The Boston Celtics’ sterling 11-2 record to open this season isn’t a product of everything going right for the team to start the season. Much to the contrary, they’ve actually overcome quite a bit of adversity through their first 13 games. They’ve struggled with injuries across the roster, overcome slow starts from key players, and haven’t necessarily seemed to lock down a reliable rotation just yet. For those who followed the 2017-18 “Hospital Celtics,” things might be starting to feel a little familiar.
While the Celtics’ starting lineup has continuously excelled, they’ve also been buoyed by standout performances from their depth, whether it’s Carsen Edwards’ fearless gunslinging, Robert Williams’ frenetic presence in the paint, or Grant Williams’ all-around versatility. But while Boston’s youth movement has rightfully enjoyed the spotlight in the early going, one player has been operating perhaps a bit under the radar: Brad Wanamaker.
Between Jaylen Brown’s early illness and Gordon Hayward’s broken hand, Wanamaker has found his way onto the court far more than planned. In that time, he’s been nothing short of tremendous. Though small sample size caveats always apply, he’s averaged 19.3 minutes per game in nine November appearances, connecting on 56% of his shot attempts, shooting 21-of-23 from the free throw line, dishing 31 assists, and swiping 11 steals. He’s hitting threes, attacking the rim with gusto, and moving the ball effectively.
When the Celtics have needed him, Wanamaker has been ready. After a first quarter that saw the team scuffling against the injury ravaged Golden State Warriors, he recorded one of the best shifts of his NBA career, scoring eight points and posting a game-high +15 in the first half to restore Boston’s lead, including a breakaway layup in transition. He’d finish the game with nine points, three assists, and a steal.
When the Celtics scuffled early again two nights later in Sacramento, Wanamaker was there to provide yet another spark, this time swiping a Kings’ pass and landing at the free throw line. In Monday’s blowout victory against the Suns, he recorded perhaps the best performance of his NBA career, scoring 10 points (including a pair of three-pointers), dishing six assists, and swiping three steals. It was his seventh straight game shooting 50% from the field or better.
His performance this season perhaps harkens back to another unsung hero of that memorable 2017-18 roster: Shane Larkin. Signed in the 2017 off-season to serve as little more than a deep benchwarmer, Larkin abruptly found himself in the regular rotation after injuries to Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart pressed him into action. After the All-Star break, Larkin averaged 20 minutes per game, shooting 37% from three while moving the ball effectively and playing with effort on the defensive end of the floor.
Wanamaker has had to step up in similar fashion. Prior to the start of the season, Stevens touted his ability to stay prepared and ready to contribute despite inconsistent and unpredictable opportunities to see the court.
“It’s not fun, it’s not an enjoyable part of the job, but the challenge is being great at it. I’ve said this many times, and I’ve singled out (Brad) Wanamaker quite a bit last year, and I singled out (Semi) Ojeleye quite a bit because those guys can do that — not saying they will this year, just saying they have in the past,” said Stevens.
Wanamaker’s presence on the court has shown value beyond box score stats, as well. Though this is only his second NBA season, Wanamaker is actually the elder statesman of Boston’s roster; at 30 years old, he edges out both Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward by nearly a year. He’s also far from inexperienced, having played basketball professionally since 2011, including three years in the Euroleague.
At present, there’s a need for that experience on Boston’s bench. The Celtics’ reserves are remarkably young, especially as long as Marcus Smart is pressed into the starting lineup. They’re currently relying on Enes Kanter, three rookies (Carsen Edwards, Grant Williams, Javonte Green), one sophomore (Robert Williams III) and a third-year (Semi Ojeleye) to relieve their talented starting lineup. In other words, there have been growing pains, and Wanamaker’s stability has proven to be a virtue.
”I like to listen to him. He tries to help me,” said Edwards, on the heels of his own 18-point breakout against the Wizards. “I can tell he really cares about how I do.”
“He really is like a true point guard out there,” opined Jayson Tatum. “Slows things down. He’s an OG.”
This season, his presence hasn’t gone unnoticed by his coaches and teammates. After the team’s 116-106 win over the Dallas Mavericks, Stevens discussed Wanamaker’s ability to fill that particular need. “Brad Wanamaker has been excellent,” he said. “I mean, he’s a pretty steadying hand there, in that group right now where we don’t have a lot of experience.”
Two days later, as the Celtics celebrated a thrilling 140-133 win over the Wizards -- their ninth in a row -- Stevens’ praise was even more direct: “[Wanamaker’s] been great every time we’ve put him in this year.”
Others might provide the stand-out box scores and highlights, but Brad Wanamaker has shown he can be a steadying influence. Though the Celtics’ eventual return to full strength will likely leave him on the outskirts of the rotation once again, he’s shown that he can step up when needed. In the event that misfortune strikes the Celtics’ rotation again, that kind of insurance plan will prove to be invaluable.