The NBA decided to include two-way players in the Orlando bubble, instead of its original idea for teams to replace players off-site in case of a positive COVID-19 test or injury. Tacko Fall found out in late-June he would be joining the bubble, a short drive from where he once lived in Central Florida, and immediately heard from old friends.
“They’re upset because they’re right down the road and they can’t come see me,” he said.
Tremont Waters and Fall became the Celtics’ first embeds in the young history of the two-way contract which started in 2017-18. In the restart, the NBA has increased its roster sizes to seventeen to include two-way players, waiving the 45-day limit that two-way players can spend with their professional teams and making them eligible for the postseason for the first time ever. These are extraordinary times, but for the 7’5 Fall and the G-League Rookie of the Year in Waters, the bubble could be a perfect time to make their mark in the NBA.
Fall didn’t play in Friday’s scrimmage loss to the Thunder, but Waters seized the second half opportunity as the Celtics’ primary point guard. Waters dished five assists in 16 minutes, losing potentially three more on botched finishes by teammates at the rim. He also recorded three steals against a Dennis Schroder-led lineup — not quite a G-League caliber foe.
“Those guys didn’t get a lot of time guarding Dennis Schroder, Chris Paul, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the regular season,” Brad Stevens said. “To get that chance yesterday, for an extended period of time ... was really good.”
The Thunder outscored Waters and Boston’s full bench unit by 12.7 points per 100 possessions across his 16 minutes, but individually, Waters shined against pro-level - albeit second unit - talent. As the Celtics search for playmaking punch after its top-6, Waters continues to display an array of captivating skills that could provide a change of pace — as waterbugs Phil Pressey and Shane Larkin once did.
Waters manned the ball over Wanamaker and Edwards during the majority of Boston’s second-half sets. He found back line cutters, ripped passes from corner-to-corner, while sparking transition opportunities with his strips.
“He’s a point guard’s coach,” Waters said of Stevens. “If you’re a point guard that can get out in open court and pretty much make plays for others ... he’s definitely the coach you want to play for, because he allows us to do what we can, do what we want to do.”
“He’ll play at least in one of the three scrimmage games a lot,” Stevens said after one of the Celtics’ early Orlando practices. “Then we’ll see how it goes from there. I thought he was terrific today. I thought this was his best day that I remember in a while. And he’s had multiple good ones.”
Waters entered the concussion protocol earlier this week, cleared it in time for Friday’s scrimmage, and showcased what made him the G-League Rookie of the Year for the Maine Red Claws. At 5’10” and 175 pounds, he stands shortest among Boston’s players, but defended as scrappily as anyone in college basketball in 2018-19 while being an effective penetrator at the point.
Waters’ opportunity stemmed in part from Kemba Walker’s absence. Marcus Smart, Gordon Hayward and Brad Wanamaker — who played first half minutes — stand in front of Waters on the ball-handling hierarchy. The Celtics’ wings fit interchangeably into that dynamic, too.
Once seeding games begin next week, Stevens expects to lean on his typical rotation, which only stretched eight long to Wanamaker, Enes Kanter and Semi Ojeleye on Friday. Waters, however, could fit into game day availability more than Boston’s plethora of depth wings, especially if Walker needs seeding games off. Stevens remains uncertain about Walker’s status for scrimmages, but said he’ll be ready for the regular season.
Turnovers plagued his short NBA run during the season, posting 12 assists for 10 turnovers, and he gave the Thunder the ball back twice on Friday. Wanamaker provides a more stable, if not flashy, presence at guard that Stevens has trusted for two full seasons now, but there’s an unpredictable quality to Waters’ game that’s at least intriguing to consider.
“Tremont’s in a tough sport,” Stevens said. “It’s hard when you’re bouncing back and forth between the G-League to come in and organize things and get everybody to their spots and be a leader ... that was one of the focus points today with him. He did do a lot of good things ... we need his voice to be louder.” On Friday night, Waters’ game spoke for itself.