Brandon Bass is one of the best defenders in the NBA.
Does that statement sound ridiculous? It might not once you read this thing through. Hear me out.
It’s pretty widely assumed that Bass doesn’t have much of a post game, even among very intelligent people. Red’s Army said it. Bob Ryan said it (same link). Heck, we even said it here, and when Bass said in an interview that he wanted to play more in the post, Jay tasked me with explaining why this statement was ridiculous.
But Bass is NOT, as the estimable Ryan put it, “the most incompetent low post player in the NBA.” He is, surprisingly, a little better than average in the post on offense, as I outlined here. He is also, if you put any faith in defensive statistics, absolutely stellar defensively, especially in the post.
Surprised? I was too. But check out these numbers from Synergy:
|P&R Roll Man||0.58||12.5%||2|
I mean…are you SEEING this? According to these numbers, Bass isn’t just one of the better individual defenders on the team, he’s literally one of the best defenders in the entire league.
There are, of course, arguments that can be made against Bass’ classification as one of the NBA’s top defenders. For example: The Celtics’ system has made mediocre defenders look good, so perhaps in Bass’ case, it’s making a good defender look elite.
In some cases, that would be fair. After all, in both Isolation and in P&R Roll Man defenses, Bass can rely on some help from his teammates (ie: KG). But when Bass is guarding opponents in the post, he doesn’t usually have help, and he’s still a top 10 NBA defender, according to Synergy.
Here’s a video of Bass’ defense against Chris Bosh that essentially showcases every single thing Bass does well in the post.
First, Bass uses his large, strong body to muscle Bosh out of his comfort zone, forcing the slender power forward to pass out and repost, which he does at the elbow. At this point, one would imagine that Bass is screwed, because we all know that Bosh, who is much faster, is about to drive directly around him, right?
Wrong. Bass moves his feet not especially quickly, but into exactly the right place to cut Bosh off. His long arms also would have contested a shot from Bosh, but by this point, Bosh is so frustrated that he chucks up a wild half-hook shot at the side of the backboard, and the Celtics are off to the races again. Bass just expertly foiled one of the best power forwards in the world in three separate, distinct ways.
Also worth noting: Remember the Eastern Conference Finals, when Doc put Bass on LeBron and LeBron abused Bass in isolation? Remember when the narrative was that “It was a cute idea, but James legendarily destroyed Bass in isolation”? Synergy tells us that narrative actually is legend. While James certainly abused the Celtics, it wasn’t one-on-one against Bass. In the final two games of the ECF, when James hung 45 and 31 on the C’s, he was just 2-12 when defended by Bass in isolation, drawing two fouls as well for four free throws. Again, Bass used his size and his excellent footwork to keep James shooting jumpshots, and when James shoots jumpshots, he becomes less effective.
Obviously, Bass on James isn’t a permanent solution, but rather a band-aid on a Miami Heat problem that isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. But saying that Bass got destroyed is doing his excellent defensive work a massive disservice.
Garnett is undeniably the heart and soul of the Celtics’ defense, but Brandon Bass is very technically skilled as a defender, and I’d say it’s high time we recognized that. Let’s start by keeping him in the starting lineup, shall we? No offense to Jared Sullinger, but when you have a player who defended the post more productively than Dwight Howard last year, it seems a shame to relegate him to the second unit. Call me crazy.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.