On a Celtics team last season that included All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker, it could be argued that a player who was not even on the 15-man roster generated the most attention of all.
When the 7-foot-5-inch two-way contract player Tacko Fall was in Boston, fans at TD Garden routinely chanted his name and begged coach Brad Stevens to put him into games. Sometimes, the calls even poured down in Boston while Fall was up in Portland with the Maine Red Claws. And when Fall did find his way on the court, the resulting curiosity and joy created an uncommon buzz, with Celtics players even standing and waving towels in support.
Fall embraced this quirky fame that was established mostly because he is unusually tall in a league already filled with tall athletes, and because he has a pretty cool name. But he tried not to let the attention distract him from his ultimate goal of becoming a fulltime NBA player.
“I’ve worked a lot,” Fall said Sunday. “I’ve been working a lot since I got here, pretty much been going at it every day. I’ve been fortunate to have been in an organization where they believe in me, first and foremost. Everybody believes in me here, so just being patient and knowing that all the hard work will pay off eventually. I think that’s pretty much the hardest part for me.”
Fall decided to sign a second two-way contract with the Celtics this offseason. Although he was a rookie last year, he turned 25 last week, so he understands that further progress must come soon.
Although the Red Claws are not expected to field a team this year, the two-way contract was spruced up to offer players more incentive to fill these slots, as the league prepares to grapple with absences due to COVID-19.
Instead of being eligible to spend 45 days with their NBA teams, two-way contract players can now be active for up to 50 of 72 regular-season games. And instead of having a prorated salary based on how often they are called up, with a maximum payout of about $400,000, two-way contract players will now receive flat $449,155 deals.
For Fall, though, the potential for increased opportunity and the chance to work with NBA coaches and practice against NBA players year-round were the most appealing aspects of this new setup.
“The opportunity will definitely come, and with that I will gain more real game experience playing in the NBA,” he said. “So there’s a lot of pros in it. I’ve just got to stay patient and keep working and make sure I stay in top shape.”
Last season Fall averaged 12.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks for the Red Claws and was named to the G League’s All-Defensive team. He played a total of just 33 minutes for the Celtics, totaling 23 points and 14 rebounds, but they were a loud 33 minutes.
At Central Florida, Fall was a traditional center who had little trouble feasting on physically overmatched opponents. Although Fall is the tallest player in the NBA, he does not have the strength or speed to turn that into a substantial advantage in the post. So he has worked with assistant coach Jay Larranaga to develop some of the necessary traits of the modern big man.
He is better at running the floor and no longer gets winded as quickly as he once did. He is more comfortable with the ball in his hands, which is important for Stevens staples such as dribble handoffs with guards at the top of the key. He has worked on his lateral movement, which will help him when more skilled big men attempt to pull him out of the paint and exploit him on the perimeter.
“I think he’s improved in every which way,” Stevens said. “… He works really hard. I think his body looks great. I feel like he’s in good shape as he’s been. And we’re glad he’s here.”
Fall is glad, too. He said he is comfortable in Boston and thankful to be a part of a franchise that truly believes there is a place for him in the NBA.
“They took a chance on me last year where a lot of teams had a lot of question marks,” he said. “But they saw that I had a lot of potential. So you always want to go where you’re wanted. I know I’m wanted here. I know that they are going to help me develop my game, and they are going to utilize me the best possible way.”
Celtics rookie guard Payton Pritchard, who dislocated a finger on his left hand on Saturday, returned to practice on Sunday.
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.