LAS VEGAS -- For as long as he has been playing basketball, there has been a fixation from basketball fans when it comes to Tacko Fall.
There’s tall humans, tall basketball players and then there’s 7-foot-7 Tacko Fall, who has the kind of height you can’t ignore.
He has grown accustomed to the staring, the lame tall-man jokes and of course the requests so many have of taking a selfie with him.
Tacko takes it all in stride because he knows it comes with the territory when you’re his height and you play basketball.
But that latter point -- playing basketball -- is where things get interesting when it comes to the narrative surrounding Tacko Fall.
Because while he’s cheered incessantly the minute he motions towards the scorer’s table, much of the adulation he receives now is because he’s seen by many fans as a novelty act of great proportions — 7 feet, 7 inches to be precise — and not necessarily because of his basketball skills.
Well those cheers for Tacko Fall have been validated in summer league on many fronts thus far in what is turning into the rise of Tacko Fall from being a basketball sideshow into a supporting cast-type player in the NBA.
Boston signed the big man to an Exhibit 10 contract, which gives Boston the flexibility to sign him to a two-way contract prior to the start of the season if they have a spot available.
That would result in most of his time being spent with the Celtics’ G-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws, while affording Boston a chance to call him up to the NBA for up to 45 days without it costing them a roster spot.
Having already signed Max Strus to a two-way contract, Boston has one two-way spot remaining and will certainly give strong consideration to Tacko as well as the team’s second-round pick Tremont Waters, who has been among Boston’s most impressive players in summer league thus far.
But as far as Tacko is concerned, there’s growing optimism among league executives about his future when it comes to the NBA.
“I don’t know if his future is in Boston with all the bigs they got coming in next season,” a league executive told NBC Sports Boston. “But with all that size and some of the other little things he’s doing… Tacko will find a role in the NBA someday.”
But is that time now?
In Boston’s first two summer league games, both Boston wins, there is no getting around the impact made by Fall beyond getting the most cheers from the crowd upon entering games.
After two games, Tacko is averaging 9.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 10.5 minutes per game.
More telling than his scoring has been his impact for the team when he is on the floor, with a plus/minus of +18 and +9 against Philadelphia and Cleveland, respectively.
A latecomer to the game of basketball (he didn’t start playing until he was 16 years old), there’s still plenty for Tacko to still learn about himself as far as what he can and can’t do.
But the more he plays, the more he seems to grow as a player while displaying skills that both he and his teammates weren’t sure existed.
In Boston’s win 89-72 win over Cleveland, Celtics summer league coach Scott Morrison found himself once again discovering Tacko could do something surprisingly well that he had not seen before.
“His hands impressed me,” Morrison said following the win over the Cavs. “He caught a couple of tough passes. He obviously has the highest reach. Still, guys climbing on his back… his ability to catch it and not travel, gather himself and go up or at least reach up, was impressive.”
Morrison added, “And so far, he hasn’t been out of position too much defensively because of his size. Our guards missed a couple of switches where his man got loose for threes, which is something that we have to fix up because when he’s out there, he can’t be running around chasing poppers (players who look for space for jumpers via high pick-and-roll plays). But we can switch that, keep him in the paint and use his strengths that way.”
One of the challenges that Tacko has had in convincing NBA teams to give him a chance, is to prove his ability to run the floor effectively.
Even while at Central Florida, Tacko’s ability to run the floor has been an area of concern. But when he does it well, it tends to catch folks by surprise — that is, everyone except Tacko.
“I have two legs just like everybody else,” he said. “I can run the floor. My height is up there, but that doesn’t mean just because you’re tall you’re not supposed to run the floor.”
But as Morrison pointed out, surprisingly it has been Tacko’s play defensively where his foot speed becomes an issue.
“The way the league is now with stretch bigs, how’s he gonna guard those guys?” a league executive told NBC Sports Boston. “He’ll protect the paint, but teams with bigs who can stretch the floor will keep your team in rotation (defensively) the whole time he’s on the floor. That’s a lot to ask of your team defensively.”
But as summer league rolls on, it is becoming increasingly more clear that there are enough tangible upside qualities about Tacko’s game that make him worth taking a risk on for an NBA team sooner rather than later.
Morrison was asked about where he thought Tacko would fit in as an NBA player.
“The place where he’d fit in is under the rim,” quipped Morrison before adding, “Worst-case scenario, he’s a specialty player that you put in for situations; certain matchups. Upside, he can be a pretty solid, serviceable big man who will give you some bonus stuff around the rim in terms of protecting the hoop. And then, every now and then bail you out in that position.”
As much as the talk surrounding Tacko centers around him getting an opportunity from NBA teams, it still ultimately comes back to what he does to create those opportunities.
His play in summer league thus far is a good start.
“It’s up to him that he stays consistent with his (play),” Morrison said.
And don’t get played by buying into the all the cheers and support he gets from fans, which is great, but has the potential to create a sense of arrival when the truth is, Tacko hasn’t arrived… yet.
“We’re all here for a purpose,” Tacko said. “Regardless of what happens, you always have to stay locked in.”
Morrison had a brief conversation with Tacko about that very point after the win over Cleveland.
“It’s nice to have all the crowd for you,” Morrison told Tacko. “But don’t forget why you’re here and that’s to prove he belongs. I think that he does.”
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