The JR Smith/Dion Waiters Power Rankings: Cat Scratch Effect

Our latest ranking finds our heroes each playing prominent roles in the postseason, but only one of them fully in character.
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Never in the history of the NBA have Dion Waiters and JR Smith collectively been more relevant. They can alter history. No, they are altering history, right now, because their teams are still in the playoffs and because history is not necessarily written by the victors. Sometimes it is written by Dion Waiters and JR Smith.

We rank them, because power rankings are important work, and we care about such matters. You can read the first installment here, the second one here, and the third here.

1.) JR Smith - Cleveland Cavaliers

Jonny Auping: JR Smith has been a model of professionalism and consistency this season, and that has continued this into the playoffs. Seriously. He is taking his time, picking his spots, defending his position, and hitting many of the shots that have come to him through the flow of LeBron James’ careful discretion. He is playing winning basketball, and by reinventing himself as the more talented version of Thabo Sefolosha he’s helped his team win a lot. JR is growing up before our eyes, and he just might be killing the Cleveland Cavaliers. I’ll explain:

Alex has a cat. I also have a cat. (They are separate cats. We don’t live together. We live very far away from each other. We just fly into a neutral, undisclosed location every week to discuss these rankings.) I bought my cat, CC, a scratching post. Sometimes, it’s annoying when she furiously scratches at her post while I’m trying to write or read. Maybe it makes her feel good, but that’s not exactly why I bought it. I bought it, mostly, so that she wouldn’t scratch anything else, like my couch or my bed or me. In other words, I made a purchase because I knew this troublesome habit of scratching is inevitable, and I wanted to restrict it to a designated thing with a designated role.

JR Smith is a scratching post, and for the first time in his career, he doesn’t seem to accept that. A team that has as many famous, talented, and famously moody players as Cleveland is bound to make headlines in non-basketball ways. Someone is bound to say something stupid, or do something stupid, or play in a way that doesn’t complement his teammates, or tweet some high-handed nonsense or other. JR Smith, for once, isn’t doing those things, and the balance of the Cavaliers’ universe is completely off kilter because of it.

JR has the ability to absorb an entire team’s quota of boneheaded distractions and poor decision-making. He is, in that way, the ideal scratching post. As he’s been on his best behavior this season, that inevitable tomfoolery has leaked over to the rest of the organization. LeBron is subtweeting his teammates with all the stylistic subtlety he brought to The Decision. Kevin Love is learning about intercourse from Cliff Paul. Tyronn Lue is pretending he coaches an NBA team. It’s madness.

And then here’s JR sitting in idle silence while Lebron and Kyrie argue about shot selection or brand management or who they should trade Kevin Love for in the offseason. Look deeply into JR’s eyes. There’s still something there that wants to act out. Something that wants to take all the shots. Something that wants to say something so absurd it forces Lebron into the crisis management role he fills so well, like a dad who coaches his son’s youth team just hard enough to where the kids feel a little sorry for him and give an extra 10 percent.

I imagine being a scratching post is not very pleasant. But if it weren’t there, CC might have already wreaked havoc on my entire apartment.

2.) Dion Waiters - Oklahoma City Thunder

Alex Siquig: Yes, it is all true, those words Jonny wrote about us both being cat-owners. But wait, the symmetry doesn’t end there—my wife recently purchased our cat Roast Beef a scratching post as well. The results have been all over the place, if I’m being honest.

Despite a proclivity to scratch—you might even call her a chucker or a gunslinger of reckless abandon when it comes to scratching—there wasn’t much interest from our cat in becoming a team player. There’s only so much that restructuring of environment or geography can do to untangle what is already so deeply hardwired. This cat is literally an animal, a motherfucking creature, and her nature is what it is. She’s rebellious, she’s brash, she doesn’t just do what makes sense because you put her in the perfect position to succeed.

The scratching post to Roast Beef is a nuisance (her preferred scratch post is the couch) but she’s learned to use our eagerness to grasp at progress, for instance by staring at the post for long periods of time and putting a paw on it and sort of scratching, as a means to get treats. The scratching post means different things to different cats, is what I’m saying. Which brings us, I hope, to Dion Waiters and his exploits—how he broke the internet, and to hear some tell it, the fabric of reality itself.

As anyone who enjoys a passing familiarity with Dion knows, reality isn’t exactly something he gives a shit about, or something that unduly restrains him in day-to-day situations. One imagines Dion Waiters going shopping for groceries or filling up a tank of gas and somehow setting the grocery store on fire or discovering a new species of (huge) praying mantis as he fills his BMW Saturn with Premium diesel, and then he accidentally crushes the huge mantis. There’s just something about him that does not compute on any level; it’s as if a drill sergeant is constantly screaming “What is your major malfunction?” and his response is a perfectly earnest “I know you are but what am I?”  

You see, this guy is not a cat scratching at the scratch post. He’s the scratch post come to life, driven by nothing more than the urge to exact revenge upon the cat. Except, it’s not as if he’s some extremely intelligent sentient scratch post who has a plan, or even limbs, and so of course he fails. But even in his failure, his most often total bitterly goofy failure, you have to doff your cap.

JA: It’s true. Dion’s ability to be in the picture and be not just a part of the day’s conversation, but the creator of what caused such conversations, is a matter of sheer force. Take Andre Roberson, on the other hand. To put it in analytical terms, Roberson is super not-good at basketball. But he plays this role of bad basketball player quietly, understatedly. It might be for comically disastrous reasons, but Dion Waiters’ name will be in your mouth. At this rate a fake mustachioed Leon Waiters is bound to have his own State Farm commercial by 2019.

AS: So, having said all that, we here at Dion Waiters Ground Zero are not surprised that our hero was of course the central character in the Shove Heard Round The World. Who else could do it? Facing the aggressive shiftiness of Manu Ginobli, Waiters elbowed the intense Argentine hound with the subtlety of Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior and managed to inbound the ball, where it landed amidst another (uncalled) foul and was turned over almost immediately. It is somewhat fitting that it was Ginobli who received this paradigm-shifting elbow, as Manu may just be the Platonic ideal of the chaotically charged sixth man which spawned the genetic mutation that is Dion Waiters. The referees could do nothing but swallow their whistles when confronted with such confusing audacity. As they later admitted in a mea culpa tweet that I will paraphrase here, they “had no fucking idea what the fuck they had just fucking saw, fuck...”

As someone who likes to pretend Dion Waiters the human man is so much more and less than he is, this brouhaha left me feeling a bit cold and a bit empty. What I saw was much more simple and basic and boring than what many seemed to witness, although the issues of micro-fairness and the lack of “justice” for an “unearned” win are of course complaints towards which I am sympathetic. I didn’t see premeditated goonery or a clever new way to pass a ball, or even anything that Dion Waiters about the whole thing. It was just instincts kicking the fuck in.

He was merely following the Categorical Imperative of Dion Waiters. Every Dion Waiters Fights to Live By Any Means Necessary. Fight or flight bears down upon a dude in a corner and Dion always chooses to fight his way out of the corner, albeit weirdly. I guess I just expected more from Dion. Like, if he had given Ginobli the ball of his own free will and said in a bad Australian accent, “My name is Dion Waiters and I see since you are stepping on the out of bounds line pretty obviously and since the refs are required to call a technical foul for that infraction due to it being the last two minutes of the game, I just wanted to thank you, on behalf of the entire Thunder organization, for being such a balding gentleman as you are clearly trying to throw this relatively unimportant game for the end result of an unforgettable and dramatic seven-game series, and say, can you just give my friend Kevin this ball so he can make the free throw and we can finish you off? Thanks mate, and good on ya!”

Or maybe if he had pantsed Ginobli and then complimented his dick with very realistic praise, totally absent the usual hyperbolic crotch accolades. An elbow shove-off? Boring! That’s basically OJ Mayo!

Now, like a newly discovered planet, there may someday in fact be a rule named after our dear Dion. “When You Are Inbounding The Ball Don’t Elbow Your Defender Like Dion Waiters Once Did: The Rule” it may be called. Obviously, anyone who saw the shove knows that it was an offensive foul. Any referee whose whistle was up to whistling standards should have blown the fuck out of that little silver mouth-siren. None did. They probably wanted to go home and see their families or something earth men do. The series is tied 1-1. The Spurs are favored. We’ll soon forget this. We’ll forget everything.

To sum up, this week Dion Waiters is #2 in the JR Smith/Dion Waiters Power Rankings and we both have cats.

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