Brad Wanamaker concluded the second season of his NBA career on Thursday, when the Boston Celtics lost to the Washington Wizards 96-90. And while the Pitt alum has contributed primarily off the bench, he has played his role well and distinguished himself, especially at the foul line. In fact, Wanamaker led the NBA in free-throw shooting this season, as he made 92.6 percent of his foul shots.
.@phillybul_22's 92.6% FT shooting this season will finish as the best in the @NBA.— Boston Celtics (@celtics) August 14, 2020
This is the first time in 30 years (1989-90, Larry Bird) that a Celtic has led the league in this category. @TDBank_US | #HumanBehindTheNumber pic.twitter.com/sns5AiMCwv
While the distinction lacks the glamor of winning a championship or leading the league in scoring, it is still a somewhat momentous occasion in Boston, as no Celtics have led the NBA in free-throw shooting since Larry Bird in 1990. In addition, Wanamaker is just the fourth player in franchise history to accomplish the feat. The other two were Bill Sharman and Larry Siegfried, who were part of the Celtics dynasty of the 1960s.
Sharman led the league in free-throw shooting seven times in his 11-year NBA career and shot 90 percent or better three times. His personal best was a 93.2 percent mark in 1959. Siegfried led the NBA twice, in 1966 and 1969, but he never made 90 percent of his foul shots, topping out at a career-high 88.1 percent in 1966. Bird was the strongest shooter of the bunch and led the league in free-throw shooting in 1984, 1986 and 1987.
What sets Wanamaker apart from the Celtics’ other league free-throw leaders, aside from the fact that they won titles, is that he reached this point from a much lower free-throw shooting floor. In his first year at the professional level, Wanamaker was a 66.7 free-throw shooter with Italian club Teramo Basket. Granted, he played in just seven games and took 24 shots, but the trend holds up going back to Pitt.
Wanamaker kicked off his college career by making 15 of 31 foul shots as a freshman, which put him at 48.4 percent. He improved when given more chances at the stripe but maxed out at 76.0 percent as a senior in 2011. Factoring out the outlying 48.4 percent mark, Wanamaker still entered the professional ranks as an unremarkable free-throw shooter in 2011, as he shot 74.0 percent from his sophomore year to the end of his senior year.
The point guard’s struggles continued throughout his early career, as he failed to convert on 80 percent of his foul shots in four of his first five seasons overseas. However, things came together for the Pitt alum when he joined Turkish club Darussafaka in 2016, as he cleared the 85.0 percent threshold for the first time, shooting 86.4 percent and setting new career highs with 4.5 made free throws on 5.3 free-throw attempts per game. Since then, Wanamaker has managed to keep his free-throw percentage above 85.0 every season.
Now, with the regular season in the rear view, Wanamaker will try to stay hot from the foul line and continue to contribute to the Celtics’ cause off the bench. In the team’s eight games in the NBA bubble, Wanamaker averaged 9.3 points, 2.6 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game while making 59.1 of his shots from the field. He also converted on 18 of his 20 foul shots, bringing his free-throw percentage in the bubble to an impressive 90 percent.
The Boston Celtics will face the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The two Atlantic Division rivals are set to square off Monday at 6:30 p.m. ET. The winner of the first-round series will face the winner of the Toronto Raptors-Brooklyn Nets series.