Fly, Dion, fly. (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
The NBA draft is a weeks away and the Syracuse Orange have four players up for selection. Some have left early and others are only going because the NCAA says they're not allowed to play anymore. Drafting the Orange will follow Scoop, KJ, Fab and Dion as they prepare for the draft and the next phase of their basketball careers.
Vertical Leap: Not measured.
The Statistical (2011-12 season)
Path to the Draft: Dion has been training in Las Vegas at Impact Basketball, as well as writing a draft diary for Dime Magazine. No word on if he's taking classes online to remain in good standing at SU.
Pro Prospects: Of all the players leaving for the draft, the consensus opinion is that Dion is the most NBA ready. KJ and Scoop are fringe prospects and Fab is considered a project, but most pundits feel Dion could contribute immediately in the right situation. He's rated 8th among NCAA sophomores and the 23rd overall prospect. This mock draft has Dion going 22nd to Memphis as a low-cost replacement for O.J. Mayo.
Analysis: Anyone who followed the Orange in the last season would likely agree that, despite not starting a single game, Dion Waiters was the team's best player. It could be argued that Dion has been the Boeheim's best player ever since he stepped on campus, but attitude issues hampered him as a frosh. Accepting his role as sixth man allowed Dion to see the floor more as a sophomore and he took advantage, showcasing the power, athleticism and flashes of NBA level brilliance that have vaulted him into the first round discussion.
The issues arise when it comes to what position Dion would play in the NBA. At Syracuse he was the consumate scoring guard, providing instant offense off the bench. The problem is his size. There aren't many 6'4" shooting guards in the League, which brings up the inevitable Dwayne Wade comparison. While Waiters' game is certainly reminiscent of the 2006 Finals MVP, Wade is clearly more talented and, even at ten years older, more explosively athletic. There's really no such thing as a "poor man's" D-Wade, so to speak. Undersized two guards are almost always relegated to the D-League or transition to the point.
It's there where the solution might lie. Though he officially ranks Waiter's as the fourth best off guard, ESPN draft guru Chad Ford also notes that Dion might just be the second best point guard prospect (ESPN Insider required). At 6'4" and 215 or so, Dion would physically outmatch most NBA lead guards, but does he have the skill set to make the switch? While it certainly would be tougher in the NBA than it was in college, Dion has the ability to blow by defenders and apply pressure to opposing defenses. The question then becomes what he does next. At Syracuse, his job was to score. Of course, sometimes the right play was a pass, and Dion's 2.5 APG showed a willingness to do so. But Dion was a shoot first player. As an NBA PG, Dion would need to change his focus to pass first. Even scoring point guards, like Derrick Rose or Kyrie Irving, have the pass in mind first. They find themselves open because defenses look to cover the pass, and vice versa. So it comes down to the staple of PG play: decision making. Does Dion have the ability to be a primary playmaker for others as well as himself? He wasn't asked to do that at Syracuse. It's a tough transition to make, especially when compounded by the adjustment from college to the NBA. Dion has the thoughness and talent to pull it off. It just remains to be seen if he can put it all together. That potential will be enough for an established team to want to lock him up in the first round. A late-first round deal is relatively cheap for a potential stud and it'll give whomever drafts him two or three years to see if he can develop into an effective NBA player or if he's just another 'tweener destined for a career overseas.