The Celtics frontcourt took a bit of a hit Thursday night in Portland when Kelly Olynyk went down with a sprained right ankle. The second-year big man is back in Boston now undergoing tests on the injury, but Brad Stevens told reporters in Denver on Friday night that Olynyk will likely be sidelined until at least the All-Star break next month.
On the surface, the situation would appear to be a bad break for the Celtics. Olynyk has been a reliable scorer of the bench for Stevens, and had been seeing regular minutes every night.
Playing time for the 23-year old has come at the expense of other members of the Celtics roster this season though, particularly Brandon Bass. The veteran power forward had been averaging just 19.4 minutes per game in 2014-15, the lowest mark in his four years as a Celtic.
The steady play of youngsters like Olynyk, as well as Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller, has made it tough for Stevens to justify giving the 29-year old Bass more playing time. Bass is in the final year of his contract, earning $6.9 million, and has reportedly been available via trade dating back to last summer.
To this point, Danny Ainge has not received a deal enticing enough to give up the versatile forward, but it’s likely been hard for him to demand much value for a guy who doesn’t see the floor for more than 20 minutes a night on a rebuilding team.
The good news for Ainge is that reality has changed for Bass in the last couple days. Olynyk’s latest injury has provided the Celtics and Bass with a valuable opportunity that will continue in the coming weeks: A chance for Bass to showcase his ability.
The process started Thursday night when Stevens inserted Bass into the starting lineup in place of Zeller. The 6-foot-8 inch forward responded with his first double-double of the season (13 points, 10 rebounds) and a career-high five assists in hard fought win over the Blazers. The solid play continued Friday night in Denver with Bass posting 17 points, nine rebounds and another five assists.
Bass also had two of his highest minute totals of the season (35, 31) in those two contests, an opportunity that surely would not have been available to him if Olynyk were available. Instead, since Shavlik Randolph is now one of the team’s four healthy bigs, Stevens has opted to go with three big men over the past couple games and it has paid dividends for the team in the form of two straight wins.
Overall, Bass has scored in double figures in seven of his last eight games, and his stock is being watched closely by contenders in both conferences looking for a bench boost. Franchises have been hesitant to hand over more than a second-round pick or two for the services of the veteran forward, but if he continues to shine with more playing time, there is a better chance that some GM will be willing to match Ainge’s asking price.
Whatever happens, Bass deserves to be playing in the postseason this spring. If he continues to play like this, the odds of it happening improve, which would be a win for both Bass and the C’s.