Bass lets his play do the talking
With a focus that impresses even KG, Celtics veteran quietly becoming a force
WALTHAM, Mass. -- When the Celtics re-signed Brandon Bass to a new three-year contract this past summer, the process lacked the drama and suspense associated with several of Boston's other free-agent dealings. For Kevin Garnett there was the prospect of retirement; for Jason Terry there was the promise of adding a former NBA Sixth Man of the Year to the roster; for Jeff Green there was his long-awaited return from heart surgery.
For Bass, the contract process was decidedly more efficient -- come in, take care of business, and go home -- which, really, is a microcosm of Bass' presence with the Celtics.
There's a striking simplicity to the way Bass approaches his craft -- a true businesslike method that leaves no room for the celebrity side of being a professional athlete. While some players seek out or are forced into the spotlight, Bass opts to keep his head down and quietly go about his business on the basketball court.
"He's the definition of a true professional," said teammate Courtney Lee. "He comes in, works hard, gets the job done. And off the court you don't hear too much from him. He's just the definition of a professional."
"Brandon just wants to be a basketball player," said head coach Doc Rivers. "He's into it. He doesn't show -- you're never going to see the great emotion. Jeff [Green]'s a little bit like that. But that doesn't mean they don't care. Everyone's not going to be emotional, and you don't really want everybody emotional."
Bass is one of Boston's most important frontcourt players, but he's also the most unheralded. The simplicity of his approach, coupled with the solid consistency he displays game after game, can make him easy to lose sight of. That was especially the case last season, when he shared a starting lineup with three (and possibly even four) future Hall of Famers. But Bass doesn't mind. True to his no-nonsense approach, Bass says he's happy to keep a lower profile.
"Sometimes you want to [fly under the radar]. I think on this team, personalitywise, I'm going to have to, because there's a lot of guys with big personalities," Bass said after practice on Sunday. "I'd rather fly under the radar and step up when I need to, as far as communicating. But as far as a game, I want to fly [under the radar], but I want people to respect it, though."
His teammates certainly do. While onlookers might marvel at Garnett's defense, or Rajon Rondo's lofty stat lines, those in the locker room don't lose sight of what Bass brings to the team, including his patented elbow jump shot, an ability to finish strong at the rim, a reliable rebounding presence, and an ability to stretch the defense and open lanes for perimeter players.
"He's very important. He's very athletic," said Rondo of Bass. "He runs the floor, he stretches our floor offensively. He knows our defensive rotations, so a guy that's been in our system year after year is going to continue to grow."
"If you're into big names and stuff like that, then [Bass is] going to fly under the radar," said Garnett. "But if you're a basketball fan, you watch ball, you watch the Celtics play, I mean, you see the things he does. I thought last year he got better as the year went. And he's going to be big for us. If we're going to be anything, we're going to need Brandon to be big for us this year."
Bass' teammates see other aspects of his approach that go largely unnoticed by fans. Most notable is his relentless work ethic -- something both Garnett and Ray Allen have been routinely praised for in public circles. Bass possesses a devotion to his pregame shooting routine that would rival Allen's, and a dedication to his offseason regimen that has gained the respect of the workaholic Garnett.
"He has a routine, gritty veteran. You've been in this league for a while, you should have a routine," said Garnett. "But Brandon works really hard. You just don't wake up and make shots. You've got to invest in your game, and he does that."
Bass spent this past summer in Orlando, focusing primarily on his conditioning. He preferred rigorous sand workouts to avoid the constant pounding on his joints. He's a quiet observer as much as anything else. His work ethic, like his game, has evolved since day one. As a rookie, Bass saw the extra work put in by seasoned veterans -- most notably by former Hornets big man Marc Jackson -- and soon realized it would take the same to carve out a niche in the league.
"There are a lot of players that I was able to watch and saw how they worked, day in, day out, and I tried to implement that in my own life, and it paid off for me," Bass said. "I just spend a lot of time in the gym, try to be detailed in what I do, as far as preparing for the game.
"[I saw] how [Jackson] worked, day in and day out, coming back to the gym at nighttime, working on the things that he was going to do the next day in the game. And here, I admire the way Kevin works, how consistent he is, how Ray Allen was, how Ray prepared every morning, the day before the game, players like that."
The results don't lie, as the consistency Bass maintained throughout the 2011-12 campaign yielded career highs in points (12.5), rebounds (6.2) and minutes (31.7) per game.
Additionally, Bass' offseason dedication continually cultivates a rock-solid 6-foot-8 frame that, when coupled with his natural athleticism, can make him a bull in the paint and on the break.
"My nickname for Brandon is 'The Muscle,' said Lee. "My man is strong on that block. He goes hard. He's going to rebound, he's going to finish strong. So, he's 'The Muscle.'"
He can also be a force on the defensive end. After he adjusted to Boston's defensive schemes last season, Bass gave the Celtics new versatility on that end of the floor, said Rivers.
"I think people look at Brandon and think he's a pick-and-pop scorer. He's a terrific defender. Last year was the first time since I've been here that we switched three, four pick-and-rolls. We never could do that. So it gives us a lot of different looks. So he's been great."
One of the biggest mistakes any outside observer can make is assuming Bass' simplicity yields complacency. Bass is happy with the season he had last year, but knows his ceiling is much higher.
"Just being better in every aspect of the game, being more consistent," Bass said of what his next level is. "Just being better, period. I don't want to just be content with my accomplishments from last season."
He took into his summer workouts a checklist of areas to improve in, with rebounding sitting at the very top. So, how does one make strides when it comes time to crash the glass?
"I just think just going after it more, just making it a point to be a better rebounder. It starts there," Bass explained. "And then not let little guards run up behind me and take my rebounds. I got three taken from me each game. But, for the most part, just making it a point to go after every rebound, and rebounding will take care of itself.
"You've got to look at a person like Kevin Garnett, who you can tell, the way he plays, that he thinks about defense-rebound-run, first, and then he thinks about everything else, and then he ended up with 20 and 10. It's just simple as a thought, just putting that thought in your head, just like he does. So that's what I want to implement into my game."
The Celtics are a deeper team than they were last season, but with his older starting frontcourt mates, Garnett and Paul Pierce, potentially slowing down a step, there could be room for Bass to carve out a more vital role in the starting lineup. Should that hold true, don't expect any changes in the way he conducts his business. Bass will keep working, keep improving and keep doing it all with the simplicity of a true professional.