The life of an NBA journeyman is rarely appreciated. While the ESPN promos focused on Jayson Tatum, Luka Doncic, and Jaylen Brown, Brad Wanamaker was quietly about to embark on the biggest moment of his career. As a 28-year-old rookie, his story doesn’t draw quite the interest but his sacrifice is one rarely made by a European basketball star in the middle of his prime. With sources confirming that Barcelona offered him a deal that would have paid him about 3.8 million to stay overseas, Wanamaker turned it down to play on a minimum contract ($838,464) and pursue a path to the NBA.
Down Kyrie Irving and Marcus Morris, the Celtics could have shortened their rotation and limited their play time to regular rotation guys and called it a night. Instead, with 3:18 left in the first, Brad Wanamaker checked in, and on his first attempt he nailed a 26-footer that helped add some cushion to a 5-point lead.
Brad Wanamaker on his reaction when Brad Stevens told him to go in during the first quarter: "Honestly, I was like, ‘What? What? What?!’"— Adam Himmelsbach (@AdamHimmelsbach) January 5, 2019
Unlike most nights, where he may have been used in a pinch or to get someone some rest, Wanamaker played a career high 21 minutes. In that time he was able to scrape together a strong outing of 8 points, 4 assists, 3 steals, and 2 rebounds.
Stevens had high praise for the journeyman after the game, “I thought Brad Wanamaker was great. JJ Barea really killed us last time & Brad made it really hard on him. He gave up a lot to come here and not play a lot so you are really, really happy for him.”
Wanamaker, known as a strong defender in Europe, showed some of his natural defensive instincts like reading Dirk’s eyes here and putting himself in the right position to get a steal.
It’s no accident Wanamaker got his opportunity. Smart highlighted as much, “It’s kind of funny because you see guys like Brad who don’t play as much, and in practice they’re kind of stand-back or standoffish. It’s the opposite with him. He’s in the drills. He’s doing things like he’s playing 30, 25 minutes a night.”
A theme for the Celtics this year has been role acceptance. Guys like Rozier, Brown, and Tatum have pressed at times trying to make the most of their limited roles and it has led to shaky results for the team. Balancing the patience to play within a scheme and trying to make a name for yourself is a difficult balance and is a unique blessing and curse that the Celtics have had to deal with on their mission to attain sustained success.
Wanamaker provides a calmer presence, a player that’s happy and hungry for the opportunity and okay playing a role. Shane Larkin became a vital part of last year’s Celtics by simply always staying ready and Stevens never hesitated to go to him when he felt the team needed another energy boost.
There’s no promise that tonight will earn Wanamaker such a role, in 38 games this is only the 3rd time he has played 10 or more minutes and the first time he’s played 20 or more. But behind the pecking order of the young and inconsistent, Wanamaker proved to have the poise of a veteran who is always prepared to do whatever is asked of him. Those guys usually end up mattering in some way down the stretch.