Manning: Desire for Tacko Fall Highlights Celtics’ Center Concerns

Celtics fans want Fall given a shot not only because of his 7'6" stature, but because of how little certainty there is at his position.

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Celtics fans lined up for one more round of autographs and pictures on Saturday. Their t-shirts featured “Tacko bout it,” embroidered around hard shells. Boos flew when he exited. Ovations roared upon his entry, showing an undeniable hunger for more Tacko.

Social media, radio callers, even Jaylen Brown apparently called for an encore. Consider me stuck between the hosts calling Tacko Fall a bearded lady and fans declaring him a tall Jesus. Fall’s physique deems him worthy of developing in Boston’s organization. Whether or not he lands here won’t impact a position where the Celtics need immediate assistance.

Fans may not be looking at the right player, but certainly the right place. Red flags shoot up across the front court. That’s not only because of Al Horford’s width of impact either.

The Celtics won’t soon find a center who can pass, rebound, score, defend and shoot as soundly as Horford in one package. They’ll need to find a player to do three of those first. Boston’s largest concern begins at center, then stretches to a barren small-ball four position.

Boston attempted to offset Horford’s loss by signing Enes Kanter to the mid-level exception. Kanter displayed his wittiness and edge in picking No. 11 for his uniform. Celtics fans crossed out Irving for Kanter on jerseys in droves. It won’t take long for fans to demand more than laughs from him.

Kanter once grazed $20-million in average annual salary with the Thunder. He chases offensive rebounds as well as anyone and scores double-figures at a 54% clip. He also routinely posts-up, slides his feet into death in pick-and-rolls and does not give Brad Stevens a play-making outlet.

The Trailblazers limited the number of rolls sent his way. He defended only 21 possessions in Portland, and ranked seventh best by allowing 16 points (0.76 PPP). The list included players who defended 21 or more rolls in the P&R.

With the Knicks, he directly defended 30 rolls, allowing 37 points. The 16-of-26 shooting against him in that situation ranked second-worst to Russell Westbrook. Portland had Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins to offset Kanter’s minutes. The Celtics have Daniel Theis.

Take a peek at the top of the list and Theis allowed 41 points in 28 roll possessions (worst among 21+ possessions). The Celtics re-signed Theis to presumably backup Kanter. He’s been a net-plus player for Stevens, though largely playing second units.

The Celtics can take some solace in Horford’s P&R defensive struggles. Brook Lopez and him allowed the most points per possession at their volume of defensive sets in both the regular season and playoffs. Also consider that Irving ranked first in PPP at his volume of possessions in defending pick-and-roll ball-handlers. Horford did slide in that area after two seasons near the top of that category.

Robert Williams barely touched the floor to help Horford or Maine Red Claws. Grant Williams arrived as a sound college defender on the short side of 6’7″. Among this group, Guerschon Yabusele still got shown the door.

This will not be the first time Stevens is tasked with hiding defensive liabilities. Only Jared Sullinger posted a negative net rating season for Boston between him, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller. We all remember the defensive hoops once necessary to court Isaiah Thomas.

Stevens will need the best of his defensive assets to overcome the lost brunt Horford commanded on D. Marcus Smart becomes the floor general. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum need to become better than net negatives or evens. Gordon Hayward quietly posted the best net-rating of the wings last year. Marcus Morris’ willingness to bang at the four will be missed.

As August nears, it’s possible the Celtics are not done. A roster spot remains open, the team has not contacted Brown about an extension and rookies largely compose the bench. Danny Ainge could be eyeing what bigs become available in August.

The joy of this team, of Kemba Walker’s arrival, could be spoiled by comparison. Every night will be viewed through what Horford would do. And that’s a bar Fall will not reach even with a reach over 10 feet.