The curious case of Brandon Bass

I. Introduction

When I've first heard the news that we've traded Big Baby Davis for Brandon Bass, I couldn't hide my joy. I thought that was a no brainer; you get a professional, consistent guy for a, well, big baby. Last year, he proved that he was the kind of guy that the team needed: someone to stretch the floor with a consistent mid-range shot thread and occasionally hustle for the rebounds. His debut was impressive with 20 points and 11 rebounds against the Knicks, and he followed that up with seven double-doubles, 5 20+ point games and 19 games where he'd grab 20%+ of the defensive rebounds available. Despite his disappearance come playoff time except for a couple of big games against the Sixers and the Heat, the Celtics were happy to sign him to a new contract.

II. Case

Bass started this season with another impressive double-double against the Heat, and this led the majority of us to think that he'd repeat his impressive regular season stint. Alas, things did not turn out as we hoped. Yes, Bass still put up double-doubles once in a while, but something had changed: he was wildly inconsistent. The Brandon Bass who scored double-digit points in 44 of 59 games (74.5%) last year was gone, and the upgraded version did that 12 out of 44 times. (27.2%) As someone whose lowest scoring game was 5 points last year, he finished two games with zero points. His rebounding percentage went down. Things didn't look good.

Well, at least we knew the explanation: The emergence of Jared Sullinger made Doc experiment with the lineups, so he lost his role and was confused. Oh, and you know, with Rondo, the ball didn't move as much, so when Sullinger and Rondo both went down with season-ending injuries, it was only natural to think that Bass would score more and play better and use the ball more. At least that's what he himself believed in:
Quote 1: "Yeah, man. There were times [I wasn't getting the ball]," Bass said. "You watched the games. There were times where I didn't get it. But I didn't want to let that dictate my game."

Quote 2: "The way we’re playing now is a little more conducive to my game, (but) I’m playing just the same as I did with Rondo. There’s no difference for me.” – Bass was asked point blank if this was a happier time for the Celtics where everybody touches the ball.

“I mean, of course you feel better by the ball touching your hands and going through your hands, whatever. But, yeah, it feels good,” Bass said, before the big… “But at the same time we still miss Rondo.”
III. Results

Well, let's compare Brandon Bass' stats before and after Rondo's injury to see how things turned out:

With Rondo:

Without Rondo:

So at first glance, the results are as expected, right?: He's shooting the ball slightly better, scoring more, and getting more rebounds. However, absolute numbers are tricky because they do not account for the fact that he's getting more minutes as well. When you normalize those results, you get a less pretty picture: Bass' per 36 minute production has gone down from 10.3 points to 10.1, and he gets 6.4 rebounds per 36 mins compared to a with-Rondo average of 6.8.

Well, at least he's getting more minutes, so that means he's contributing more, right? I mean his usage probably increased as the ball moves more. Well, not exactly. Let's look at his advanced stats:

With Rondo:

Without Rondo:

The offense is actually going through Brandon Bass less now that Rondo is out. So what's going on?

IV. Discussion

1. Brandon Bass is making more of his shots. Doc's explanation for Bass' slump was that it was all in his head, and he is most probably right. He started feeling better because the ball moves more, but that ball doesn't move toward him necessarily.
2. However, the increased ball movement has helped his assist percentage. Bass is sharing the ball more and is more observant to open guys.
3. He turns the ball over less both in relative and absolute terms. It is really difficult to establish the causality here, but it is either that a boost in his confidence helped him towards better shooting & decision making, or that the sets we ran with Rondo objectively put him in a bad position. Given that it wasn't the case last year, I'll stick to the former explanation.

V. Conclusion

So what does that mean for Bass? Well, even though he's improved in some areas, he's no outlier to the team's improved performance in general: In other words, he's still underperforming. He's become more effective in terms of usage/production since Rondo's injury, but that's because he's using the ball less, and he's still nowhere near the numbers he put up last year. Green's impressive performance, KG taking over offensive duties and a more fast-break oriented offense are likely explanations, but those don't change the fact that Bass needs to crack his shell more when Playoffs come and we have to rely on a better moving half-court offense.

In the end, at least it is safe to assume that he's happier with his role now, and that's never a bad start.