Syracuse's basketball season is over. The NCAA Elite Eight has come and gone. Only four teams are going to New Orleans to play for a national title. The Orange are not among them.
The 2011-2012 season was a wild ride to say the least. Between scandals and suspensions, there were enough off-court distractions to derail even the most focused teams. Yet despite it all, the Orange marched through the regular season with a 30-1 record, held the #1 ranking for 6 weeks and took a #1 seed into both the Big East and NCAA tournaments. The season didn't end like Orange fans had hoped or expected, but it was by no means a disappointment given the trials and tribulations of what quite possibly was the best and most trying Syracuse basketball season ever.
Now, that it's all over, it's time to look forward. What's in store for Boeheim and crew? Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph, the undisputed senior leaders, are gone to gradutation. Center Fabricio Melo, twice ruled ineligible this season, is likely to leave troublesome NCAA eligibility worries behind for a professional career. And Dion Waiters, the Big East's Sixth Man of the Year has also decided to go pro. The question now becomes whether or not this is the best time for Waiters to leave. He's certainly got the talent and confidence to be an NBA player. Indeed, pundits are slotting him into the mid-late first round of the upcoming NBA draft, with the guaranteed contract awarded to all first round picks. But is Dion selling himself short by going pro now?
This week: Should Dion Wait(ers)?
When discussing a college player's potential as a professional, most often they are compared to a current NBA player. For Dion, the comparison most often made is with former Marquette guard Dwayne Wade. Both are undersized shooting guards that use explosive athleticism to make up for what they lack in size. So how accurate is comparison?
Both Wade and Waiters played two college seasons, though Wade sat out a year with academic issues. Wade carried his Marquette Golden Eagles, then of Conference-USA, to the 2003 Final Four. Waiters played a key role for the 2011-12 Orange coming off the bench. A straight up comparison between the two is difficult because of the vastly different roles they played. Wade was "the guy" on his team. He played 32 MPG, nearly 80%. Waiters, on the other hand, played only 24 MPG, a mere 60%. This, of course, isn't a statement on Waiters' talent, simply a function of his playing on a team where players 1-8 would likely start on most other teams. So, when comparing Waiters to Wade, efficiency, percentage and ration numbers are the best route.
The shooting and scoring numbers are essentially a wash. Wade was better on 2pt shots and from the FT line, while Waiters was better from 3. Wade scored more and had a much higher shot percentage, but Dion was more efficient with his shots. The bottom line here is, both can score. The question then becomes, how did they get their points?
Anyone who's seen Dwayne Wade play will tell you, he's an attacker. He's fearless going into the lane. The numbers show this. In his last year at Marquette, he only attempted 44 3pt shots. Dion attempted 113 this season. On the other hand, Wade had a free throw rate of nearly 50% (49.7), compared to a Waiters' paltry 33%. It could be argued that Waiters was simply taking advantage of his strengths. He made a higher percentage of his 3pt shots while attempting almost three times as many as Wade. It could also be argued that Waiters settled too much for outside jumpers. Much like Wade, anyone who's seen Dion Waiters play will tell you that very few in college basketball had even a small chance in preventing him getting into the lane. And when he got there, he was an adept finsher, either with strong takes for dunks or with a soft touch on floaters. Statistical measurements aside, Dion should have lived at the FT line all season. The fact that he didn't says that, though talented, he has yet to fully grasp how to best use his skill set.
The rest of the numbers are too skewed by the minutes each logged and the role that they played on their respective teams. Waiters was a statistically inferior rebounder, but that's primarily due to the fact that A) Syracuse plays the zone and B) his job was to leak out for the fast break. Wade had more assists, but that's becasue he was his team's primary playmaker. Dion was always on the floor with either Scoop or Brandon Triche, and all three could run the point. Same with TOs. Wade had far more, but that's simply a function of him having the ball in his hands that much more.
So, what does it all mean? First of all, let's be clear. Dwayne Wade was the 5th overall pick in an absolutely loaded 2003 NBA draft. While Dion doesn't stack up statistically to a 2003 Wade, no one expects Dion to be a lottery pick either. The numbers he's put up are solid for the mid-late first round selection he's projected to be, especially for a guy who started exactly zero games in his brief college career. Plus, many pundits feel that his game is better suited for the pros. That has yet to be seen, but watching him this season, where were countless times where you couldn't help but say your yourself, "Man, that was a pro move." Dion has what it takes and I'd even go so far as to say that he's got a better chance at success than Syracuse's most recent lottery picks (though it doesn't help that those players were drafted by one of the worst organizations in professional sports).
But is coming out now his best option? Dion's stated goal is to be able to make enough money to care for his family. A guaranteed first round contract will do that, even when taking into account losing half of it to taxes and comissions. Dion, though, could be selling himself a bit short. There's no doubt that he has the ability. But the numbers show that he hasn't quite figured out how to best use his talent. As the Dwayne Wade comparison shows, a player with their particular style is much better served by getting into the lane for layups or fouls than shooting long jumpers. This is especially true when taking into account the fact that Dion is a passable 3pt shooter at best. In the NBA, 3pt shooters are a dime a dozen. That's not what's going to keep Dion employed. Guys who can get into the lane at will and plake plays when they get there, those are the guys that have the most value. Rondo, Rose, Westbrook, Wade; all guys who make their name by going into the paint among the trees. Is Dion as good as any of them? Probably not. But it's those players that he should emulate and aspire to. It took Wade three years at Marquette to fully wrap his head around how to best use his talent and athleticism to augment his relative lack of size. He was a lottery pick because of it. Waiters is in the same boat. He could come out now and be a successful NBA player. He could even become an NBA star in a few years. But he also could be passing up the chance to be a lottery pick, and the extra millions that go with it, by leaving now and not taking advantage of another college season to further hone and sharpen his game. Is either a bad choice? No. He's still going to see more money that most could ever dream of. It's just that his lifetime dream could be even bigger if he puts it off for another year.