The Maturation Of Dion Waiters Is Just What OKC Needed

The Western Conference Finals kick off tonight featuring the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors. After what felt like a snooze fest when talking about the NBA playoffs, the fun starts now after the Thunder surprised many by ousting the San Antonio Spurs in convincing fashion. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook played like their usual superhuman selves, but an unsung hero rose the occasion to help put the Thunder in the position that it is in today. That person is Dion Waiters.

Yes, that Dion Waiters.

It's been a long time coming — word to Sam Cooke — but it couldn't have come at a better time.

It's been a roller-coaster ride for the fourth-year guard out of Syracuse, to say the least. Like many rides at amusement parks, there are highs, lows, and quirky turns that can make your stomach queasy or have you scream at the top of your lungs. For Thunder fans, those feelings have been in the cards since the team traded for Waiters last season.

While Waiters has an array of missed step-back jumpers, blown layups and other blunders, his confidence has remained sky-high throughout the lows. Confidence is everything in professional sports, and for Waiters, it is what has helped him grow exponentially during the NBA playoffs.

Since the start of the postseason, Waiters has been a key cog to the Thunder’s success. His numbers aren’t as flashy as his superstar counterparts, averaging 9.4 points per game, 2.5. rebounds per game and 2.0 assists per game, but his impact in every facet of the game has given the Thunder an added arsenal to its already deep team.

Since coming to OKC via trade from Cleveland, Dion Waiters has been the model of inconsistency. At times, it’s evident the talent is there, but there are many head-scratching moments, just enough to make one wonder why the hell OKC traded for him in the first place. Yet thus far in the playoffs, Waiters has provided a much-needed scoring punch off the bench, and he has played shockingly pesky defense, showcasing exactly why the Thunder front office rolled the dice on the talented but enigmatic guard. Waiters did his best impersonation of being a gnat to Kawhi Leonard, catching basketball pundits by surprise. While he didn’t completely shut down the one-time NBA Finals MVP, he did just enough to bother him throughout the series.

The age-old saying April showers bring May flowers is a testament to how Waiters sprouted from a seed to blossoming when his team needed him the most. While many focused on the most recognized elbow since the “People’s Elbow,” Waiters has given his team a lot more than some baseline space.

In 11 playoff games, Waiters has increased his shooting percentages from the regular season. Going from 39.9 percent to 45.6 percent from two-point range and 35.8 percent to 41.2 percent in three-point shooting shows that he is taking better shots and actually knocking them down as teams load up against KD and Russ. Per 100 possessions, he also boasts an offensive rating of 114.0, which surpasses his regular-season mark of 99.0. Also in surprising fashion, Waiters was a +36 over the last three games against San Antonio compared to +14 in three regular-season games against the Spurs. Although his defense efficiency per 100 possessions in the regular season and postseason remains the same (108.0), the eye test shows that his effort on the defensive end has picked up immensely.

Watching the way Waiters has turned the corner would make his younger brother Demetrius "Zique" Pinckney proud. Waiters lost his brother this past March due to gun violence in the mean streets of Philly. In an open letter to his brother, Waiters noted.

"I don’t ask why. I just try to remember who Zique really was, and keep him alive. The best way I can honor him now is to be the best father, best teammate, and best person I possibly can."

As expected, Waiters has faced his fair share of downs after the loss of his younger brother, but the evolution of Dion has been forthcoming in the midst of tragedy. Oftentimes, people find ways to rise when tragedy is at the forefront. In Waiters' case, he's turned tragedy into triumph.

He made a promise to his brother that he will be the best teammate possible. While it's unknown if he is the best teammate on the roster, something has clicked for Waiters this postseason. For a player who was drafted with lofty expectations and was known as a one-dimensional scorer earlier in his career, evolving into so much more shows the maturation has taken hold — and he's still only 24 years of age. Waiters may never become a perennial All-Star. Hell, he may never crack the starting five of the Oklahoma City Thunder again, but whenever he steps on the floor, he sacrifices shots, minutes and points for the betterment of the team.

After failing to be a consistent basketball player in Cleveland and in the early stages in his career in Oklahoma, he is growing into his role as a key bench player. To no surprise, there will still be some moments when Waiters will think he is the best player on the floor, but the Thunder can live with that. Billy Donovan has given his players the confidence to play free as long as it's in the confines of the team.

Timing is everything, and for Waiters, he picked the perfect time to mature as his team embarks on a journey to try to continuing defying the odds and hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy at the end of the season.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *