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NEWPORT, R.I. -- Boston Celtics practices over the first two days of training camp have, not surprisingly, been noticeably quieter than usual. Take Kevin Garnett off the stage and the rock concert becomes an opera.
But Garnett's reverb lingers here as reporters have frequently asked these new-look Celtics how the team will possibly replace Garnett's vocal presence that anchored Boston's defense over the past six seasons.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge just chuckled at one such query and said, "Oh, boy. That may take another decade to find that." Ainge then noted that Avery Bradley is the team's best returning individual defender and said others would have to feed off Bradley's intensity.
|Brandon Bass has posted outstanding individual defensive numbers during his two years in Boston.|
Fortunately for Ainge, Bradley had a solution for replacing KG's wall of sound: Crank up the (Brandon) Bass.
"[Bass is] a great defender, believe it or not," said Bradley, a member of the NBA's all-defensive second team last season. "He picked up a lot of stuff from KG and he helps everybody out. He's like the vet for the bigs and he's been talking them through everything [early in camp]."
During his two seasons in Boston, advanced statistics suggest Bass truly has been a spectacular individual defender. Consider these defensive numbers logged by Synergy Sports: Bass allowed 0.673 points per play during the 2011-12 season, ranking him second in the NBA (three spots ahead of Garnett at 0.694 ppp) among players with at least 200 possessions defended. Last season, despite a fluctuating role, Bass allowed 0.756 points per play, ranking fifth among players with at least 500 possessions defended (five spots in front of Garnett at 0.765).
Now, that's not to say Bass was more important than Garnett, whose own number was likely hurt by his desire to contest anything near him, often covering for teammates' missed rotations. But Bass was tasked with covering bigger power forwards and centers much of the season -- then some of the league's top small forwards in the playoffs -- over the past two seasons and has answered the challenge each time.
When Garnett missed games late in the regular season, Bass -- to the surprise of former coach Doc Rivers -- increased his volume on the court, holding teammates accountable and barking out calls while trying to make up for the absence of Garnett. Bass responded with his most inspired ball of the season, which he carried over into the playoffs.
Now the numbers are not all pretty for Bass. Boston's defensive rating was nearly six full points better when Bass was on the bench (97.1 points per 100 possessions) than when he was on the court (102.9) during the 2012-13 regular season. As glossy as his individual numbers have been, he must prove the team can thrive defensively when he's on the court. Working in his favor: Boston's defensive rating was four points better in the playoffs with Bass on the court (95.7) than off (99.8). But that's with a Garnett safety net that no longer exists.
Bass is 28 years old and entering his ninth season in the league. Like many in Boston's returning young core, he doesn't get overly nostalgic when asked about the departure of Garnett. There is a feeling these young players are eager and ready to make this their team, to show just how valuable they have been to Boston's success.
Bass finds himself in a new-look frontcourt that got awfully crowded this offseason with the additions of Kris Humphries and Kelly Olynyk. And Jared Sullinger, who took Bass' starting job for a brief stretch last season, is in the final stages of rehab after back surgery in February.
On media day, Bass was peppered with questions about whether he believed his play the last two seasons should cement his role on this team. Bass flashed his trademark smile and offered, "As a guy who's been here a few years I've earned," then after a dramatic pause, delivered an emphatic, "Nothing. I have to earn everything."
It's that sort of mindset that has endeared Bass in Boston (you'll remember a certain Big Baby barking about wanting a more defined role and clamoring to be a starter before Boston swapped him for the more lunch-pail style Bass coming out of the lockout). But Bass does have something to prove this season. He saw a downturn in playing time and offensive production last season, but stressed it didn't affect his defensive game.
"Last year we had a bunch of different options on offense," Bass said. "I just wanted to fill a role to the best of my ability, and last year was more defense."
Bass has two years and $13.5 million remaining on a three-year deal he signed with Boston last summer. If his future is in green, he must show his worth alongside younger players like Sullinger and Olynyk, who project to be potential building blocks for the franchise.
Bass must show just how valuable -- and vocal -- he can be while trying to replace the irreplaceable Garnett.