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Waiting to Exhale

12/15/2012

 

On a cold December night in Detroit in 2003, the Pistons lead the Heat by 11 points with a minute to go in the third quarter. Heat center Loren Woods firmly rejects a shot in the paint by Corliss “Big Nasty” Williamson, leading to a quick transition dunk by Lamar Odom off a Rafer Alston assist.  Trailing the play are legendary Heat forward Samaki Walker and a player we knew at the time as “rookie Dwayne Wade.”  For Wade, the play marked his 1035th offensive possession in an NBA game. His struggling squad goes on to lose the game, dropping to 5-12 for the season. 

 

Nine years later, Dion Waiters has also played in 1035 offensive possessions for the struggling team that drafted him. Ever since Jim Boeheim blessed Cleveland fans with a Wade-Waiters comparison I’ve been interested to watch the numbers unfold—if only to laugh—and then cry myself to sleep.  Lamar Odom’s dunk in Detroit was literally the same point in Wade’s career, possession-wise, and I’m a fan of unnecessary precision. 

 

Dwyane Wade reached his 1035th possession in his 16th NBA game, playing 35 minutes per game.  Despite the rough start and unflattering roster, Miami finished the season at 42-40 and made the playoffs, even winning a series.  They did this by having the 9th best defense in the NBA, so it would probably be a mistake to think the Cavs will follow a similar trajectory this season.  Waiters reached possession 1035 in his 17th NBA game—in double overtime against Portland on December 1st, twisting his ankle on Tyler Zeller’s foot under the basket.  Nick Batum beat the Cavs with a most unsavory triple that night, dropping them to 4-13 on the year.  Dion was averaging 32 minutes per game, and we haven’t seen him since.  I assembled a table with each player’s stats through 1035 possessions: 

 

Dwyane Wade & Dion Waiters through 1035 Team Offensive Possessions

Minutes

Possessions

ORTG

DRTG

USG

AST%

Shots Assisted

TOV%

FT Rate

ORB%

DRB%

BLK%

STL%

EFG%

PER

Dwyane Wade

554

1035

88

105

24.3

23.7

31.4

17.5

25.5

6.1

8.5

1.2

2

40.0

12.7

Dion Waiters

544

1035

100.4

112

24.9

17.4

37.6

10.3

19.5

0.4

8.9

0.5

2

42.8

12.5

 

If you like reading too much into the numbers, please note that Wade and Waiters posted nearly identical Player Efficiency Ratings through this point in their rookie seasons, at 12.7 and 12.5, respectively. I wouldn’t say either player struggled in their first 16ish games played, but they didn’t come firing out of the gate in the same way Irving did last season, or Chris Paul did in 2005.  Both Wade and Waiters entered the league with a heavy burden on offense, using roughly 25% of their team’s possessions. The result was pretty inefficient shooting from the field.  Wade, however, had a much worse Offensive Rating, producing only 88 points per 100 possessions compared to Waiters’ 100 points per 100 possessions.  He committed nearly twice as many turnovers and shot slightly worse from the field than Waiters; he salvaged his PER by grabbing more offensive rebounds and blocking shots.  Wade also found his teammates for more assists than Waiters, which says to me that he was a more high-risk/high-reward passer. In fact, Waiters’ ability to not throw the ball away has been a bright spot in his young career.

 

Despite the similarities in productivity, Wade and Waiters took much different approaches in their shot selection.  When Boeheim compared the two players, I took it to mean that Waiters would be a relentless attacker of the rim.   I was really excited about this because I love that aspect of Dwyane Wade’s game—it’s both really fun to watch and makes for a less streaky type of guard than your typical jump shooter.  He’s an All-NBA guard because he takes half of his shots at the rim and makes most of them, also making it easier to draw contact and get to the free throw line.  Here are a couple tables reflecting the shot selection of Wade and Waiters through 1035 possessions:

 

Dwyane Wade – Shot Selection – 220 FGA’s

Rim

Low Post

Corner2

Long2

Corner3

Arc3

Rate

49.1

17.7

8.6

15.9

3.2

5

FG%

53.7

25.6

21.1

28.6

14.3

27.3

EFG%

53.7

25.6

21.1

28.6

21.5

41

 

Dion Waiters – Shot Selection – 256 FGA’s

Rim

Low Post

Corner2

Long2

Corner3

Arc3

Rate

29.3

9.8

9

14.8

7.4

28.9

FG%

37.3

24

47.8

36.8

31.6

36.5

EFG%

37.3

24

47.8

36.8

47.4

54.8

 

In these tables, “Rate” is the percentage of the player’s attempts that come from each zone.  I included field goal percentage because it’s an intuitive number and effective field goal percentage because it accurately reflects production from three point attempts. Note that Wade had 36 fewer field goal attempts than Waiters, due to a slightly lower usage rate, more turnovers, and more of his possessions ending at the free throw line.

 

Basically, Wade was terrible at anything that wasn’t a dunk or layup, but those were half of his shots so it worked out ok for him. Based on scouting reports and his ugly shooting form, I fully expected Waiters to have similar looking numbers.  Instead, his shot selection has been much more Ray Allen than Dwyane Wade, going to the rim at a very standard rate and making his money from long range.  His success at the rim has been unsustainably bad, making only 37% of these attempts.  I think the 1035 possession mark is a reasonable sample size, though, since it gave Dion’s three point shooting some time to cool off from his ridiculously hot start. With any luck his jump shooting numbers will stay where they are and he’ll begin converting layups at a respectable rate, perhaps leading him to go to the rim more often.

 

Finally, because it’s unfair to stick Dion in a vacuum alone with an NBA finals MVP, I went through 11 NBA drafts from ‘01 to ’11 and selected an assortment of top-6 guards and forwards.  I calculated each player's stats through 1035 offensive possessions to answer questions like, “Hey, what if Martell Webster had a PER of 27 in his first 1035 possessions?” He didn’t, but I think the results help inform what standards we should hold Dion to because not every rookie will have a year like Chris Paul or Kyrie Irving.  I ordered the results by the player’s PER through his first 1035 offensive possessions.  The last two columns on the right show how many minutes the player played in his rookie season after his 1035th possession, and what his PER was in those minutes only (i.e. possession # 1036-onward).  Hence the two PERs are calculated from two distinct sets of data for each player.  The average change in PER from the player's first 1035 possessions to the rest of his rookie year is +1.7, so we should expect Dion to improve between now and April (unless the arc of his rookie year resembles that of Dajuan Wagner, whose production regressed amidst nagging injuries). I think the resulting order of the table is palpable, but certainly not a crystal ball.  I’m glad that Dion shares Kevin Durant’s company in the bottom third of the table, though, because the last six names are demeaning to the long and illustrious career Dion is destined to have in Cleveland.

 

 

Rookie Seasons Through 1035 Offensive Possessions

MP

MPG

ORTG

DRTG

USG

AST%

Shots Assisted%

TOV%

FT Rate

ORB%

DRB%

BLK%

STL%

EFG%

PER

Rest of Minutes

Rest of PER

Kyrie Irving

530

28

112.3

111

28

30.8

23.8

18.1

28.2

3.6

10.1

1.3

1.5

55.9

21.3

1028

21

Chris Paul

538

36

107.5

103

21.7

32.8

29.1

14.1

44.1

3.6

14.4

0.1

2.8

45.2

18.9

2270

22.2

John Wall

523

37

99.4

112

23.7

38.6

40.7

18.4

38.1

0.4

10

0.9

3.3

44.7

17.1

2082

15.1

Derrick Rose

521

37

106.8

113

23

26.6

38.5

14.1

25.7

3.4

9

0.4

1.4

50

16.8

2479

15.7

James Harden

545

22

108.2

103

21.4

21.1

50

13.6

40.7

5.1

13.3

1.2

2.5

46.3

16.5

1193

13.5

Tyreke Evans

526

35

101.7

107

26

21.4

18.8

15.2

34.6

2.4

13.5

0.7

1.9

46.5

16.5

2150

19.3

Brandon Roy

562

31

104.6

113

22.3

17.1

27.9

10.1

36.1

3.4

11.4

0.5

1.7

43

16.2

1452

19.3

LeBron James

543

39

93.9

103

23.6

25.9

48.4

16.1

26.6

4.7

12.5

1.2

1.7

46

16.0

2584

18.5

O.J. Mayo

536

38

101

108

24.9

11.5

40

11.9

21.1

2.9

10.5

0.1

1.7

48.1

14.6

2584

13.9

Mike Conley

527

26

105

118

16.9

27.3

25.4

15.6

35.2

1.9

8.7

0.1

1.6

46.9

13.5

854

12.3

Josh Childress

532

20

102.5

108

15.6

9.5

45.8

12.2

39.7

10.1

12.2

1.8

2

42.9

13.5

1834

15.7

Russell Westbrook

528

26

91.1

106

26.2

25.4

28.6

15.9

40.2

7.9

5.8

0.8

3.2

35.9

13.4

2140

15.5

Deron Williams

563

30

98.1

106

22.6

30.1

47.1

15.5

26.2

2

9.3

0.6

1.5

46.4

13.1

1744

12

Jason Richardson

538

23

96.5

109

19.1

17.9

58.4

10.1

20.5

7.1

10.5

1

2.3

41.5

13.1

2088

14

Devin Harris

508

18

93.5

104

19.1

22.5

36.2

14.2

23.3

1.5

4.3

1.1

3.7

44

12.9

667

15.6

Raymond Felton

534

20

91.7

107

21.3

32.5

40

14.9

27.6

3.5

10.6

0.4

3

37.9

12.7

1871

14.6

Dwyane Wade

554

35

88

105

24.3

23.7

31.4

17.5

25.5

6.1

8.5

1.2

2

40

12.7

1581

18.9

Eric Gordon

541

23

101.4

107

16.2

12.6

64.5

14.4

32.2

2

8.1

1.9

2.3

51

12.6

2135

15.3

Dion Waiters

544

32

100.4

112

24.8

17.4

37.6

10.3

19.5

0.4

8.9

0.5

2

42.8

12.5

0

?????

Kevin Durant

498

33

89.3

115

28.2

10

57.6

14.7

29.8

2.1

12.6

2

1.7

43.1

12.4

2270

16.4

Dajuan Wagner

523

35

96.3

117

24.4

17.6

45.9

12.4

31.3

1.6

3.1

0.3

1.8

42.2

11.9

862

10.8

Ben Gordon

541

23

92.5

106

27.5

13.6

58.9

18.6

17.9

3.6

6.9

0

1.3

49.2

10.9

1472

16.8

Jay Williams

519

31

82.3

106

20.9

26.9

42.3

18.2

20.6

1.6

12.7

0.5

2.5

41

10.8

1442

12.4

Wesley Johnson

500

28

97.8

116

15.4

10.3

63.5

12.3

19.9

4.1

8

1.9

0.8

48.7

9.2

1568

10.4

Evan Turner

537

26

87.3

106

15.8

11.4

56.9

15

33.1

1.7

19.9

0.7

1.2

42.1

8.5

1260

11.9

Martell Webster

554

15

88.4

119

17.8

4

78.1

12.2

15.3

1.9

9.7

0.9

0.7

47.4

7.9

515

15.1

AVERAGE

533

29

97.6

109.2

22

20.7

43.7

14.4

29

3.4

10.2

0.9

2

45

13.7

1620

15.4

 

 

 

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