Boston Celtics rookie Tremont Waters was +20 in one-point debut win over Kings: ‘Kids dream of this moment’

Tremont Waters

Boston Celtics rookie Tremont Waters was +20 in one-point debut win over Kings: ‘Kids dream of this moment’

Boston Celtics rookie Tremont Waters

By Tom Westerholm |
BOSTON — Tremont Waters began his NBA career the same way Carsen Edwards began his, and the same way many overexcited rookie careers begin: By launching a corner 3-pointers several feet over the rim.

Waters is a confident floor general and a talented facilitator — a player who always seems to be in control of the pace of the game. But even a confident floor general is prone to some nerves when he’s fulfilling a childhood dream.

“It’s a surreal feeling,” Waters said. “Kids dream of this moment, and to be able to be in this position, to go from the G-League, obviously I’m working on my game, to come to the NBA level and to help the team actually get a win definitely feels good, but I’m not satisfied with it. Just got to keep working and everything else will definitely play itself out.”

Waters isn’t wrong — he did help the Celtics, dropping in seven points and dishing out three assists against the Sacramento Kings on Monday. In a 103-102 win, Waters was +20 despite shooting just 2-for-7 from the field.

“He just has control of the game,” Brad Stevens said. “You don’t have to get too creative with any actions, you don’t have to run complicated things. You just have to get in space, give him a step and let him run the right play. I think he’ll play a lot better when it’s not his first time coming out here, but we think he’s really good.”

That’s not just lip service from Stevens. Celtics staffers have raved behind the scenes about Waters’ play in Maine. Darren Erman, Waters’ head coach with the Maine Red Claws, called him a “genius” following the team’s home opener on Friday.

Waters’ teammates rave about him as well. Marcus Smart — the hero of Monday’s game down the stretch — said Waters arrived on Sunday and began working through the sets he was expected to run.

“He picked up on it quick,” Smart said. “He came in and he’s a good true point guard, he was finding everybody, he was getting to his spots. Guy’s not afraid, he showed that. He comes out shooting the ball, hit a really big 3 for us down the stretch and really controlled the game. We’re excited about Tremont and we’re happy to have him here. He’s only going to continue to get better.”

Waters is intriguing in part because of his limitations. He’s listed at 5-foot-10, but even that looks generous, and where shorter players like Isaiah Thomas were powerfully built, Waters is thin. But when opponents try to post him up, he battles and uses his quick hands to force turnovers.

“I grew up playing four or five age groups.” Waters said. “I was 12 playing 16 and under. Everyone tried to post me up. I’ve just worked on my game, just continued to get stronger and everything will play itself out.”

He also wasn’t an elite shooter in college, although his early numbers in Maine suggest he has plenty of shooting acumen. Where Waters’ game really continues to shine is in his decision-making in the pick-and-roll — the life blood of every NBA offense, and one of the most valuable skills a player can possess. Waters isn’t just good, he’s something of a savant — confident, creative and consistently capable of setting the table and making his teammates better.

“I thought that Carsen (Edwards) benefitted greatly from being on the floor with Tremont,” Stevens said. “You could kind of see like, he could play off the ball and he could play off the pass instead of trying to be the guy making the plays. So it allowed him a little bit more freedom and probably passed up a shot or two that he could have shot. But I thought he played well. Hit two huge shots. But I think again — Tremont has control of the game. So that allows everybody to kind of play in their spots.”

Kemba Walker’s return from a scary neck sprain is looming, and it could happen as soon as Wednesday if Monday’s tea leaves are to be believed. When he returns, the Celtics might very well send Waters back to Maine to preserve his days with the team on his two-way deal.

But Waters showed he belongs in the NBA, adding to the Celtics’ depth at point guard — a good problem with which Boston will have to wrestle this summer.

For now, Waters will have to settle for a successful debut and the respect of his teammates.

“Young old head, that’s what we call him,” Jaylen Brown said. “He came out and he played well. He made the right plays, the right decisions, he’s hard to guard, tricky with the ball. (He was) good for us tonight.”

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Jae Crowder