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Last season, Celtics power forward Brandon Bass had his best year as a pro, averaging over 12 points and 6 rebounds per game. By the end of the season, he was an every-game starter and one of the team’s more productive offensive players.
Then the Celtics drafted Ohio State standout Jared Sullinger.
So far during Bass’s 2012 campaign, his minutes and numbers have dipped, in large part due to Sullinger’s ever increasing role with the team. Bass, like many of his Celtics counterparts, has struggled to find consistency this year and at time looks unsure of his role.
On the other hand, Sullinger, the 21st pick of the 2012 draft, has played well of late, a good sign for the C’s going forward but perhaps not the best news for Bass, who may see an even bigger decline in minutes for a number of reasons.
Despite showcasing a decent mid range jump shot, Sullinger has proven himself as a more traditional power forward. He lacks elite athleticism but has solid low-post moves and plays fundamental basketball. This fits in nicely with a Celtics’ current need, as Kevin Garnett, especially offensively, has veered further and further away from the paint with his advanced age. At this point in the season, Sullinger may be Boston’s best one-on-one post player.
Bass, on the other hand, utilizes just one effective low-post move, a right hand turnaround shot from the middle of the paint. Most of his offense comes from uncontested dunks on assists from Rondo or 15-foot jump shots on the perimeter. This style of play hurts the Celtics spacing and rebounding when Bass and Garnett are in the game at the same time, as neither man spends too much time under the basket. For a team near the bottom of the league in rebounding, this has to be a concern for Doc Rivers.
At 6’8, Bass does not have ideal size for a power forward, and has never been more than an average rebounder. Even last year, while playing over 31 minutes a game, Bass averaged just 6.2 boards per contest. This season, the trend has continued, and despite playing about 8 more minutes per game than Sullinger, the two essentially have the same rebounding numbers (5.2 per game for Bass, 5.4 for Sullinger). Bass doesn’t play lazy, but lacks the “my ball” attitude it takes to steal rebounds from taller opponents.
Sullinger, standing at 6’9, has a slight height advantage on Bass, but more importantly brings more intensity to defense and rebounding. His motor is high, and he seems to have a knack for being around the ball. Has it been perfect? Absolutely not. Sullinger has had a tough time adjusting to the quick-rigger whistle blowers known as NBA Referees and often finds himself in foul trouble. Nonetheless, he has shown a willingness to take charges despite his past health issues and plays with a spirited style that has become a Celtics trademark since the beginning of the KG era.
Now in his eighth NBA season, we have all seen what Brandon Bass is capable of at his best and worst. He is a streaky shooter who has limited court vision. He plays hard but will not inspire others. From all accounts, he is a good teammate. He is solid. He shows up.
But Jared Sullinger is in the embryonic stages of his NBA journey. He already has a nice inside repertoire and is developing a better mid range game. He could probably find a better playing weight, but is still learning the ins and outs of NBA play. He has talent, a good attitude, and is being mentored by an all time great power forward in Kevin Garnett. He was a first round pick and a top ten talent. The Celtics believe in him. With a sub .500 record and the possible realization a title run will not happen, it makes sense to set the kid loose; to let him learn.
Through almost half of an NBA season, it looks like Jared Sullinger’s ceiling is higher than Brandon Bass’s. His playing time might soon be, too.