The Boston Celtics have a few dozen important decisions to make this summer. Who they want as their long-term backup power forward isn’t the most important, but it’s one that needs to be made nonetheless.
Either Brandon Bass or Kris Humphries will not be a Boston Celtic next season. That isn’t so much a prediction as a statement based on reality. Humphries and Bass play the same position, have similar skills, will likely make similar money and are nearly the same age.
It’s clear Boston should move on from one. Who will it be?
Humphries Having A Fantastic Season
Let’s start with Humphries, who has a distinct disadvantage, being that his contract expires in a few months. Most Celtics spent the season either living up or down to expectations, but Humphries flew past his.
The $12 million journeyman—who doesn't make any sense on a rebuilding team—began the year out of Brad Stevens’ rotation. He’ll end it having played the third-most minutes of his career.
The 29-year-old is averaging 15.2 points and 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes, posting the highest PER of his career (18.2, which also leads the Celtics) and shooting over 50 percent from the floor.
That last note is incredible considering approximately 60 percent of all Humphries’ field-goal attempts are jump shots between 10 and 23 feet. He’s an ideal pick-and-pop partner beside a speedy, pass-first point guard like Rajon Rondo. What’s also incredible is Humphries’ willingness to play out of position. He’s a 6’9” center, banging up against players several inches taller and 20-30 pounds heavier every night.
On a team that severely lacks rim protection, Humphries damn near provides it consistently. He’s undersized but has fantastic timing and unseen athleticism until a soft layup is being smacked against the backboard. Humphries’ block percentage is the exact same as Joakim Noah’s (3.4 percent).
His labor defending the post is commendable albeit often hopeless, but he does a wonderful job executing Stevens’ pick-and-roll scheme—sagging back to the free-throw line and containing ball-handlers who’re much quicker and lower to the ground.
Humphries is strong, hustles incessantly and knows where he’s supposed to be. Those three things will generally make you a solid NBA defender, which he is.
All these nice things are being said, and we haven’t even reached Humphries' primary skill: He’s an unbelievable offensive rebounder. He grabbed 233 two years ago, fourth most in the entire league. All his rebounding rates this season are actually below his career average, but they’re still pretty freaking fantastic.
Look at the three pictures below. Humphries ended up with an offensive rebound in all of them.
One of the most consistent images you’ll see watching the Celtics this year is Humphries ripping a ball he has no business in getting from the grasp of an opponent. He battles for position and sacrifices his body.
Humphries also runs the floor. He’s shooting 71.8 percent in transition (ninth-most efficient player in the league here, per mySynergySports), and all in all is the type who can blend into any system and thrive. He’ll bruise you down low then sprint the court for two points off a simple rim run.
What’s negative? Some of these characteristics were formed in a vacuum, meaning, Humphries has played fantastic basketball this season, but it’s possible the motivation for a new deal spawned it. Whatever contract he signs this summer will be his last big one, and once it’s inked, who knows whether we’ll see a drop-off in play or motivation?
That's a cynical way to look at things, but it's possible. Very unlikely but possible.
More significant: Danny Ainge will swiftly cut ties with Humphries if another team offers him more than Bass’ deal. Humphries is marginally better than Bass, but given the relative insignificance a fourth option in the frontcourt is—especially on a team that has several holes to fill and would like its long-term cap sheet to be as clean as possible—it only makes sense in keeping whichever player is less expensive.
The Consistent and Versatile Bass
Bass will play for a $6.9 million expiring deal next season. He’s been a fixture in Boston’s frontcourt for the past three years, and his mid-range jumper makes the rim softer than a bed of roses.
Right now he’s shooting 54.1 percent from 10-16 feet and, much like Humphries, remains a classic pick-and-roll partner for Rondo. Aside from financial matters and his unabridged professionalism on and off the court, there isn’t much point in keeping Bass around next season. The expiring deal could do wonderful things at the trade deadline, but it’d be smarter to gauge his value sooner than later.
Humphries is a better rebounder, but Bass has improved his offensive game to the point where he's now more than a spot-up shooter. Over a quarter of his used possessions come from post-ups, where he's the 41st most efficient scorer in the league. Bass' first step is lightning, and he's done a fantastic job blowing by slower forwards for dunks at the rim or trips to the free-throw line.
Bass is also the more agile defender and can go out on the perimeter to check the likes of Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James for quick spells. But in the end, Humphries is the more versatile option on that end, though. He can play center and power forward, and he can serve as a major spark off the bench.
Who's The Ideal Choice?
Based on their comparative play this year, the Celtics should keep Humphries and move Bass, but that's a lot more difficult than it sounds. First, Ainge would need to find a trading partner who's willing to part ways with something of value in exchange for Bass and his expiring contract. Then he'd need to sign Humphries to a two- or three-year contract, paying him no more than half of what he made this season.
Humphries is unrestricted and perhaps holds more value to a team contending right now than one building itself up again. Ainge recently said as much on Boston's 98.5 The Sports Hub in a recent interview:
I have had a few conversations with Kris, because he’s been with us all year. He knows where we are as an organization and he knows we like him. He also knows there is a lot of uncertainty. But he knows we like him, his coaches and teammates like him, we just can’t make any promises yet.
It's a complicated decision, and several chips need to fall in place for Boston to keep Humphries instead of Bass. But Humphries is the better long-term option, and Ainge should at least explore all options before settling on what he already has.