By Aggrey Sam

“I would definitely play for free,” says Brandon Bass. “Why not? I work on my game for free.”

It’s no surprise the fourth-year player has that mentality. A second-round pick by the Hornets after going pro as an LSU sophomore back in 2005, Bass received scant playing time in his two-year stint in Oklahoma City. But after a breakout season that saw him average 8.3 ppg and 4.4 rpg in under 20 minutes a night—numbers that rose to 11.6 and 6.8 in the playoffs, playing pro bono won’t be an option.

“I never really had the opportunity to play until this year,” he says. “I feel like I kinda lost a step with the Hornets. It put me in a place where I wasn’t doing anything.”

Despite the lack of tick, Bass continued to hone his game and bided his time until he was picked up by the Mavs as a free agent last summer.

“From Day 1, Coach (Johnson) believed in me,” says Bass. When I was with the Hornets, we played Dallas and even though it was garbage time, I played hard. He came over to me after the game and told me he liked how hard I played and that it would pay off.”

“So when I came to Dallas, he already knew how hard I worked,” he continues. “But he didn’t know what I could do.”

What Bass can do is a variety of things. A chiseled, 6-8, 240-pound power forward, the Baton Rouge native (I caught up with him in his home state, as he met me at a kids’ rec-league game in New Orleans) is a banger, a live body in the paint who isn’t afraid to get physical or use his athleticism to block shots or throw down on the opposition. What makes him effective, however, is his versatility. Able to take slow-footed big men off the dribble, run the floor in transition and hit open 15-footers, Bass forced teams to game plan for him, as his consistent and efficient performances became more of a regular occurrence and less of a surprise.

Being in New Orleans, I witnessed Dallas’ first-round playoff demise to the Hornets firsthand. While there wasn’t a lot of positives in that series from a Mavs’ perspective, the one thing I think Dallas (where I happen to be right now; more on that soon) fans can take heart in is that the veteran squad has a young player who is a future force to be reckoned with.

At times, he even looked like the team’s go-to guy, as departed coach Avery Johnson called isos for him in crucial moments like he was a seasoned vet, instead of a guy who should have been an NBA rookie (both literally and figuratively–last year would have been his first year out of college if he played out his eligibility at LSU; it was also his first season receiving any consistent burn).

Now, with Johnson gone and another disappointing postseason exit diminishing expectations in Dallas, Bass is now an integral part of keeping the Mavericks relevant in the ever-competitive Western Conference under new head coach Rick Carlisle.

“I think Dallas needs to be that way [a sleeper]. This same team went to the Finals, and that was without me or Kidd,” he says. “Coach Carlisle is known for having physical teams and I’ve been playing physical my whole life. I’ve been putting a lot of work in this summer, working on my knowledge of the game, watching a lot of film.”

“Look at our roster,” Bass continues. “We have three or four players capable of being All-Stars.”

“Two (Dirk and Kidd) have been All-Stars for years, Josh was an All-Star and…,” he pauses. “Then, we have a rising star.”