If there has been a story out of this year’s NBA draft it must be that of Zion Williamson finally and once for all turning pro, right? Wrong.
We all knew Zion would hit the NBA as a thunderstorm sooner rather than later since he slashed Kentucky when facing the Wildcats just days after stepping in Duke’s campus for the first time.
What wasn’t that clear, though, was the future of an oddity such as Tacko Fall represents. By this time you probably know Fall, or at the very least have heard of him. You probably don’t even know him by name, Tacko Fall, but any photo depicting the now ex-Central Florida senior would definitely ring a bell.
“Oh, that one! That is Tacko Fall? Interesting!”, you may say.
“And why is he wearing Boston Celtics’ gear out there in the court? Did they draft him or something?”. No, they didn’t, but they kinda did.
The Boston Celtics entered the 2019 draft with four picks to their name. At the end of the day (including trades), those picks turned to be the numbers 14, 22, 33 and 51. Boston draftees were, in order of selection: Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards, and Tremont Waters.
No Tacko in sight. Not until the 60th and last pick was assigned a player and the undrafted free agent season started. There is where Boston found his big man and awarded Tacko the chance of playing pro-ball for the Celtics during the Summer League, leaving the door open for a potential full-time contract with the team for the upcoming season.
Much has been made of Fall’s ridiculous frame (7-6, 310lb) and that is what is bringing people to his surroundings more than anything. It is what catches the eye first, after all. You don’t see humans as big as Fall walking around the place every day. You don’t go through your working place greeting giants on a daily basis. So he’s an attraction for most just because of how he looks.
How wrong people are if they think that’s all Fall has to offer, though.
I already introduced you to Fall back in June, after he signed with Boston. Fall is an outlier, and I’m not talking of his height. His production was pretty unique during his final year at UCF and he may turn into a real steal for the Celtics.
Let’s take a deeper look into what he did during his final NCAA-level season in order to asses who we are really talking about.
As I did in the aforementioned piece on undrafted free agents from the past draft, for this exercise I will use a data set containing the top-1500 players from the 2018-19 season in terms of raw Win Shares. That is, the 1500 with the biggest WS values during the past season, going from a minimum of 1.7 to the NCAA-leading mark of 8.8 posted by Brandon Clarke.
Here is every player in the data set plotted, in terms of WS48 and FG%:
Tacko Fall is the yellow dot. Surprised? You better not, because this kind of chart is going to be a constant during the rest of this article. Among the 1500 players in the data set, Fall ranks in the 90th percentile in terms of WS48. That means he was one of the 150-most productive players during last season at collegiate level. Not bad, right?
His raw Win Shares value was 3.9, the 313th-best among the field. While you may think that is way lower than his WS48 mark (indeed is), keep in mind we’re not standardizing this late number per minutes, and given that Fall only logged 24.9 per game in comparison to higher numbers from those ahead of him the mark makes more sense.
For players with 25-or-fewer minutes per game, Fall produced at a quite high level. Only 17 players equaled or surpassed his total WS contributed in such playing time, and only two were drafted by NBA teams (Mfioundu Kabengele and Jaxon Hayes).
Getting back to the first chart, discussing Fall’s shooting percentages is something we shouldn’t skip over. Look at the horizontal axis, which represents the FG% of every player in the data set. Only five players, including Fall, averaged a better-than .750 FG%. Of those, he was the only one to do it playing more than 22 minutes per game. He was also, the one to do it while shooting the highest amount of shots between the group of five with 6.2 FGA per game.
Of course, Tacko Fall never tried to shoot, let alone score a three-point shot. That doesn’t mean he was not efficient in what he did on the court. We all know that the NBA is embracing the court-stretching movement and the long shot more than at any point in time. The more versatile a big man is, the more value it holds. And even the label “big” attached to one’s name can straight diminish his value nowadays given how everything is moving toward the small-ball direction today.
Even with that, here are all players’ usage and eFG percentages for the past NCAA season:
As you can see, Fall is virtually in the middle of the pack in terms of usage, having finished UCF possessions about 22 percent of the time. He holds, though, the fourth-best eFG% of every player considered here. The fact that his size and game is geared toward pure inside shooting and the advantage his frame gives him in the zone against practically everyone allows him to never miss a shot near the rim. He just dominates that part of the court as no one can even think of.
Simple math makes something clear: give Fall the ball inside and see him bolster your two-pointers value. With a .748 2P% and 6.2 2PA per game, Fall shot for a potential 12.4 points per game and his percentage awarded him an actual 9.27 per on two-point shots. Each two-point attempt by Fall is worth 1.5 points, which puts him in the 99th percentile among 1500 players.
While Fall may not be the best-fitted player for today’s game in terms of flexibility and space creation, he’s as good as they come at that he’s best suited for.
And he even comes with bonuses! Here are some other charts that show how good Fall performed last season compared to actual drafted players during the 2019 draft (blue dots):
I think those make it clear enough. We already knew Fall could score. Now we also know he was more than good at rebounding and blocking, maximizing his physical gifts, and that he was as productive on offense as he was on defense (the blue dot next to him in the last chart is Michigan’s draftee Ignas Brazdeikis, by the way).
This has only been a little exploration of Fall’s abilities by looking at his last collegiate season at UCF. It may not be enough for you to be convinced of how good of a player he can turn to be for Boston, but had I to bet I’d say he’ll be part of the team for quite some time.
Yes, the first-team roster has limited spot and those are not gifted away to anyone, even if he happens to be 7-foot-6. Luckily for Fall, he’s not only that. Tacko will definitely put on a fight this summer, exploit opponents with his unique build and skills, and try to get that coveted spot. Only time will tell if such a big man can fit a league going in the total opposite direction.