This afternoon, Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston took a look at Brandon Bass' production over the season and particularly over the last two games. BB has become the favorite whipping boy for bloggers looking for a singular player to blame for the Celtics not meeting their pre-season goals. A lot was expected from this team and while we've commended the veteran leadership of Pierce and Garnett, the defensive inspiration of Avery Bradley, and the emergence of Jeff Green, it's been easy to point at Bass as a disappointment. I'm a huge fan Brandon Bass fan, so I'd like to offer a bigger perspective of his Celtic career and what might be affecting his numbers this season.
A more talented roster Outside of the The Big Four, the Celtics were comprised mainly of role players and specialists last season. Compounded by the rash of injuries that started with Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox's heart surgeries and ended with Avery Bradley's dislocated shoulders, someone had to step up and that guy was Brandon Bass. That move allowed Garnett to slide over to center, it afforded Doc the opportunity to go small because BB could cover guys like LeBron and Josh Smith, and it gave Rondo another option in the pick-and-roll. You have to remember that Bass was filling so many holes last year, especially in the playoffs. Instead of criticizing him now for "underperforming," we need to recognize that he overproduced in 2012.
But that was last year. Now, surrounded with more superior talent, Bass has taken a back seat. People will be critical because he's getting paid front seat money, but really, we all knew this was going to happen. When you substitute Ray Allen/Greg Stiemsma/Mickael Pietrus/Marquis Daniels for Jason Terry/Jeff Green/Chris Wilcox/Jared Sullinger/Courtney Lee, somebody's going to take a hit in production. Bass' minutes, shot attempts, and rebounds are all down, but that doesn't mean he's less productive per se; it just means those numbers are being filled somewhere else.
The Rondo effect If we're looking just at scoring, it's hard to ignore the fact that the one guy that would be most negatively affected by RR's absence is BB. The increase in ball movement has helped ball handlers like Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, and Jeff Green, but Bass is much better in a complementary role. How many times last season did we see Rondo and Bass run a high pick-and-roll, Bass slip to either the free throw line or baseline, and Rondo suck in all the defenders and find Brandon for an open mid-range jumper. That was a lethal combination against the Sixers in the playoffs when Philly focused on shutting down the paint.
Along with his minutes (from 31.7 to 26.8), Bass' scoring average has dropped 4.9 points since last season. That may seem like a lot, but we're talking about basically two buckets. According to Hoopdata.com, Bass' biggest drop in field goal attempts is coming at the rim (2.6 to 1.5) and in the mid-range (5.1 to 3.2). More so, across the board, fewer of BB's baskets are coming assisted and I can't help but think that that's a direct correlation to Rondo's pass first mentality not being part of the offense. All things considered, he's only a shade under his FG% from last year (47.9 vs. 44.9) and been steadily improving month-to-month.
Possible philosophy rebounding change? Forsberg highlights Bass' recent performance uptick to rebounding:
Over the last two games, Brandon Bass has been a rebounding machine. He's attacking the glass with Kevin Love-like intensity, posting a defensive rebound rate of 34.1 percent (if maintained, it'd be second highest in the league behind only Reggie Evans) and a total rebound rate of 22.5 percent (that would put him in the top 3, if maintained). In each of the last two games, he's also produced highlight-worthy moments crashing the offensive glass and going right back up for loud second-chance points.
Those stats might suggest that BB's just being more active in the paint, but I think--and I have no proof of this other than my eyeball test--Doc's loosened the reins a bit and allowed Bass to attack the offensive boards more rather than getting back on defense. It's possible that against two young teams, Doc opted to allow Bass to freelance on the offensive glass a bit more to disrupt OKC and Charlotte's transition game. Before Sullinger went down with the back injury, you didn't see him backpedaling on D to prevent a fast break. He was free to roam the key in the hopes of grabbing an extra possession for the team. Bass doesn't have the talent that Sully has on the glass, but it does seem as though he's been more active of late. Tonight will be a nice test because Toronto is the third worst rebounding team behind the Celtics and the Heat. Bass played only 24 minutes last night and with the Raptors front line decimated by trades and injuries, this could be another Windex game for BB.