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The “new” Kawhi: Tacko Fall’s saga

November 05, 2019 - Tuesday 4:11 AM by Jimmy Laking

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It looked like business as usual for Kawhi Leonard, the superstar spark plug of the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA. 

His 38 points and 12 rebounds enroute to a 103-97 victory over the San Antonio Spurs during Halloween showcased the kind of play he brings to a game. 

But what has caught the attention of the NBA these days is his play-making ability that sought to maximize team play and to ensure control of the ball. 

Too many times with the ball in his bands, he is at once a point guard and a small forward slashing for a lay-up or a Michael Jordan-like midrange jumper.

Consider also that while the ball is in his hands, his team-mates were finding the best positions possible and when he finally decided to pass, the effort is rewarded by a three-pointer or a dunk from a teammate beneficiary. 

Nobody saw it coming. Not even Greg Popovich, his coach from 2011-2018 with San Antonio Spurs. 

Here is Popovich in the post-mortem: “When he first came, you saw his work ethic and you look at his physical skills. His length, his hands, his size, his strength.

When we made that trade for him and drafted him, we didn’t know he was gonna be Kawhi Leonard just like we didn’t know Manu Ginobili at 57. You never know how a player is gonna develop and whether he’s drafted fourth or 19th, you just don’t know. He grew into Kawhi Leonard we see today. He came a long way. He was fantastic.”

***

His full name is Elhadji Tacko Sereigne Diop Fall, 23, straight out of the University of Central Florida. But Tacko Fall will do. 

At 16. he left Senegal for the United  States. 

He is the Boston Celtics’ spare center. Like China’s Yao Ming, he stands almost 7’ 6” and although he played only one game in the NBA, he is what you call a fan favorite already at that. 

And of all strange things, he is electrifying the NBA not with his play but with the knowledge that he is there. 

In his first game against the New York Knicks, Madison Square fans were actually rooting for him not for the Knicks.

“We want Tacko, we want Tacko!” the fans roared a number of times. 

Twice he dunked not in the high-flying manner his new-found colleagues would slam the ball from mid-air but by simply jumping high enough to throw the ball into the ring. 

Coach Brad Stevens described Tacko as more than just “a visual colossus:”

“First of all, Tacko’s a really likable guy and obviously when walks into a room, everyone is in awe at his size. But what I hope people know, first and foremost, is he’s a really great guy. He is an extremely hard worker. He’s very humble. He is very gracious. I hope people would appreciate him for who he is and how hard he’s working to make the NBA.”

Fall of his fame said it’s been crazy. But right now, he said it’s all about staying with the NBA crowd.

Fall said he just wants to learn to become a better player overall and considered himself fortunate to have Stevens and his assistants to help mold his game.  

NBA writer Lyle Morrison described Fall as an amazing part man, part meme. 

“Basketball is and has always been a tall man’s game. From its inception, those players who are physically closer to the peach basket have always been predisposed to succeed—It’s geometry. 

Fall quickly endeared himself with fans and coaches alike during summer league with his incredible standing dunks, otherworldly shot blocking range and elite caliber memeability. 

But as to whether or not he gets into a regular rotation with the Celtics remains to be seen. With just one loss in 5 starts, the Celtics are among the early leaders. 

One of their wins came off a 116-105 victory over the talent-laden Milwauke Bucks, in a game the Celtics trailed by 16 points in the first half. The Celtics are having fun.

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