Tremont Waters is a rare prospect in that he is projected to be drafted toward the middle of the second round of the 2019 NBA draft, but his game is more NBA ready than many players that will be drafted ahead of him. The 21-year-old played two seasons at LSU as a floor general-style point guard. He led the Tigers to a record of 28-6 and to two wins in the NCAA tournament last year. Despite measuring in at just 5’11 and 175 pounds, Waters landed on the SEC all-defense team for his freshman season, and was awarded the SEC defensive player of the year award for his sophomore campaign.
Waters almost single-handedly operated LSU’s offense last season, and the Tigers were one of the 15 most efficient offensive teams in the NCAA. He is fairly balanced as a scorer and a passer, but his primary weapon of attack is his ability to use dribble penetration to get past his defender. Despite his relative lack of size, he demonstrated an impressive ability to finish at the rim with both hands.
The point guard prospect posted 15.3 points and 5.8 assists per game on 43% shooting from the floor and 32.7% from beyond the three point throw line. In the pick and roll, Waters was significantly more productive as a passer than as a shooter. At the next level, apart from an improved ability to shoot off of the dribble, opponents are likely to sink below the screen in the action. At the collegiate level, he had the speed to use that space to generate momentum as to penetrate the heart of the defense. With that said, he’s an average athlete at best when comparing him to the competition he will see at the next level, particularly when taking into account his size disadvantages.
The one area of Waters’ game that needs improvement is his propensity to turn the ball over offensively. He coughed up 3.5 turnovers per game and his assist to turnover ratio was a modest 2 to 1. He is at times a high-risk, high-reward passer. That comes with his aggressive style of play, but it will need to be cleaned up if he’s going to be trusted to handle the ball at the NBA level.
Waters is a good shooter off the catch and creates space for his teammates when operating off of the ball. For context, he produced 99 points on 75 catch and shoot opportunities last season, which translates to an offensive rating of 132.0.
He’s willing to catch and shoot the ball from more than 25 feet from the basket, which creates optimism that his shooting will translate at the professional level. Off the dribble, Waters also posted solid numbers, both in the mid-range and at the rim.
He is also the competitor that wants to take the important shot at the end of a close game. Waters does not shy away from any possession regardless the time, score or the importance of the game.
Whether defending on or off the ball, Waters is a nightmare for the opposition and that speaks well of him. When defending at the point of attack, he will rip the basketball away from his opponent if the dribble moves toward his vicinity in the slightest. Off the ball, he plays with an elite level of anticipation. He has incredibly strong hands, and Waters is both aggressive and effective with his “dig” technique in generating a lot of transition opportunities for his team. Waters was 2nd in the NCAA with 2.9 steals per game, and led the SEC in steals during both of his two seasons playing with the Tigers.
He simply plays with an incredible amount of force as a defender despite his lack of size and explosive athleticism. He never lets an opponent get away with a sloppy dribble, a lazy pass, etc. He pounces on any opportunity to scoop up the basketball and get into a fast break. In transition, he dribbles with his head up and he’s a very good hit ahead passer, helping to take advantage of his defensive traits.
Waters will need to demonstrate, of course, that he can play with similar force against bigger and faster players in a professional environment, but so much of his defensive impact comes from his basketball IQ, preparation and his attention to detail. Those things should allow his defensive skill set to translate reasonably well.
In a draft class flush with wings, Waters stands out as a point guard that has a baseline set of skills that could set him up to be a successful two-way way prospect. He’s the kind of player that could be trusted to play early in his NBA career specifically because of his value as a defender, even if his theoretical ceiling isn’t off the charts.