LSU basketball film room: Dissecting Tremont Waters’ stellar debut

By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor

Everyone remembers The Shot: Michael Jordan’s iconic game-winner over Craig Eloh to beat Cleveland in Game 5 of the first round of the 1989 Eastern Conference playoffs.

What gets overlooked is Bulls’ head coach Doug Collins’ comment on the play design after the game.

“That was, ‘Get the ball to Michael,'” Collins said, “‘everybody get the f*** out of the way.'”

Tremont Waters is not Michael Jordan, to say the least, and Will Wade is not Doug Collins. But after Waters’ LSU debut – 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting, with 6 assists, 5 rebounds, and 5 steals in 27 minutes, good for a tops-in-the-nation 65.1 PER – Wade may want to make sure his vast playbook includes “Get the ball to Tremont, everybody…” – you know the rest.

Waters dazzled in his first official work as a Tiger, showing off the skillset that made him a borderline-five star prospect coming out of New Haven, Conn. in the 2017 class. Had Waters been three inches taller, you could drop the borderline tag altogether. He didn’t look like it in his unofficial unfurling for the Tigers – a 0-point, 0-assist exhibition performance in 13 minutes at Tulane – but Wade says he’s appeared every bit as explosive as he proved to be in game one over the past couple of weeks behind closed doors.

“Over the last 10 days to two weeks, he’s just been phenomenal in practice,” Wade said after the game, a 99-59 LSU win. “We get to see that in practice, but you never know how it’s going to be in a game. He was certainly very good.”

ISO Scorer

In 2016-17, on 161 isolation possessions, LSU scored 101 points, total, according to Synergy. Waters scored 10 such points by himself on Friday, and he needed just four plays to reach 10 percent of the Tigers’ total from all of last season in just 27 minutes of play.

That’s incredible and unsustainable productivity from anyone, much less a 5-foot-11 freshman point guard, but the teeny tiny sample size available does indicate what Waters is capable of in one-on-one situations.

If you sag off of him to take away his first step, he’ll pull up from deep.

Crowd into him after a couple of jumpers in your face, and he’ll use a tight handle and deceptive head and shoulder fakes to get into the paint for easy buckets. Here, Waters forces his defender to practically jump out of his skin with a feint, ducking underneath for an easy uncontested layup.

This next move is probably his best of the night. He uses a reverse dribble to get from the free throw line to the rim. The amount of ground he covers with one dribble and while turning his back to the rim is superb.

He also can use his handle and footwork to get to the free throw line.

Waters won’t remain this efficient in the isolation game. A 2.5 point per possession clip is otherworldly. Half of it would be phenomenal. Better defenses will take away his uncontested looks and protect the rim better. But this sort of ability puts unquantifiable pressure on a defense and opens up things for others.

Capable Facilitator 

That’s where Waters’ ability to get others involved becomes an asset. Wade’s biggest concern with him, as with any freshman point guard, is taking care of the ball, but LSU was far more effective with Waters on the floor at keeping the ball than when he was out. According to Open Look Analytics, the Tigers turned the ball over on just 6 percent of the possessions Waters was on the floor against Alcorn State. That number soared to 20 percent when he was off the floor.

Waters has elite vision, sometimes fooling not just the defense, but his own team, as well.

“He sees guys,” Wade says. “It’s like he has five eyes. He’s passing the ball all over the place and sees everyone all over the place. Part of it, too, is our guys have got to learn how to play with him. You got to have your hands ready, you’ve got to be able to catch it, because you never know when it’s coming to you. You may not think you’re open, but he thinks you’re open and he will get you the ball.”

“It’s like he has five eyes” | Freshman point guard Tremont Waters is ready to run the show for LSU

Waters didn’t do a ton in the pick and roll against Alcorn State, whose zone took away many of those looks. But he can be effective both as a scorer and a creator off the bounce.

Because of his shooting, teams will hedge hard on him in the pick and roll. Here, he draws a foul by attacking the hip of the hedging defender.

Waters’ addition also moves Skylar Mays to the 2-guard spot, which really serves as a second point guard. Their ability to play together will be key this season, and in game one, they combined for 12 assists and two turnovers.

“We will take that every day and twice on Sundays,” says Wade.

LSU was 85 points per 100 possessions better than Alcorn when Mays and Waters played together, per OLA, a number that was cut in half when they weren’t on the floor together.

Handsy Defender

What will keep Waters on the floor on nights when his shot isn’t falling is his ability to contribute on the defensive end. His size is an obvious limitation on his ceiling as an elite stopper, but he uses his quick hands to pester opponents. He finished the game against Alcorn with five steals and at least as many deflections.

Here, he’s just contained penetration and reacts in help to punch a ball loose, leading to an alley oop on the other end.

Sampson’s Start

Wade named Sampson, LSU’s returning leader in SEC scoring from last season, a starter the day before the Alcorn game, holding out for anyone else to take the spot. He’d not been happy with Sampson’s defense and shot hunting in scrimmages and the exhibition game and kept the spot open to see if someone would take it.

“I’ve been pretty hard on him,” Wade says. “Downright brutal. A lot of people wouldn’t respond like he has, and that’s why I put him out there to start… He probably feels like he couldn’t breathe without me finding something wrong with his breath.”

It’ll be hard to find much wrong with Sampson’s defensive effort on Friday. Forget his 10 points on perfect shooting. Sampson was another player defensively, particularly as a help defender.

“I was trying not only to focus on offense, just trying to be a weapon as well on defense,” Sampson said after the game. “Trying to do things like rotating on the back side, getting tips and deflections, things like that.”

Last season, offenses scored 113 points per 100 possessions when Sampson was on the floor defensively. His individual defensive rating, per sports-reference, was 117.0. Against Alcorn State, those numbers fell to 49 (best on the team) and 80.5. The sample size is small but encouraging. Sustaining it consistently and against better competition will be key for Sampson, and for the team as a whole. Sampson embodies the larger whole of what LSU did defensively on Friday. They were far more active, engaged, disciplined, and nasty on that end of the floor than a year ago. Yes, they did it against lesser competition, but they also did what good teams do in those sorts of games: play well, remain competitive, and take every possession seriously. It’s something to build on. This kind of effort and excitement up 16 in the first half of a non-conference game indicates Sampson and his teammates are making strides.



Other Observations

  • Duop Reath didn’t have his best night in the opener. The 6-foot-11 senior has been stellar all offseason and in the exhibition and scrimmages, but seemed too willing to settle for fading jumpers and hooks. In the second half, clearly after some halftime discussion, Reath seemed a bit more willing to attack the rack. He remains LSU’s best offensive option and will have a very good year.
  • Wade promised to mix up his defenses, and that he did. I saw, in the half court, man and 1-3-1, and, full court, a 2-2-1 press, a run and jump man, and a 1-3-1 full court look. According to Synergy, LSU gave up 44 points in 59 man possessions, seven points in nine zone possessions, and six points on nine press possessions.
  • LSU didn’t run a ton of half court sets, given Alcorn’s propensity to play zone, but here’s one I really like. Wade identifies a mismatch with Brandon Rachal and runs this play to get him a drive going to his strong right hand. LSU ran it again in the second half and got a similar look, but Rachal missed.

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Cody Worsham

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