NEWPORT, R.I. – Brandon Bass remembers when the transformation began. It wasn’t necessarily expected, but it was absolutely needed.
It was mid-March of last season, when Kevin Garnett went down with a bruised left thigh. Garnett, who was the safety valve and leader of Boston’s defense, was forced to miss 12 of the final 17 games of the regular season.
The Celtics were built on defense. That’s how they won games. They operated as a cohesive unit thanks to extraordinary communication and teamwork. Garnett was the man who was responsible for all of those traits.
Brandon Bass has improved his defense formidably since his early years in the NBA.
Al Bello/Getty Images Sport
With their star big man sidelined, Boston’s defense would crumble, said many. There was no way that the team could execute its difficult defensive scheme without the presence of Garnett’s voice. Bass, who has been known mostly for his smooth jumper during his eight-year career, thought otherwise.
“When he went down, I just felt it was right for me to step up and fulfill his role the best way I could,” Bass remembers.
And so the transformation began.
Brandon Bass the shooter became Brandon Bass the communicator. He could be heard from the TD Garden stands barking out defensive calls to his teammates on the perimeter. If the Celtics were an orchestra, he became their conductor.
Many of Bass’ teammates and coaches lauded his efforts during Garnett’s absence, particularly former head coach Doc Rivers. Rivers constantly noted publicly that Bass not only embraced the role of communicator, but he also excelled at it.
Rivers wasn’t the only one who took note of that success. Bass did, too. He realized the impact that his communication made and he has taken that lesson into the first two days of Celtics training camp in Newport, R.I.
“This year I can be myself, and I think that being vocal and more of a defensive-minded player is something I’ve grown into,” Bass said. “I think I’ve got to be the one who just takes that first step in leadership on defense and being vocal and just having a defensive mindset.”
Bass’ new mindset is standing out to his teammates, particularly Avery Bradley. Bradley is another player who prides himself on defense. Harassing offensive players is what he does best, and that’s why he was an NBA All-Defensive Second Team selection last season.
Bradley was pinged twice by reporters on Tuesday about how different things will be on defense without the presence of Garnett. Bradley seemed miffed by the questions and immediately pointed to Bass as the more-than-capable heir apparent to Garnett’s role.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Bradley quipped after a reporter stated that most of the team’s top defenders are on the perimeter. “Brandon Bass helps out a lot on defense. He’s a great defender, believe it or not. He picked up a lot of stuff from KG and he helps everybody out. He’s like the veteran for the bigs and he’s been talking them through everything.”
Next, Bradley was asked if there was more pressure on the guards because Garnett is no longer waiting behind them.
“No, not at all,” Bradley stated. “Like I said, we have Brandon Bass and he’s going to continue to talk to everybody and make sure we’re all on the same page.”
As the new leader of the pack on defense, Bass believes that his teammates are gracefully accepting his communication and leadership.
“Everybody is responding,” Bass said after Wednesday morning's practice. “Everybody is like a sponge out there right now. These next several days are going to be about everybody absorbing as much as possible.”
While his teammates absorb Bass’ words of wisdom, the rest of us should acknowledge how valuable he is to this team. He’ll still swish home those patented mid-range jumpers, but he’ll also be the leader of this defense.
“If you look at when KG was here, it rubbed off on Brandon,” Bradley told Celtics.com. “Now it can rub off from Brandon to other guys.”
It's funny how things work. KG transformed Bass, and now it’s time for Bass to transform his new teammates.