Key Clipper Facts:
· Signed with the Clippers on a 1 year, veteran minimum deal on July 19, 2016
· Played in 52 games, starting none, and averaged 11.1 minutes per game—total of 577 minutes, lowest in seven seasons
· Appeared in one playoff game for four minutes
· Regular season averages of: 5.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.3 steals, and 0.2 blocks per game
· Shot 57.5% from the field, 33.3% from 3 (on three attempts), and 87.5% from the free throw line (1.7 attempts per game)
· Still a free agent
Clippers’ fans (including myself), loved the Bass signing when it happened last July. For an established veteran role player he was quite cheap, especially considering he was only 30 years old. Nobody believed he would revolutionize the team, but we all thought he was a player who could consistently give the Clippers 10-15 minutes of solid-enough play a game. He would be a safeguard against the newly drafted Brice Johnson and Diamond Stone not being ready for NBA rotation minutes, and a candidate for the third big man role along with Mo Speights. While these expectations weren’t high, Bass was definitely supposed to have a real part to play in the Clippers’ 2016-2017 season.
Instead, what we got was a perfectly fine season for a 10th or 11th man on a roster. Bass played just under 600 minutes, was reasonably competent in them, and allowed younger guys like Stone and Johnson to develop in the D-League. There were stretches of the season where he didn’t play, and overall his minutes per game were his lowest in a decade. This is interesting, because his per-36 minute statistics were actually the best of his career. The question is whether he deserved to play more due to those impressive stats, or whether the adjusted stats were so high because he played so little.
It’s honestly impossible to know. Bass had an oddly effective run in the middle of the season when he got the bulk of his minutes (Blake Griffin being out), and it was a bit surprising he didn’t play more the rest of the way. Paul Pierce played nearly 300 minutes as a small-ball power forward, and it’s hard to argue that those minutes shouldn’t have gone to either Bass or Wesley Johnson. Just based on sheer production, it’s reasonable to think a lot of Wes’ minutes should have gone to Bass as well. He was a more efficient scorer than either Wes or Pierce (by far), and a better rebounder than Pierce. Being a true big man, Bass was also more of a deterrent around the basket on defense, though too small to be a true rim protector.
Why Bass had the season he did:
The issue with Bass, as I noted in my end-of-season review on him, is not that he’s a bad player. It’s that there isn’t much room in the NBA anymore for players like him. Big men who don’t stretch the floor, protect the rim, or have an all-around strong game are fading away. And Bass is one of those “archaic” big men. Yes, he’s energetic (and still quite athletic). Yes, he generally knows where to be on both ends of the floor, and isn’t a true liability anywhere (except maybe defending out on the perimeter). That’s just not enough now. While Pierce is certainly a worse overall player than Bass (and Wes probably is too), both of them do things that Bass can’t. Wes can defend multiple positions, and theoretically stretches the floor more than Bass. Pierce was respected from three-point range even in his dotage, and Doc believed that spacing was more important than Bass’ overall stronger game.
Similarly, Mo Speights is a far worse defensive player than Bass. However, he can shoot threes. And that singular ability won him the third big man spot in the Clippers’ rotation. So while Bass might be disappointed in how his season with the Clippers turned out, and it’s easy to empathize with him, it’s also easy to see why his role never really developed beyond the 10th man stage.
While Bass and the Clippers didn’t exactly have a bad breakup, it was clearly unlikely that he would return by the end of the season. He didn’t have the kind of role he wanted, and the Clippers didn’t really regard him as particularly necessary to their plans going forward. Up until the signing of Willie Reed as the second veteran reserve big man (along with Montrezl Harrell), there was at least a slim possibility that Bass would return, but that is now gone. Clippers’ fans probably would have been ok with him coming back to a similar role as last year, but it’s hard to argue that Harrell and Reed aren’t better and younger options at this point.
Three years from now, most Clippers’ fans probably won’t remember Bass much outside of his being on the team. He never started, played a meagre four minutes in the playoffs, and generally didn’t stand out on or off the court. I will recall his surprising turn of effectiveness for a few weeks in December and January, when it seemed like every time he checked into a game he would have at least one or two thunderous dunks. But more than that, Bass is a symbol, however minor, of the Clippers’ failures during the Chris Paul era to acquire meaningful role players. The Clippers consistently picked up veterans instead of developing youth, and it proved to their detriment. Those veterans ranged from putrid (Jordan Farmar) to solid (Bass himself) to stellar (Luc Mbah a Moute), but none of them stayed very long, and they weren’t good enough to make a lasting impact. Brandon Bass as a Clipper was perfectly fine. In an era when the Clippers were striving for greatness, that wasn’t enough.