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It’s been a year since Brandon Bass was shipped out of Orlando for Glen Davis (and Von Wafer) and already the circumstances around the trade have changed dramatically.
Davis was acquired, in part, to appease Dwight Howard, who is no longer with the Magic. Davis and Howard are friends dating back to their AAU days. Last year, former general manager Otis Smith was criticized for giving Davis a four-year, $26 million contract opposite Bass’ expiring deal, but Bass then signed a three-year, $20 million deal with Boston during the offseason, which pretty much equates the salary both big men will be pocketing over the next three seasons.
This means that one year later, with a large enough sample size, we can make an attempt to ditch context and compare the players for nothing but their abilities.
On offense, Bass has adapted well to Boston’s Rajon-Rondo-and-long-twos system. This year, Bass takes half of his shots from 16-23 feet and makes 47 percent of them on 4.2 attempts per game, an elite figure that makes him a perfect outlet for Rondo’s penetration. Bass rarely strays away from this role — he rarely registers assists (“no pass Bass” anyone?) or turnovers and nearly 90 percent of those midrange jumpers are assisted.
Bass does gets to the rim just enough to force opponents to respect his driving skills and converts if he’s sent to the line, but at this point, offensively, he is the embodiment of a pseudo-stretch four. While there are strengths in that, it has also caused his efficiency to drop dramatically from his earlier days in Dallas and Orlando. After four straight seasons with a Player Efficiency Rating around 16 and a True Shooting percentage in the high 50s, those marks have dropped to 14.1 and 52.4 percent in his first Boston season and are now down to 11.4 and 49.6 percent so far this season.
Davis, on the other hand, has struggled mightily as the focal point of Orlando’s offense. Even though he’s gotten better this year at avoiding getting his shot blocked (in 2010, he was rejected on an insane 17.9 percent of his shot attempts), which has led to a career-high 65.4 percent shooting percentage at the rim on 5.2 attempts per game, Davis still gets most of his offense off jumpers. The problem is that he just isn’t good at making them, leading to a brutal True Shooting percentage (48.1 percent).
Davis does a good job of creating his own shot without turning the ball over, but that abysmal True Shooting percentage is in line with his career percentage (49.5 percent). His shot selection was an issue even before the offense started revolving around him — now it’s not just a concern, it’s a visual monstrosity.
Defensively, Davis’ claim to fame is his work in the post, where he allows only 0.69 points per possession this season (22nd in the NBA), per Synergy. While his athleticism severely limits him as a shot blocker and rim protector, he pulls off the rare combination of wide and quick, which enables him to establish good position between his man and the basket. He is also very good at drawing charges, going so far as ranking among league leaders in this category during his Boston days.
What is unclear is if these positives can outweigh the vertical limitations. Baby’s teams have been slightly worse defensively with him on the court for the past three years and, specifically, have taken a hit in the defensive rebounding department. He’s actually improved a lot on this end — his 22.1 defensive rebounding percentage this year is far above his career average of 15.7 percent — but the team is still doing better with him on the bench.
Bass’ defensive numbers are strong, but his story is virtually identical to every other Celtic: he’s fantastic defensively as long as Kevin Garnett is on the court. In the 346 minutes the two big men have played together this season, the Celtics have only given up 94.4 points per 100 possessions. In Bass’ 244 minutes without Garnett, that figure jumps up to a whopping 112.8 points per 100 possessions.
It’s not hard to understand why — Garnett is a transformative defender on a Celtics team that is suddenly lacking in that department and Bass is no exception. This year, he’s giving up a 17.2 Player Efficiency Rating to opposing power forwards and has been demolished in the few minutes he’s gotten as a center. Bass is workable within a solid defensive system but when left on an island, he is often overmatched.
Both Davis and Bass are similar in concept: undersized four men who are limited defensively and like the midrange jumper. However, in retrospect, with the money somewhat even, the deal is no longer a classic example of an Otis Smith blunder.
How you rank the two offensively depends quite a bit on how you value shot creation — Davis is less efficient but can get his own shot much easier. As a result, Davis outranks Bass in PER so far this season (Bass outproduced Davis last season), which credits players for getting more shots, but stands below him in efficiency, which doesn’t take kindly to the chucker mentality. Defensively, both are limited, but Davis has more of a role, especially if the rebounding improvement holds.
That said, it’s hard to say Boston should be disappointed here. Much like Davis is a better fit for an offense that requires shots to go up in some manner, the Celtics need their complementary shooter in Bass more than they need a stubborn post-up option. It seems like both teams made out just fine in the end.