NBA

NBA: Here’s why Dion Waiters Might be the Heat’s Secret Weapon

One of the NBA’s toughest players to figure out has been Dion Waiters of the Miami Heat. Ever since he entered the league with the Cleveland Cavaliers, it feels as if his teams have been waiting for his breakout moment that’s never quite happened. Now with the Heat, Waiters enters yet another season in which he hopes to contribute more than he did in the past. 

But unlike previous seasons, Waiters may indeed be able to exceed the team’s expectations this year. Here’s why he may be their secret weapon. 

Dion Waiters career overview

A healthy Dion Waiters could be the secret weapon for the Miami Heat this season.
Dion Waiters dribbles the ball. | Mark Brown/Getty Images

Waiters played college basketball under Jim Boeheim at Syracuse University. After a solid NCAA career, the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted him with the fourth overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft. Here are Waiters’ career numbers to this point: 

  • 409 games played
  • 13.2 points per game 
  • 2.7 rebounds per game
  • 2.8 assists per game 
  • 41.2% on field goals 
  • 34.7% from the 3-point line
  • 69.2% from the free-throw line

Dion Waiters entered the league with a tremendous amount of pressure, as he was a high draft pick for a Cleveland franchise still flailing to replace LeBron James. Waiters has never quite lived up to the promise of that fourth overall pick. His highest scoring total came in his second season when he averaged a respectable but not earth-shattering 15.9 points per game. The Cavaliers traded Waiters to Oklahoma City during the 2014-2015 season. For the 2016-2017 campaign, he went to the Miami Heat, where he’s remained ever since. 

His 2018-19 season in review 

For Miami last season, Waiters’ numbers took a slight statistical dip in many categories. Here were his stats last season: 

  • 44 games played
  • 12 points per game
  • 2.6 rebounds per game 
  • 2.8 assists per game
  • 41.4% on field goals 
  • 37.7% from the 3-point line 
  • 50% from the free-throw line

Waiters has struggled to find his footing in Miami. He’s been plagued with injuries, playing only 120 games in three seasons in a Heat uniform.

The Heat signed Waiters to a four-year deal worth $52 million in 2017. They’re kicking themselves now, as they haven’t seen nearly enough out of Waiters to give them a decent return on their investment. The team is on the hook to pay him $12 million both this year and next before he hits free agency. So the question becomes: how can the Miami Heat get the most value out of a player that appears to be a lost cause? 

The answer? Scaling back expectations. 

Why Dion Waiters might be the Heat’s secret weapon

According to Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, the difference between this season and years past for Waiters is his health. Waiters is finally healthy, and reports from Heat practices say he looks more explosive than ever. For a player who gets injured as often as Waiters, his conditioning likely needed help. That’s exactly what he worked on, going to a trusted source who works with some of the game’s greatest: 

“With the help of David Alexander, who has trained LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Paul in the past, Waiters lost 20 pounds this offseason and is in the best shape of his life.”

It appears as though Spoelstra will use Waiters off the bench. If Waiters doesn’t have to play significant minutes and therefore decreases his chances of an injury, he can be a reliable and valuable member of the Heat’s rotation. 
Looking at Waiters as a valuable member of the Heat is all about perspective. They’ll never be able to rely on him as a number one or number two option. With Jimmy Butler on the roster now, they won’t have to. But if Dion Waiters accepts his diminished role where he’s providing a scoring punch off the bench when the Heat need him, he may be able to excel.