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Born to close: Dion Waiters lives to shine in the fourth quarter

Waiters hungers for the big moment with the ball in his hands and the game on the line.

NBA: Preseason-Atlanta Hawks at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

When the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Dion Waiters in 2012, he became only the second lottery pick in NBA history to never start a game in his college career. Marvin Williams was other one in 2003. At first not starting bothered him, but he came to embrace coming off the bench,

"Waiters, who averages 12.9 points per game, said his goal is to be an 'instant game-changer.'"

"By the time Coach [Jim] Boeheim walks over and says, 'Let's go,' that's all I need to hear," he said.

"I don't even really care if I start anymore."

Waiters' stats for the Miami Heat this season show he's at his best in late game situations during the fourth quarter, as measured by FG%

  1. 40.2%
  2. 41.0%
  3. 33.7%
  4. 47.8%

In the 2012 draft the Cavaliers wanted an athletic wing who could create plays on his own, and Waiters fit the bill perfectly.

“They believe he was the best guard in the country running the pick-and-roll play, a key in the NBA game. At 6-4 and 210 pounds, they liked his power driving to the basket.”

Byron Scott was absolutely in love with Waiters' game and potential. The Cavs coach has said Waiters was ‘No. 2 on my draft board.’"

“Nor did the Cavs care that Waiters was the sixth man at Syracuse, because they knew he played the key moments. They considered it a positive that he was willing to come off the bench, paying respect to starting senior guard Scoop Jardine, who also is from Philadelphia.”

"I think he relishes the expectations," said Scott. "Our expectations are high as well. . . . He'll be something special. . . . The sky is the limit."

Events didn’t go as planned in Cleveland for Dion, especially when LeBron James could have used the face-mask he had in Miami to protect himself against a Waiters pass.

Now in his sixth NBA season the hype of draft night has evaporated into the reality of professional basketball life. He has a career FG% of 41.2%, 34.4% from 3-point range, an eFG% of 47.2%, and averages around 3 rebounds and 3 assists in 29 minutes a game.

Generally Waiters had a better TS% during the second half of the season than the first half. Whether in games, or over a season, dramatic finishes where Waiters emerges as the hero who saves the team from certain defeat is what he lives for.

  • October 46.9%
  • November 47.8%
  • December 47.7%
  • January 48.8%
  • February 52.1%
  • March 49.6%
  • April 51.1%

A pattern of needing to warm up and gauge situations emerges.

"When I'm on the bench," Waiters said, "I'm just looking to see what kind of shots they're giving us and what kind of opportunities my teammates might not be taking advantage of. I'm a sponge when I'm on the bench. I'm soaking up everything so that when I get in there, I can find the holes and things like that."

As Pete Thamel wrote,

"His chiseled frame, with 4 percent body fat, looks genetically engineered to play professional basketball. Waiters has a blazing first step, an uncanny ability to make difficult shots and a confident aura on the court."

That description sums up the enticing potential Waiters possesses. Can he tame his talents over the course of a game, or even the entire season? His first step allows him to get to the rim at will, but finishing what he starts is another matter.

The puzzle of Dion Waiters lies in why he can't duplicate his fourth quarter heroics over an entire game. Physically his raw talent places him among the better players, and sometimes able to carry the team on his back in late game situations.

Dion can be stubborn at times. Perhaps that’s an advantage to reach a goal, such as his first 40 point game in the NBA. He was and never will be a quitter until he gets what he wants.

“She wouldn’t let me quit,” he said, “and I give her a lot of credit for that.”