Now, this is a journey: NBA training camp following a lockout, Italy, a different club in Italy, NBA Summer League, France, back to Italy, Germany, Turkey, and then a different club in Turkey.
It took Brad Wanamaker nine stops and seven years before he caught on with the Boston Celtics before the 2018-19 season. After that season, it was unclear if Wanamaker would be in Boston to stay. He played limited minutes as the team’s fourth option at point guard. In that small sample, Wanamaker showed enough for Boston to bring him back for the 2019-20 season.
As this season’s roster evolved, Wanamaker became a rotation player. He appeared in all but one game this season, and became the Celtics backup point guard. The enlarged role came with increased stats, as Wanamaker scored 6.6 points and handed out 2.5 assists per game. His shooting was hit or miss, as Wanamaker struggled to finish in the paint, but did hit a solid 36.7% from behind the arc. In an ideal world, he’d be a third point guard. With Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart in and out of the lineup due to injuries, and Smart also being called on to play as a wing more, Wanamaker was probably in a little over his head.
So, what’s next for the journeyman guard? Unfortunately for Wanamaker and a few others, the Celtics are facing a major roster crunch heading into next season. Boston likely only has one or two open roster spots. Wanamaker will be in a mix of five to six players competing for those spots.
The Case for a Roster Spot
·Offense: Wanamaker’s best game came in early-February at Atlanta. Boston was without both Walker and Smart. They actually went without a traditional one to start the game, as Javonte Green started as the “point guard”. That didn’t last too long and Wanamaker logged 27 minutes. He scored 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting, handed out five assists and snagged four steals.
At 6’3’’ and 210 pounds, Wanamaker has good size and strength for a point guard. He’s able to take contact and still get the ball up to the rim. On this play, Wanamaker takes the bump from the defender and is able to make the layup:
That driving ability also got him to the free throw line a decent amount for a low-minute backup. And when he’s at the charity stripe, Wanamaker is money, as he hit 93.1%.
This play starts with Wanamaker picking up a steal off Trae Young. Then he gets it in transition, where he’s pretty good. He likes to put his head down and get to the bucket. Wanamaker uses a pretty ball-fake on the drive, which opens him up for the layup:
Wanamaker may also have the quickest release on the team. He does a nice job spotting up off double-teams. Look at how quickly he’s into his shot when he gets the pass from Jayson Tatum:
In both college and in Europe, Wanamaker was primarily a scorer. That’s also been the case in the NBA, but he has a good head for the game. This play shows that. The initial read is to Enes Kanter for a post-up, but the Hawks do a good job taking that way. Wanamaker backs it out and finds Tatum in the better matchup and spot:
·Defense: Wanamaker’s primary strength as a defender comes as a helper. His time in Europe clearly gave him the sense of where and when to help. On this play, Wanamaker isn’t worried about Brandon Goodwin as a shooter. He’s setting up to help even as Grant Williams has Trae Young contained off the dribble. This is a perfect dig down for the strip:
This is another good dig by Wanamaker. This time he leaves a good shooter in Kevin Huerter, but there is no way Evan Turner can make this kickout pass. And Wanamaker probably knows that when Turner spins back in the paint, he’s going up for the shot. Also, watch the end of the play to see Wanamaker seal off Huerter so Carsen Edwards can get all the way to the rim:
This one shows Wanamaker’s grit to stay in a play. Boston is in a scramble, as they’ve switched several players. Sure, you’d like Wanamaker to push Mo Bamba out of the rebound entirely, but that’s not something most point guards would do. But he sticks with it and gets the block:
·Intangibles: Much like Javonte Green, but to an even greater extent, Wanamaker is a guy the coaches can point to as an example for the younger players. For seven years, Wanamaker worked his way up the levels in Europe. When he got his NBA shot, he made the most of it. Becoming a rotation player for the first time at age 30 is inspiring stuff for younger players.
·The Contract: For a second consecutive offseason, Wanamaker is scheduled to be a restricted free agent. In order to retain match rights, Boston will have to issue him a qualifying offer of $1.9 million. That’s relative chump change for a backup guard, but a touch expensive for a third guard. Expect Danny Ainge to give Wanamaker the qualifying offer, at least to keep options open into the offseason.
The Case against a Roster Spot
·Offense: While Wanamaker’s overall shooting percentages aren’t bad, if you look deeper there are some problems. He hit only 27.8% of his shots in the paint that weren’t right at the rim. Making that even worse, that’s where 25% of his field goal attempts came from. Floater range is a great shot for a guard to get, but only if you make it.
Turnovers are also a bit of an issue. In games where Wanamaker played more, teams began to pressure him as a ballhandler. He’s not a natural playmaking point guard, so his handle isn’t as tight as you might expect. When pressured, Wanamaker also has a tendency to push off. That physicality is great when driving. When working space off a screen, it’s all too often an offensive foul, as seen here:
·Defense: Wanamaker is a competitive defender, who works well in the Celtics scheme as a helper. Where he falls a little short is as an on-ball defender. That’s a problem for a point guard. He’s a little slow afoot. That ends up with him getting beat off the bounce more than you like.
In switch situations, which is often the case for Boston, Wanamaker can sometimes give up position too easily to bigger players. Someone like Marcus Smart is an example of fighting for every inch, while Kemba Walker will work and use his intelligence to beat a guy to a spot. Wanamaker is too often content to play behind the player and he doesn’t have the size or length to contest turnarounds.
Here is an example of both. First, Wanamaker allows Michael Carter-Williams to beat him off the dribble. Then, his size works against him as Carter-Williams spins back for the easy layup:
·Intangibles: As mentioned above, Wanamaker is 30 years old. He’ll be 31 by the time next season starts. A third point guard spot generally goes to a younger, developmental player. Occasionally, a team will snag a veteran who can sit for weeks at a time, then get plugged in during an emergency situation and hold his own. Wanamaker is right on the borderline of being a solid backup floor leader, but projects more as a third guard. With Marcus Smart entrenched as the backup point guard and Tremont Waters looming, Wanamaker could lose his spot to the younger player.
·The Contract: Wanamaker being eligible for restricted free agency could actually work against him a little bit. If Boston offers the $1.9 million qualifying offer, Wanamaker may just sign it. With the cap uncertainty, that might be more money than he’d earn as a two-year veteran this offseason. At that point, the Celtics are either keeping Wanamaker, or eating some money unnecessarily if they waive him.
If the view is that he faces too uphill of a battle to make the 2020-21 roster, Ainge may choose to forgo the qualifying offer and take his chances with Wanamaker as an unrestricted free agent. At that point, it becomes far more likely another team swoops in and picks him up.
The guess here is that Brad Wanamaker’s time with the Celtics is up. In the tradition of Phil Pressey and Shane Larkin, third guards don’t last more than a couple of seasons in Boston. Wanamaker has either played himself out of a role by increasing his price-tag beyond what the Celtics will play. Or, more likely, Boston can go with a younger option behind Walker and Smart. Either way, Wanamaker is probably playing elsewhere next season.