With Kendrick Perkins but a speck of dust in the memory of Thunder fans, Dion Waiters has become their new favorite punching bag. A penchant for dribbling the shot clock out as the other four players stand around, taking step-back jumpers one foot inside of the three-point line, and yelling “AND 1!!!” on each remotely contested drive to the rim haven’t exactly done his reputation any favors.
However, Dion will be 24 in December, so there’s plenty of time for him to improve. He’s made strides to improve his game and coexist with two of the best basketball players in the world, no easy task. So far this season, Waiters has improved his (per 36 minutes) stats from last year: free throw percentage is up to 85 from 62 percent, rebounds are up almost 1.5 per game, and his scoring average is almost the exact same (15 points per game per 36 minutes), only with four less shot attempts. Waiters has looked (GASP!) efficient this year compared to last year.
Now with Durant out, Waiters has a chance to establish himself as a force. He seems the likely candidate to replace Durant in the starting lineup come Friday against the 76ers. The next few games are massive for Waiters’ confidence as well as Billy Donovan’s confidence in him. In his last three games, Waiters has shot 15-22, an incredibly efficient number. If Dion can keep playing in a focused manner, the sky is the limit.
No one can deny the talent of the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft. He has all the physical tools to be a two-way star, but his biggest weakness has always been his questionable basketball IQ. In a contract year, can Dion prove his doubters wrong? Thunder fans sure would appreciate it.