Ball Movement Helps Bass Meet Expectations

WALTHAM, Mass. – When people think about the Boston Celtics, they think about Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo. Surely those players are important, but the Celtics are going nowhere unless all of their players meet expectations.

One player who hasn’t met expectations this season is Brandon Bass. A season after solidifying himself in Boston’s starting lineup, Bass has struggled mightily with his shot and has lost his starting spot to rookie Jared Sullinger. Sullinger’s absence from Wednesday’s game, however, may have assisted in the return of the old Brandon Bass.

Bass Chart

Brandon Bass was locked in with his jumper during the 2011-12 season, lighting it up in five of the eight mid-range shot areas.
NBA.com/STATS

Bass, who was acquired from the Orlando Magic prior to last season, was one of the key reasons why the Celtics nearly reached the NBA Finals in 2012. He asserted himself as one of the elite power forwards in the game when it comes to mid-range shooting. As shown in the image to the right, he made 47.1 percent of his shots from the deep mid-range last season. That’s where the bulk of his attempts came from, as nearly 41 percent of Bass’ shots were fired up from the deep mid-range.

Doc Rivers loves shooters because they create spacing. When Ray Allen, Pierce, Bass and Garnett were on the floor surrounding Rondo last season, it was a near guarantee that the C’s could get a quality look at the basket if they moved the ball well enough. When you move the ball well, you find open shots, and with that group, open shots resulted in points more often than not.

Last season’s offensive dynamic prompted the Celtics to make re-signing Bass a priority this past offseason after he became a free agent. Boston re-signed its starting power forward, but things haven’t worked out as planned.

Bass has made just 44.4 percent of his shot attempts this season. He is shooting worse this season than he did last season in every location of the floor with the exception of the deep right mid-range.

There’s no doubt that a lot has changed for Bass and the Celtics since Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Those changes have gotten the best of the power forward.

“Things change,” he said on Thursday. “You bring new guys in (and) Doc thinks certain things work better for us.”

Something else changed for the Celtics last Friday and it may ironically wind up being a good thing for Bass. Boston lost its starting point guard due to a torn ACL. Rondo is out for the season and now the C’s are being forced to perform without him as their primary ball handler.

Bass Chart

Bass nailed four of his seven shots Wednesday night against the Sacramento Kings.
NBAE/Getty Images

The loss of Rondo has led to some of the best ball movement Boston has showcased all season over the past two games. Two contests is a short sample size, but it’s a sample size nonetheless. Rivers has instructed his team to keep things simple. The players are obliging.

“If guys have got shots, we take them,” Bass said, “and if not, we move the ball.”

The ball moved crisply to Bass last night during Boston’s 99-81 victory over the Sacramento Kings. He scored 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting after replacing Sullinger, who went down in the first quarter with back spasms. Those 12 points were the most Bass had scored since Dec. 5. His strong shooting and overall performance prompted Rivers to leave him on the floor for a season-high 38 minutes.

The Celtics are clearly a better team when their All-Star point guard is in the lineup, but Bass is reaping benefits from Boston’s recent stretch of increased ball movement. He admitted on Thursday that there were times earlier this season when he wasn’t touching the ball as much as he thought he would. Boston’s new style of play may mean that he won’t need to worry about that any longer.

“Everybody’s just moving the ball,” Bass said of Boston’s offense. “I just think everybody’s going to get more looks.”

That fact will make Bass a much more happy camper. He’s a shooter, and shooters love to shoot. He’ll be able to play with a clear mind if he’s able to do what he does best. That’s what the C’s witnessed last season, when Bass set high expectations for himself while converting on many of his 10.7 field goal attempts per game.

“I just think what Brandon is doing now is he’s not thinking about missing shots or that he’s not playing well or that he’s not getting the same touches, or whatever that stupid crap is,” Rivers said nonchalantly. “He just made shots, and I think that’s basketball. It’s that simple.”

Several forms of simplicity may have led to the return of the real Brandon Bass. That’s the Bass the Celtics expect. That’s the Bass the Celtics need.