Orlando Magic power forward Brandon Bass might have caused more fiery debate in the fan community than any other 11th man in the NBA this season. After three consecutive playoff flameouts against teams with physical, aggressive frontcourts--that'd be the Detroit Pistons in 2007 and 2008, and the L.A. Lakers in 2009--the Magic decided to get tougher by the undersized, yet feisty, Bass with most of their mid-level exception last summer. The Magic and their fans expected Bass, an exceptional shooter from mid-range and the foul line, to "mix it up" and "protect" Dwight Howard, or to act as Orlando's "enforcer." A few preseason publications even listed Bass as Orlando's everyday starting power forward, with Rashard Lewis shifting to small forward to accommodate Orlando's most expensive free agent acquisition of the summer. The thinking was Orlando could continue playing the way it had since Stan Van Gundy took over in 2007, with either Lewis or Ryan Anderson as a "stretch four," but with the added flexibility of going "conventional" with Bass if the need arose. Nobody, least of all Bass, expected the season to unfold the way it did. Save for Lewis' 10-game suspension to start the season, and for a stretch in late February when he leapfrogged Anderson in the rotation, Bass essentially watched the season from the end of Orlando's bench with the likes of Adonal Foyle and Anthony Johnson.
|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-high statistics highlighted in gold.
See, that's the weird thing when looking at Bass' stats. Save for the rebounding, they're decent enough. The biggest issue with Bass is fit. He proved during his two years with Dallas, during which he averaged 8.4 points and 4.5 boards in 19.6 minutes, shooting 49.8% from the field, that he belongs in an NBA rotation. A good team's rotation, even. He's not a stiff, or overrated. I don't buy that for a second.
But when given the opportunity to contribute early this year, Bass rarely delivered. Maybe we should have known something was up when Van Gundy tabbed Anderson to replace Lewis in the starting lineup during Lewis' suspension. Through a source familiar with the situation, I've learned that Bass routinely struggled in practice to execute Orlando's schemes on both ends of the floor. He didn't know all of the plays. Think back to some of Bass' cameos this year, and you might see evidence of that. How many times did Van Gundy have to shout at Bass, and point to specific spots on the floor, with the ball already in play? How many times did he bump into Howard, on either end of the court? How many times did a teammate, or group of teammates, call Bass over during a break in play to have an animated discussion?
Now, these sorts of chats are routine during the course of an NBA game. I know that. But I also know that Bass didn't always "get it," so to speak, when he was on the floor.
However, Bass is talented enough that his sheer skill and effort can compensate for a lack of familiarity with what Orlando's trying to accomplish. Nobody's ever accused him of dogging it, or loafing through a possession on either end of the floor. No, Bass tries hard out there, and sometimes achieves spectacular results. How about blocking a three-pointer against the L.A. Clippers earlier this season--a three-pointer!--and then getting out on the break for an emphatic slam? Swatting a Lamar Odom jumper at its release point? Draining a turnaround rainbow of a jumpshot against the Boston Celtics in this year's playoffs as the shot-clock expired? These are plays that not many guys can make, especially not at Bass' $4 million salary.
So if he can manage to do what he did this year--as in, post career-best stats in scoring and shot-blocking on a per-minute basis, as well as in field-goal shooting--without knowing what's going on, what might he accomplish next year, with more time to master the system? Probably more. Consider that Anderson and Howard are the only Magic players younger than Bass; he can still get better, and prove to be a solid investment on GM Otis Smith's part.
But we're not looking at the future here; we're evaluating the past, and Bass' 2009/2010 season left much to be desired. He couldn't get on the court, and when he did, he was frequently lost. He can only blame himself for that.