Celtics Lead

Wanamaker Ready for Uptick in Minutes?

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The NBA’s tumultuous 2019 offseason drastically altered the long-term outlook of the Boston Celtics. But while the departures of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford dominated mainstream attention, as well as the arrival of All-Star Kemba Walker, the bench also underwent a massive retooling. Terry Rozier’s absence at backup point guard leaves a gaping hole to fill. Rookie Carsen Edwards is the popular pick to fill the spot, and combo guards Romeo Langford and Marcus Smart could also moonlight at the point. But the only returning floor general from last year, veteran Brad Wanamaker, quietly makes the best case to lead the bench.

Head coach Brad Stevens used Wanamaker sparingly last season as the 29-year-old adjusted to NBA life after a stint overseas. But in his limited minutes, Wanamaker showcased sound decision-making and smooth shooting — everything needed in a low-usage point guard. Now with the depth chat fluid, he has the talent and the opportunity to take control of a high-upside Celtics reserve group.

A Valuable Skill Set

Wanamaker saw action in only 36 games last season, averaging 9.5 minutes across those contests. In that time he showed off a capable perimeter game, hitting 16 of 39 three-point attempts. While a 41 percent clip is likely unsustainable, Wanamaker does have a history of solid three-point shooting dating back to his time in the EuroLeague. During his last three seasons in Europe the point guard shot 36.8, 38.6, and 33.3 percent (respectively) from downtown. These numbers are not eye-popping, but they show Wanamaker can be a threat from deep. Add to that his consistently high-level free throw shooting, and Wanamaker should see his number translate in a larger role.

The 29-year-old also finished a strong 73.9 percent of his shots in the restricted area. This rate seems reliable given the guard’s 6’4″, 210-pound frame. Wanamaker is not an explosive athlete, but his size and stroke set the foundation for a valuable modern scorer. The Celtics desperately need to up their attack at the rim, and Wanamaker can be a major catalyst in that area.

More importantly, Wanamaker became a steady presence at point guard. Though admittedly on a small sample size, last year he dished out 56 assists against just 19 turnovers — nearly a 3:1 assist ratio. The Celtics should roll out a multitude of capable bench scorers that could include Gordon Hayward or Jaylen Brown, Enes Kanter, Romeo Langford and possibly Carsen Edwards. Wanamaker will have to find them cutting or spotting up on the perimeter. The potential of the Celtics’ bench hinges on Wanamaker’s ability to find scorers and avoid turnovers.

Veteran Experience

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The Celtics are teetering between a deep pool of young talent and a hodgepodge of seasoned players. Specifically in the reserves, the 2019 NBA rookies will have ample opportunity to prove themselves worthy of playing time. Brad Wanamaker is only in his second season of NBA basketball but has nearly a decade of pro experience. At age 29 he is actually the oldest player on the Boston Celtics and the only player born before 1990. Wanamaker is nowhere near an “elder statesman” of the game, but his leadership holds greater significance on this young squad.

Carsen Edwards is rapidly becoming a fan favorite, and he is the likely long-term solution at backup point guard. Admittedly, Edwards has flashed that scoring spark lost with Rozier through Summer League and preseason games. But the adjustment to meaningful regular season basketball takes time, and a playoff contender cannot simply accept his hot and cold streaks.

Edwards has already posted two radically different preseason contests. Most recently against the Cleveland Cavaliers, he invigorated Celtics fans with 30 points in just 16 shots, including eight threes in under six minutes. But at Orlando he scored only nine points on twelves shots and made just one of seven attempts from beyond the arc. The inconsistency is just too steep at this stage. Edwards does not make that up with passing wizardry or notable defense, either. The Purdue star has tallied just three assists across four preseason contests and played two games without registering an assist. His scoring is his swing skill, and if it does not show up, the whole bench will suffer.

Marcus Smart is another viable option to back up Kemba Walker if he does not draw the start at shooting guard. But Smart, however improved his jumper is, still shows the same inconsistency. He brings All-NBA defense at the point of attack but cannot be relied on for efficiency on offense. As for Romeo Langford, the 14th overall pick has not seen the floor nearly enough due to injuries. He should spend most of the early season getting comfortable with NBA basketball.

Season Expectations

Wanamaker is not a flashy choice for major minutes as a Celtics backup. However, he has shown the ability to make necessary shots and smart decisions when running an offense. Wanamaker does not need to be the Rozier-esque bench spark of last season; he needs to be a steady veteran for the young players.

If Wanamaker does land a spot as the primary bench point guard, expect him to put up somewhere around ten points per game. His shooting numbers will tail off a bit, but a 45/37/85% benchmark for percentages seems like a fair estimate. If Wanamaker can average close to five assists while turning the ball over two or less times per game, then the offense should be in good hands.

Wanamaker has not dominated Celtics preseason discussions. But his role on the team is crucial to its success. His ability to shoot, drive and make smart decisions can create an entirely new ceiling for Boston’s bench. Wanamaker has shown the skills in a low-minutes role; he deserves the challenge of continuing with greater responsibility.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics come courtesy of NBA Stats and Basketball Reference. Follow us on Twitter @CelticsLead for the latest Celtics news and insight.

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About Ethan Fuller

Hailing from Portsmouth, NH, Ethan is a journalism student at Boston University and writes about the Celtics for TLSM. His chief basketball teams are the Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves. Ethan is also a still-growing ultimate frisbee player.

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