Editor’s Note: Welcome to our “2020 Lakers Season In Review” series, where we’ll be looking back at every member of this Lakers roster as the offseason commences, and answering some questions about what they contributed (or didn’t) to the team’s 17th championship, as well as discussing what their situation is moving forward. Today, let’s discuss Dion Waiters.
How did he play?
Dion Waiters was a consistent presence for the Lakers during his seven appearances in the seeding games, averaging 11.4 points and 2.3 assists in 23.6 minutes per game. He was a bit overeager on offense, which really can’t be helped at this point in Waiters’ career, but he did a good job of creating shots for himself. His 3-pointers weren’t falling, and not for lack of trying, as he only made 7-of-30 attempts. However, he made up for that by converting 55.8% of his 2-pointers. The expectation was that Waiters would be the playmaker the Lakers were searching for, but he was more of a volume scorer.
There was real value in that element of Waiters’ game. The Lakers probably wouldn’t have beaten the Clippers on the opening night of the restart without Waiters’ 11 points off the bench. He also had two assists on 3-pointers, creating a total of 17 points in a game when the Lakers only scored 103.
The numbers loved Waiters during the seeding games, and he had the best net rating among rotation players on the Lakers. But given the mix-and-match nature of Frank Vogel’s lineups during that stretch, that was more of a statistical oddity than a reflection of Waiters’ production, and Vogel certainly interpreted it that way.
Although Waiters rated well on both ends of the floor, he was a bit too inconsistent to earn the trust of the coaching staff, especially as a new addition to the roster. The one thing Waiters did which made him impossible to play during the playoffs was commit mistakes on the defensive end. There were a number of instances in the seeding games when he turned his back and lost track of an opponent. It was common to see a confused Waiters looking around at his teammates after a defensive possession broke down before eventually realizing it was his fault. For a team that built its identity on the defensive end, those gaffes were unacceptable.
As a result, despite playing ahead of J.R. Smith during the seeding games, Waiters lost that spot during the postseason. He might have had a chance to play against the Rockets when the Lakers went smaller — case in point: they dusted off Talen Horton-Tucker — but he strained his groin in the second game of that series. That injury, combined with Rondo’s return, made it so that Waiters was essentially glued to the bench the rest of the way. He played 38 total playoff minutes, 25 of which came in garbage time. As the bubble wore on, it seemed like his son saw more court time than he did.
What is his contract situation moving forward?
Waiters was signed to a minimum deal when he joined the Lakers in March, and he is now an unrestricted free agent.
Will he be back?
As it becomes increasingly likely that the NBA season will begin in December, the Lakers will have to be diligent about how they monitor the minutes of their veteran players. A guy like Waiters, who is turning 29 and has limited mileage over the last two seasons, could soak up some minutes over a condensed season, and there is value in having some continuity with Waiters over another guard the Lakers bring in off the scrap heap. Even if the Lakers couldn’t find a reason to play Waiters in the biggest moments of their season, regular-season filler minutes still matter.
That being said, the guard rotation is pretty full already, even if Danny Green and Rondo might take some nights off in the upcoming season for load management. Avery Bradley, Alex Caruso, Talen Horton-Tucker, and the hopefully returning Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would all theoretically be prioritized over Waiters, to say nothing of the Lakers’ potential draft pick(s). There is no urgency to bring Waiters back with the roster the Lakers have in place, though he’s probably better than most of the other options in free agency.
It really comes down to what Waiters is looking for. The Lakers would likely have no problem bringing Waiters back on a minimum deal. But if he wants to get paid or earn more consistent minutes, this is probably not the place for him.