(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Orlando Pinstriped Post recounts the Orlando Magic's season on a player-by-player basis, providing narrative evaluations and a subjective letter grade for each.
I think what the Orlando Magic saw from Brandon Bass this season is what they expected from him in the 2009/10 campaign, his first in a modest (in this profession, $16 million is modest) four-year deal with the team. Instead, he tallied 31 Did Not Play-Coach's Decisions. He went from averaging 19 minutes per game as a key role-player on successful Dallas Mavericks squads to only getting mop-up minutes behind an overpaid third banana (Rashard Lewis) and a sophomore (Ryan Anderson). It frustrated Bass, who his agent claims took less money to play for the championship-contending Magic, but to his credit, he didn't make any waves in the locker room. He at least waited for the season to end before discussing his dissatisfaction in the press.
Bass' lack of burn wasn't due to talent, but rather fit. My read of the situation, which includes information from sources close to the team, is that coach Stan Van Gundy didn't trust Bass, who didn't understand the playbook or the defensive schemes.
Which makes his positive performance this season all the more impressive.
|Points Per Game||Rebounds Per Game||Blocks Per Game|
|Points Per 36||Rebounds Per 36||Blocks Per 36|
|PER||Rebound Rate||Block Rate|
All statistics in this table from Bass' player page at basketball-reference. Career-best statistics highlighted in gold; career-worst statistics highlighted in silver.
From racking up DNP-CDs to starting on a nighty basis in less than a year. That is not insignificant. Bass hadn't started regularly since college--prior to this season, he recorded five starts in 210 appearances--and suddenly found himself playing alongside the likes of Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, and Jameer Nelson for extended stretches. When the Magic unloaded Lewis, who shifted between the starting forward spots on a game-to-game basis depending on matchups, they implicitly affirmed their faith in Bass, as well as Anderson.
Indeed, playing is the biggest change for Bass this season. He did not drastically alter his game, which is okay, because he does a few things very well and tends to stick to those things.
Bass' mid-range jumper isn't what one would term "silky-smooth" or "textbook," but nobody can contest its effectiveness. In Orlando's offense, he's a fifth option or safety valve. When the ball swings to him, and he's open, he's going to fire away with that high, herky-jerky release of his. I'll never understand how anyone he can convert a shot with his guide hand on top of the damn ball.
An underrated skill of Bass' is his ability to find open space prior to the catch. The attention Howard commands often draws Bass' defender away, freeing Bass to read, react, and fill the opening in the defense to make himself available. The high screen-and-roll with Howard and any Magic ballhandler will produce an open look for Bass almost every time. Opposing defenses, even the best ones, can't take everything away.
Bass' problem is his lack of, apart from the occasional stick-back, another way to score. It's dangerous to rely on the two-point jumper, the game's least efficient shot, for offense, but that's what Bass does. I tried making this point earlier in the season and got hammered for it--Magic radio play-by-play man Dennis Neumann apparently criticized me for it on-air--but I stand by what I wrote (though I acknowledge I could have framed the argument better). If Bass' shot isn't falling, he doesn't produce much else, and it's hard to keep him on the floor. That's not to say that Bass doesn't play hard--to the contrary, he always brings great energy to the court--or whatever. Please don't misunderstand me.
Despite his long arms and athleticism, Bass remains a mediocre-at-best rebounder. He doesn't block shots, though he does have a knack for swatting would-be jump-shooters at the point of their release, which can be spectacular. He's improved as a defender, both individually and within the team concept, but still needs to put in more work in that area.
Overall, though, Bass gave the Magic fairly consistent, solid production before mysteriously tailing off in the playoffs; relatedly, he couldn't buy a basket in that series against the Atlanta Hawks. In any event, Orlando got what it bargained--and I do mean bargain, as $4 million annually for a player of Bass' caliber qualifies a steal--for with the veteran big man this season. Better rebounding numbers--playing alongside Howard can't possibly be the only reason they're so ordinary--would have boosted his grade here.
Lest anyone think I'm going too easy on the Magic, I'll add that the grades, with one obvious exception, will only get worse as this series continues.