To say that this year’s NBA off-season was a roller coaster ride of excitement might be considered an understatement. Over a few weeks, the landscape of pro basketball changed numerous times. After Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook all switching teams over a few weeks, the NBA looks completely different than it did just four months ago when the Raptors won the title.
As those moves were taking place, the NBA held its annual Summer League event in Las Vegas. While that competition was initially meant to be Zion Williamson’s official coronation to NBA stardom, an injury in the Pelicans’ opener against the Knicks prematurely ended his run in Nevada. However, basketball fans were quickly able to get over that as they switched their excitement over to 7’6 Celtics center Tacko Fall. Although the UCF alum didn’t get selected in this year’s draft, he still stood as a sensation with the jam-packed Thomas and Mack Center erupting whenever the big touched the ball.
While fans in Vegas were getting hyped for the 7’6 big, Celtics two-way player, Tremont Waters was able to stand out in his own way in Vegas. In five games, the 5’11 guard averaged 11.2 points, 4.8 assists, and 2 steals on 38% from the field and 18% from beyond the arc on 5.6 attempts per game.
Although he struggled as a scorer, the LSU alum was able to stand out as a facilitator and on defense. When it comes to passing, he was able to combine his assist numbers with maintaining a solid 1.7 Ast/TO ratio. On the other end of the floor, his perimeter defense was one of the keys behind the Celtics finishing Summer League with a 4-1 record.
For fans that have been following Waters’ career, his reliable performance in those two areas wouldn’t come as a surprise. Success in those areas has been a part of his game during his two years at LSU. That fact was most evident during his sophomore season, where the young guard averaged 15.3 points, 5.8 assists, 2.8 rebounds, and an SEC-best 2.9 steals on 43% from the field and 33% from beyond the arc on 5.2 attempts per game.
Unsurprisingly, that fantastic play pushed the guard to receive plenty of accolades. Those include First Team All-SEC (coaches & AP), SEC All-Defensive Team, and AP All-American Honorable Mention. However, those awards were eclipsed by him getting named as the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Although those numbers are impressive, they don’t tell the full story of how great Waters was as a defender. Because when you look at his film, you see a talented guard that was able to use a variety of different tools to craft a vast skill-set that allowed him to become one of the best defenders in college basketball despite a smaller 5’11, 175-pound frame.
One of the mechanisms behind that success is persistence, as he always seems focused on trying to steal the basketball away from the opposing team. Whether that’s through exploding into the passing lanes or snatching the ball from the opposition’s hands, no ball-handler is safe when the LSU alum is in their general vicinity.
An example of that is evident in the clip below where Waters sticks by his man on the wing, as a ball-handler is just a few feet away. As KeVaughn Allen (#5) works to move the ball from his right to left-hand, Waters quickly pounces as he lunges forward, pushes the ball away, and then dives onto it, which leads to an LSU possession.
In addition to snatching the ball out of a player’s hands, the young guard also does a great job of going into the passing lanes and intercepting passes like Devin McCourty. That knack mostly comes from focus as he does a great job of spotting the right moments to pursue a pass and when to stick on his man.
That statement is evident in the play below as the 5’11 guard as he starts by playing intense on-ball defense by being in an excellent defensive position and remaining 100% focused on the Saint Mary’s ball-handler. After that offensive guard works around the screen and starts the process of throwing a pass, Waters jumps out into the passing lanes and pokes the ball loose. Due to being on the move, our subject pushes the ball in transition before finishing with a left-handed layup.
Although he is an excellent defender that put up incredible numbers during his two seasons at LSU, the 21-year-old guard isn’t exactly a finished product on this end of the floor. The one issue that he currently has dealt with occasional ball-watching when he’s assigned to guard a particular player. That temporary loss of concentration can hurt as it would lead to open perimeter jumpers or driving lanes.
Aside from that flaw, Waters stood as a spectacular defender with LSU through playing good on-ball defense and being able to force turnovers. While those skills are transferable, his small 5’11 frame causes concern about whether he’ll be able to effectively match up against taller and stronger point guards on a game-by-game basis while playing with the Celtics.
Although there’s no level that matches up with the NBA, he’ll get a good test in the G League with the Maine Red Claws, due to his status as a two-way prospect. During his impending run with the team, he’ll match up against talented offensive-minded guards like Milton Doyle, Josh Gray, Kadeem Allen, Jordan McLaughlin, and Frank Mason. Those should be a good test to determine whether his defense can translate to the NBA level.