credit he doesn't force this area of his game much, having a pretty solid feel of his strengths and weaknesses. Most of his questionable decision-making in the half court stems from shot selection, as he keeps his turnovers pretty low at just 0.13 per possession.
The other area Waiters could expand his game is as a floor general and shot creator for teammates, but this is something he hasn't shown much with in his two years on campus outside of his expanded pick-and-roll game. Waiters is a good passer and plays pretty well within his team's offense, but he doesn't show much penchant for breaking the defense down off the dribble and seems to lack a true floor general's mentality, so his most likely future is probably as combo guard who plays both on and off the ball depending on matchups.
While Waiters has been somewhat of a mixed bag on the offensive end this season, the same cannot be said for his defensive performance, where he's been one of Syracuse's most effective and disruptive defenders this season, as chronicled in great depth by SI's Luke Winn
Waiters is extremely aggressive on this end of the floor, extending Syracuse's zone well beyond the college three-point line, being constantly in motion, and frequently picking off balls in the passing lanes to fuel his own transition game. He does a great job jumping out to contest shots and shows very good hustle and focus overall. Waiters also does a good job using his strength to get over picks on pick-and-rolls, and works hard to stay in front of his man on the rare chance he sees a true isolation in Jim Boeheim's zone, but as always with Syracuse players, it's tough to get a perfect handle on this aspect of his game from a scouting perspective.
With that said, considering his physical attributes and aggressiveness, it's not difficult to see him being capable of guarding both guard positions in the NBA, which should give his team plenty of versatility to work with.
Looking forward, Waiters brings an interesting package of skills to the table along with a good amount of untapped potential. His style of play should seemingly translate well in a combo guard role off the bench as a sparkplug transition and pick and roll scorer who can defend multiple positions, which every NBA team seems to have at least one of these days.
Waiters could help his stock by really putting in work with his jump shot, something he could demonstrate to teams a few months from now in workouts if he elects to declare for the draft.