Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images
There’s been a lot of talk about Dwight Howard‘s improvements on offense and the praise is well-deserved, but there’s another player for the Orlando Magic that has improved this year as well. So far, at least.
His name is Brandon Bass.
Bass received a lot of criticism last season for several reasons.
First, Bass was not a natural fit in the Magic’s 4-out/1-in offensive scheme, given that his game on offense centered around the mid-range jumper. And as efficient as Bass was with his jumpshot, he wasn’t a more potent option offensively than Rashard Lewis or Ryan Anderson because he wasn’t, and still isn’t, a three-point shooter. As such, Bass had to make up for his stunted level of production on offense in another way. Second, and this segues to the next point, Bass’ defense wasn’t very good. Bass made it tough for Van Gundy to utilize him on the floor because Bass would routinely miss rotations, display a lack of awareness with his positioning on the court, and blow pick and roll coverages. There’s more, but that’s a start. Another problem was that Bass was barely above the league-average in total rebound rate. Although Bass had a knack for crashing the offensive glass, that veracity didn’t translate to the other side of the ball. Because of all these factors, Bass didn’t play a lot and that irked a lot of Magic fans that wanted to see him play.
Thing is, the only way that could happen was for Bass to improve on his defending and rebounding responsibilities. Then, and only then, would Bass merit the playing time that he desired. It’s the same thing that J.J. Redick had to deal with a few years ago when he was trying to get off the bench and make an impact.
Van Gundy gave Bass a simple task — improve on defense, rebound the basketball better, and he’ll play more.
Needless to say, Bass has answered the call. Certainly it’s helped, also, that Van Gundy is utilizing Lewis more at the small forward position, which has allowed Bass to get more minutes than he may have gotten last season.
But still, Bass’ improvement defensively is borderline astounding.
That’s not hyperbole.
Bass, even in his days with the Dallas Mavericks, never had a problem with his individual defense. Bass’ issues came almost solely with his team defense. Well, as the numbers show, that’s no longer a problem.
Via Synergy Sports Technology:
|2010-2011 regular season||Time||Poss.||PPP*||Rank||Rating|
|P&R Ball Handler (Big Defender)||27.1%||19||0.95||41%||Average|
|net def. +/-||dMULT||opp. PER||TRB%||STL%||BLK%|
|-11.49||N/A||12.4 (vs. PF’s)||14.8||1.0||1.1|
Click here for a comparison to Bass’ defensive metrics in the 2009-2010 regular season.
A perfect example of Van Gundy’s newfound trust in Bass can be pointed to when Orlando played the Toronto Raptors on Friday. Even though Andrea Bargnani plays a lick of defense and nary gets a rebound, he’s a talented player offensively. In the first half of the Magic’s game against the Raptors, Bargnani made Lewis look like a fool on defense. Bargnani scored 21 points in the first half, and even overpowered Lewis on the low block for two dunks. Lewis has been a good defender since he’s arrived to Orlando, but certainly his efforts against Bargnani were poor. Thus, Van Gundy had seen enough and assigned Bass on Bargnani in the second half.
Bargnani scored two points when matched up against Bass.
Sure, there are external variables that should be taken into account since defense is more of a team-centric concept, but Bass deserves credit for getting the job done and slowing down Bargnani after he torched Lewis in the first half. The mere fact that Van Gundy played Bass over Lewis in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line speaks volumes. It showed that Van Gundy trusts Bass, and not solely because of his ability to jab step and make a mid-range jumper.
That trust translates in Bass’ statistics because the Magic’s defense allows 11.84 points per 100 possessions less when he’s on the court.
Bass always had the strength and quickness to be a net positive on defense, but now the desire is there. That’s one of the main differences.
Bass has also improved his rebounding. The leap in the stats is noticeable.
When it comes to rebounds, that’s — more or less — about effort and desire. There’s some technique involved as well (ask Kevin Love), but rebounding is almost all about getting good positioning and grabbing the damn ball. Perhaps the best way to describe Bass’ improvement is that he’s transferring his tenacity to get offensive rebounds at the other end of the court after a down year last season. Plus, Bass is even more tenacious on the offensive glass.
Odds and ends
There are other rudimentary things that Bass has gotten better with.
Bass is passing the basketball more.
Bass is getting to the free-throw line more.
|Per 36 Minutes||FTM-A||FT%|
Unfortunately for Bass, the latter seems like an unsustainable trend. Maybe it’s not, but it’s amazing how often Bass is getting to the charity stripe. Perhaps Bass has simply altered his offensive approach. It is worth noting that Bass is making a more concerted to not settle for his jumpshot and attack the basket. Because Bass does an excellent job of using his lower body to create space for himself to assault the rim and tear it down like Shaquille O’Neal in his younger days, he’s able to draw more fouls on his opponents. But again, it’ll be interesting to see if this is something that Bass can sustain as the season progresses.
All in all, Bass has received a lot of criticism in the past for his flaws as a player but right now, he deserves all the praise in the world for his ability to work on what’s hampered him when he’s on the floor and become a valuable asset for the Magic.
*points per possession