Friday, December 9, 2011

A Tale of Two Twin Power Forwards: Brandon Bass for Big Baby

In a surprising move, Boston and Orlando decided to swap undersized big men: Brandon Bass for Glen “Big Baby” Davis. At first glance, the casual fan won’t see the point because the players feel so similar, but on deeper analysis the Celtics got to upgrade their power forward with a better version of himself.

Whenever a team gets the media spotlight and deep playoff runs, the role players on that team often receive more credit than they deserve. Posey leveraged a few open three pointers and decent defense into a long-term deal with the Hornets. Fisher gets minutes and praise on a good Laker team whether or not he’s playing well. Sasha Vujacic got one of the best modern basketball nicknames, “The Machine.”

Big Baby is undersized vertically, not horizontally, and with is lack of jumping ability he cannot block shots or even rebound, while his charges make up for his lack of lift. Bass, however, has similar problems, as his rebounding are nearly identical (rebounding rate around 11 to 12 each season) but he does not take charges at a prolific rate with his decent ability to block shots evening the balance (he almost blocked twice as many shots as Davis in less minutes per game.) Davis’ reputation is probably better than his defense, but he can be a competent defender at the 4-spot. It’s hard to rate him with plus/minus because he’s been backing up one of the best defenders in the league in Garnett. Bass is a decidedly worse defender, but has worked enough to become competent. Hardly a compliment, but he’s not a liability in most match-ups. But this trade wasn’t made for Davis’ defense.

Orlando has also coveted power forwards who can shoot well from distance. Glen Davis has the reputation of being a good spot-up shooter and some commentators are enamored with him for being a center who can hit a jump shot, even though he’s terrible as a center defensively and does not have good numbers from outside the basket. Last season he was at 35.5% from 16 to 23 feet (not a fluke as the previous one it was 33.0%) and a field goal percentage of 44.8% overall. His shooting will not likely improve as he’s been at 50 TS% for three straight seasons. If you say the long jumper is not his forte, then why did he take 4.6 shots from 16 to 23 feet? What is his strength offensively? His percentages near the rim have always been average or below average with a low mark last season of 51.8%.

Brandon Bass, by contrast, is one of the best midrange shooters in the league. Last season he took 3.3 shots from 16 to 23 feet and hit 47% with only six players at a better percentage with more attempts. In fact, out of the last four seasons his worst mark from both 10 to 15 feet and 16 to 23 is 43% last year from the longer distance. Davis’ best was 43.7% from the shorter distance, and it was only for 1.1 attempts a game. Even at the rim Bass has the advantage despite being smaller, and his true-shooting percentage, which takes into account free throws and three pointers, has been in the upper 50’s the past four years, an accomplishment Davis has yet to achieve for a full season.

In other tangible factors, Davis has the advantage in age by only a year, but his extra forty pounds and always hovering around 300 pounds does not bode well for the future. Bass has a good contract with four million this year and a player option for another four next year, which he’ll likely drop for a new contract. If he does well, Boston can retain his services at a time when Garnett and Ray Allen come off large deals. Glen Davis’ new deal (it’s a sign and trade) has not been announced, but it shouldn’t be for too much more than Bass, and it’s unclear to see how this helps them in a Howard trade.

Let’s review: similar players, nearly the same age, who play the same position. If you say Orlando did the trade for Davis’ offense, you are, without a doubt, completely wrong in a way that’s rare in NBA analysis: Bass’ shooting has been consistently excellent, and Davis’ consistently poor to almost terrible. Davis has few other offensive skills to make up the divide, as he’s not a great passer or post player, and only his small turnover rate last season an advantage (though possibly a fluke if you look at this career.) If you say Orlando did the trade because Davis is better in other areas, well, where are they? Is Davis’ defense that great that it trumps the shooting? Can anyone argue that because with box score and advanced statistics and even scouting there is no evidence? Since they are roughly the same age and Davis is the one with an injury and obesity history, I’d argue that there is no conclusive way to prove it was a worthy trade for Orlando. It’s almost as though Davis is viewed as a good player because he plays for a good team, but even the best teams have scrubs on the bench.

When you trade such similar players, you hope you’re the one duping the other team, as it’s clearly not a trade for need. I can understand why Howard wants to leave because his organization is failing to provide him with a real team and instead has traded one of their few good players for one who seems like a fringe rotation player.

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