LSU basketball

Former LSU stars Tremont Waters (left) and Naz Reid await their fate in Thursday's NBA draft.

In the hours after the New Orleans Pelicans scoop up Zion Williamson with the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick, former LSU stars Naz Reid and Tremont Waters will learn their fate.

Drafted? If so when, and where? Undrafted? Also a possibility. If so, where might they sign as free agents and get their shot at fulfilling deep-seated ambitions to play among basketball’s best?

After all the draft projection numbers are crunched, it’s expected that Reid will go somewhere in the upper reaches of the second round. It’s then expected that Waters will follow, though a few draft projections have him sliding through Thursday night’s 60 picks unchosen.

Hopefully, for both their sakes, Reid and Waters will get to hear their names called, be happy with their new teams and go from there to productive NBA careers. But neither is expected to be accompanied by the monumental investment of a Zion or a Ja Morant or an R.J. Barrett, players who, like major corporations in the great recession, are too big to fail.

It is amusing in a way to see Reid and Waters grouped so closely together in the draft projections.

Reid has all the measurables you want in a future star, according to the NBA’s draft combine stats. Well, most of them. Though listed at 6-foot-10, at LSU he only measured at 6-8 3/4 without shoes, a rather superfluous stat given the money NBA stars are paid to wear them. He goes 6-9½ in shoes, so that sounds about right.

Reid ranks in the top 10 among prospects from the combine in wingspan and the size of his hands. Surprisingly, he by far ranked first in body-fat percentage at 14 percent, perhaps a knock against him. A greater concern for teams might be his ability to have the ball swiped from him when trying to post up, something that happened over and over this past season.

But Reid has almost breathtaking upside. No, he won’t be a top half of the first round draft pick as LSU coach Will Wade once suggested, but he has the size, is a fearless rebounder and can score from all over the court including beyond the arc. With a little polish you could see Reid being an NBA fixture for a long time.

Waters is the much more intriguing prospect. He is not tall, in fact measuring last among combine players at 5-10 3/4. His assist-to-turnover ration at LSU was a modest 1.86, based on his propensity for taking risks that led to turnovers. But he was a virtual wizard on the court with his ability to create offense round the basket, weaving through thickets of tall trees, and to anticipate opponents’ moves by swiping the ball.

I often thought of Waters as, if you will, a poor man’s Chris Jackson. To look at him work through pregame shoot-around stations was to not be overwhelmed in the slightest. But to see him distribute the ball and make the winning plays were uncanny. I think of three: his over-the-back pass seated on the court in the Maui Invitational against Michigan as a freshman, his blocked shot of Houston’s Corey Davis that same year, and his looping drive around the right wing to beat Maryland in this year’s NCAA second round, one of the highlight moments in this or any LSU postseason run.

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While Reid has to polish and boundless talent, Waters already has honed his more finite skills to a fine edge. The question is whether a franchise can be convinced by his long-term value, like former Tiger Garrett Temple has during a tenacious decade of pro ball.

Meanwhile, LSU looks as though it has recruited its Reid and Waters of the future with with the signing of forward Trendon Watford from Alabama and the commitment for next year’s class of Mr. Louisiana basketball star Jalen Cook from Walker.

Watford, like Reid, is labeled a can’t miss five-star prospect, a virtual carbon copy to Reid in terms of height (Watford is listed at 6-9) and recruiting rankings (Watford is this year’s No. 17 overall prospect per; Reid was No. 18 nationally). Cook is not as highly rated as the four-star Waters was in 2017, but his credentials as a two-sport star — he earned offers as a wide receiver from the likes of Auburn, Tennessee, West Virginia, Tulane and Louisiana Tech — give hint to a strong upside once he gets on a college court.

That the Tigers and Wade, who has spent most of the past year dealing with allegations of recruiting improprieties, have continued to recruit a high level will no doubt raise a few skeptical eyebrows. But unless some hard evidence or fact-based allegations come to light, such as LSU being one of six schools reportedly expected to receive an NCAA letter of inquiry this summer (there are no credible indications that is about to happen) then the Tigers keep moving ahead like every other program out there. Neither Wade nor LSU can be expected to cave to media reports or public opinion without there being something tangible to change the course of the program.

Reid and Waters changed the course of LSU’s program during their brief stays in Baton Rouge. Now, they seek a new path, and the answers to their lifelong dreams.

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