SLAM Top 50: Dion Waiters, No. 50

It’s about time we start appreciating Dion Waiters for who he is.

For too long, one of the best personalities in the NBA has been cast aside by fans and the media because of a falling out in Cleveland, a sometimes questionable shot selection and a career that didn’t immediately live up to where he was selected in the draft.

Fortunately for us, Waiters never changed. Instead he bet on himself then doubled down.

Last summer, Waiters waited in limbo with OKC while the Kevin Durant-to-Golden State situation played out. Once KD bounced to the West coast, Dion was left out in the cold by the Thunder and signed a 1-year deal with Miami. Like so what many players who have passed through the Heat organization have done before him, Waiters got in the best shape of his life and balled the hell out. Philly Cheese averaged 15.8 points, 4.3 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 30.1 minutes while shooting 42.4 percent from the field and a career-high 39.5 percent from three-point range. However, due to ankle and groin injuries he was limited to 46 games.

Against the Warriors in January, he had one of the best moments of the regular season when he hit a game-winner and crossed his arms with a “you can’t mess with with me” scowl on his face. In February, Waiters averaged 18.4 points on 47 percent shooting and led the Heat to an 8-3 record for the month as they stormed back from a disastrous start to the season to just miss the playoffs. And in April, he won over just about every basketball fan with his touching piece on The Players’ Tribune—appropriately titled “The NBA Is Lucky I’m Home Doing Damn Articles.”

This past summer, there was no waiting around for other players to get their money. Waiters inked a 4-year, $52 million deal with Miami on July 5, proving that his “Bet On Yourself Then Double Down” motto wasn’t just a case of a player writing a check with his mouth that his ass couldn’t cash. A week later, Waiters claimed he was one of the five-best shooting guards in the League then said that there’s an “alpha male” in Miami already when the franchise became a rumored potential destination for Kyrie Irving.

Looking ahead to this season, Waiters will be expected to maintain the numbers he put up during his February stretch. First and foremost, he has to stay healthy enough to appear in more than 46 games. Last season, the Heat went 29-17 with Dion on the court 12-24 with him on the sideline. With a healthy Waiters playing up to his contract, Hassan Whiteside in the middle, Goran Dragic running point and a leap in improvement from Justise Winslow and the Heat have a real shot at making the playoffs in what is projected to be a weakened east.

Above all, if Waiters and the Heat play well, it means more shit talk, more scowls, more amazing quotes, and, above all, more fun for us.

So, yeah, Waiters probably shoots a little too much, and isn’t a guy that the analytics favor. But screw it, Dion Waiters is out here living his best life and his true rags-to-riches story is what makes professional athletes worth rooting for.

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Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2017-18—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.