Like last year -- in the preseason and throughout the season -- the biggest question entering the regular season is who will back up Rashard Lewis at power forward. Both Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson competed for the job last year. And now both Bass and Anderson are going after the job again this year.
Anderson famously (and frustratingly to some) won out last year and backed up Rashard Lewis as Stan Van Gundy opted to maintain a lineup with a stretch 4. Bass struggled to get on the floor once Lewis came back from his 10-game suspension. Aside from a stretch in February and March where Bass played behind Lewis, Bass languished on the bench. He has asked for a trade if the team does not find a bigger role for him. And to Bass' credit, he appears to have continued working hard.
This year though seems to be different.
Bass, always active and energetic when he is on the floor, has put in a very impressive preseason this year (much like he did last year). But, unlike last year, Stan Van Gundy is making no secret that Bass will see playing time. In fact, both he and Anderson will get playing time.
“They’re both gonna play. It may be different minutes on different nights. But right now, in my mind, I’m playing ‘em both. They’re both playing too well,” he told The Orlando Sentinel. Brian Schmitz of The Orlando Sentinel is on the boat that believes Van Gundy is running some interference.
However if Van Gundy can find a way to effectively use both of them, then the Magic will be a much better team.
Bass is averaging 12.6 points per game and 7.4 rebounds per game in a little more than 23 minutes per game this preseason. Bass has displayed a better understanding of both the offense and the defense. More often then not he has been in good position on defensive rotations. He has done a very good job especially at rotating to guard Dwight Howard's man when Howard leaves him to protect the rim or play help side defense. This seems to be the biggest improvement Bass has made.
With Van Gundy experimenting with Lewis at the 3, Bass' play becomes even more important. Bass has helped bolster Orlando's rebounding while he is in and added another big body inside. If Bass can continue to improve his defense, the Magic will be very tough to crack with him.
But do not think Anderson has not earned his playing time either. Anderson is also averaging 12.6 points per game in similar minutes to Bass. His 3-point shooting is obviously very valuable in this offense. Anderson is also a better post player than people give him credit for and he has improved his rebounding.
It does not seem Orlando can lose. But Van Gundy will have to find a way to keep both in rhythm -- especially Anderson. It is tougher for a shooter to stay in rhythm then a guy like Bass who is a scrapper and energy guy around the basket. After Bass' stint in the lineup, Anderson had some big games -- he scored 19 in his first game back in the rotation against Minnesota -- but also some bad ones.
Anderson is more liable to have a big game. But he is also more liable to be very quiet on offense, where he has his most value.
Bass, in that sense, could possibly bring more to the table as a guy who can get to the rim, make mid-range jumpers and help out on the boards -- especially the offensive glass where Orlando is notably weak partly because of coaching strategy, but also partly because of the team's lack of size inside.
There are plenty of people who believe Van Gundy is more or less auditioning Bass for potential trades. That might be true. But I do not find it likely. Everyone on the Magic knows something had to be adjusted to match up with some of the bigger front lines. And in that sense Bass is an asset that should be used.
How he is used will most likely depend on matchups and Bass' continued improvement. It will be more interesting to see how Van Gundy splits the minutes and gets his best lineup on the floor.