Since his days with the Orlando Magic, Brandon Bass has been a tireless worker. When Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy banished him to the bench during the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals, Bass was working before every game on his perimeter jumper.
Van Gundy finally allowed Bass out of the penalty box, and Celtics coach Doc Rivers said later that he was relieved Bass didn’t play the entire series because of his toughness.
A man of few words, especially when pressed by the media horde following a positive game, Bass takes his accomplishments in stride, hardly impressed with himself, preparing for the next work day.
That day is Monday when the Celtics get back to work in preparation for their New Year’s Eve tilt with the Atlanta Hawks. The Celtics are in second place in the Atlantic Division, one of the league’s most surprising teams, partly because of Bass, who admittedly had no idea whether he would be here this season.
Bass was unsure of his status following the myriad of changes in the summer. He has two years left on his contract, at 28 is no longer considered young in a young man’s league, and felt a part of the previous administration that was being dismantled.
Six months later, Bass is a staple in the Celtics lineup and just finished perhaps his best defensive sequence since coming to Boston when he blocked a Dion Waiters layup attempt in the waning seconds of the Celtics’ 103-100 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday.
Bass has always been considered an above average midrange shooter off the pick and roll. But there were two aspects of his game that limited him from being indispensable: his defense and lack of passing. Bass has 44 assists in 30 games this season compared with a career-best 84 in 81 games last season.
He gained the moniker “No Pass Bass” while in Orlando and it was quite apropos. He recorded 19 assists in 648 minutes played four years ago with the Magic. His game was limited, but he has continued to work.
Never one to acknowledge numbers, Bass was informed Saturday that he had already matched his career high of four assists five times this season, including twice in the past three games.
“That’s what I do, man. I didn’t know that,” he said. “I don’t really keep up with the stats. But it’s cool to be able to make plays for my teammates. I told [Rajon] Rondo I’d rather get an assist, a nice assist, versus a dunk. I’ve been dunking my whole life. It feels good to make a play for somebody else.”
Bass is well aware of his reputation. He heard plenty from Van Gundy about being a black hole offensively, taking the ball and doing nothing but shooting. But as he has matured, Bass has figured out more ways to contribute. When opposing teams expect the pick-and-roll jumper, Bass has the ability to swing the ball to an open teammate.
“I never agreed with that nickname. Rondo just put me in position to catch and shoot,” he said. “If you listen to some of the game film, when he passes to me, he would say, ‘Shoot!’ even if somebody was on me. That’s why I was ‘No Pass Bass.’ ”
And on the other side of the ball, Bass has become a solid defender, using his athleticism and footwork to provide resistance to small forwards. He drew rave reviews from Rivers for his defense on Carmelo Anthony during the playoff series against the New York Knicks last spring.
That progression has continued. Waiters was looking to score a tying bucket and saw the 6-foot-8-inch, 250-pound Bass as his only deterrent.
“I feel once I got Bass on me, I feel that he can’t guard me or stay in front of me,” Waiters said. “When I got by him, I felt a bump, so I thought [the officials] were going to give [a foul] to me, but they didn’t.”
That bump was followed by a block and a rebound by Jeff Green, securing a Celtics win.
“He can switch. He can switch pick and rolls, so when you put a guy like [Earl] Clark in at the end of the game and we’re switching on the side-outs, he can switch on everything,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of Bass.
“He challenges shots really well. He’s a hard guy to lift up over. He’s very long. And he moves exceptionally well laterally for a guy with his size. I don’t know when that light clicks for guys. Sometimes it clicks for a certain matchup and the rest of their careers, they’re pretty good.”
Bass was the subject of trade rumors for the past few weeks and he doesn’t acknowledge anything outside what he can control. Monday is another work day, another opportunity to improve. Bass was a second-round pick who left Louisiana State two years early and played just 50 games in his first two seasons, so he realizes nothing can be taken for granted.
“This year, it’s just a different way. Everything is different,” he said. “I’ve been able to show different things by everything being different — different players, different system, and it’s cool that I can succeed in different scenarios. I just want to continue to help my teammates in any way I can, and hopefully lead us to wins. It’s nothing like the previous year, and that’s cool. When things like that present itself, you have to make those adjustments.”