For all the star power of their five best players, this season’s Boston Celtics had a bit of a bench problem. The center situation has been discussed to death, and the wings lacked a reliable backup presence with Semi Ojeleye failing to develop and Romeo Langford struggling to stay healthy. In the playoffs, it became almost impossible to predict who Brad Stevens might plug in at a given time. For all the uncertainty though, the Celtics found unlikely stability at backup point guard thanks to the contributions of Brad Wanamaker.
A benchwarmer in his debut NBA season last year, Wanamaker found himself pressed into a larger role this season for a number of reasons. Terry Rozier’s departure to Charlotte opened up the backup point guard role, and injuries to Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward popping up at various points throughout the year only increased his responsibility further. After playing just 343 minutes as a rookie, he saw the court for over 1,300 during the regular season. And while he may have been a source of frustration for Celtics fans at times, Wanamaker was a net positive for the Celtics this season.
Wanamaker’s best attribute is consistency. You know exactly what he’ll give you for 15 minutes a night. He knocks down a couple shots, puts in effort on defense, and hit all his free throws. That kind of reliability, while not exciting, has value on a bench that was otherwise extremely young and difficult to count on every night. It was especially beneficial given the struggles of 2019 second round pick Carsen Edwards, who never found a rhythm in his first pro season and played fewer than 40 minutes total in the bubble.
It was in the playoffs that Wanamaker did his best work. The Celtics struggled with bench depth for much of the postseason with Marcus Smart promoted to the starting lineup after Hayward’s ankle sprain, but Wanamaker was a rare bright spot. He functionally became the team’s sixth man, as the only bench player able to fill in at guard after Romeo Langford’s introduction to the rotation was ended in just 81 seconds due to a wrist injury.
The Game 5 blowout against the Raptors may have been the best game of Wanamaker’s entire career to this point. He scored 15 points on the night, including 10 before halftime, and cashed in a trio of three-pointers. Modest numbers, to be sure, but impressive for a third-string point guard against a formidable defense in the postseason. He also tightened the screws defensively, aiding an outstanding team performance on that end of the court. He was a plus-13 on the night.
It’s easy to get frustrated with a guy like Brad Wanamaker. His occasional mistakes are typically loud ones, he gets tunnel vision in transition and he doesn’t always set up looks for the team’s stars as much as fans might like. When things go sideways for a team as talented as the Celtics, it’s natural to point fingers towards the weaker links. But Wanamaker played an important — if diminutive — role on this Celtics team, stepping up admirably in the wake of injuries and elevating his play in the postseason. It’s hard to ask for much more than that.
This offseason may bring some drastic changes to the Celtics rotation, and Wanamaker is currently set to enter free agency. It’s unclear exactly what his future might be in Boston, whether the Celtics might bring him back as a low-cost bench piece or move on via the draft or a trade. Either way, this was a very solid season for the former Euroleague standout, and deserving of mention alongside great end-of-the-bench Celtics performers like James Posey and Shane Larkin.