In A Season Of Insults, Losing Top Shooter Ranks High For Boston Celtics

 In A Season Of Insults, Losing Top Shooter Ranks High For Boston Celtics

The scout is reading from his notes, taken 14 months ago, from what might have been the highlight of Desmond Bane’s four-year college career at TCU. It was a game against Baylor, then ranked No. 2 in the nation with a 25-2 record. The Horned Frogs racked up an 18-1 second-half run to stun the Bears, and Bane had 19 of his 23 points in the second half, shooting 9-for-18 from the field and 5-for-8 from the 3-point line.

It was, arguably, the biggest regular-season win in TCU history, and students streamed onto the court when the victory was sealed. For a brief moment, remember, Bane was a Boston Celtics draftee. He was never really a Celtic, but looking back on all that has gone wrong for Boston this year, the draft-and-trade of Bane is an underrated flop on the team’s part.

“That was just a fun game, fun atmosphere, Desmond got hot and it was a great comeback, a great win,” the scout told me. “But I had been there just a few days before that when they had another big win against West Virginia. And that is the game that stood out to me because Bane was terrible, couldn’t hit anything (he shot 3-for-15 from the field). But he was just so engaged, on both ends. Some guys struggle to shoot and they get frustrated and ease up on defense. He defended harder. He found ways to make plays for other guys (Bane had 10 assists vs. the Mountaineers). It is fun to watch a guy when everything is going well but you learn more when things are going bad.”

Summing up Bane that week, the scout wrote, “A-plus shooter. Better than 3-and-D guy.”

Bane was sent off to Memphis in a three-team trade that saw the Celtics get back second-rounders in 2023 and 25 and, more important, allowed Boston to offload the $4.7 million contract of Enes Kanter to Portland. He was chosen with the 30th pick, despite being regarded as the best shooter in the draft and a solid defensive player. In four college seasons, Bane averaged 12.7 points and made 43.3% of his 3-pointers.

Now, even with a hiccup of a slump during the Grizzlies’ seven-game road trip (2-for-7 from the field in his last three games, including 0-for-3 from the 3-point line), Bane has proven himself as a worthy presence in a playoff rotation. He has averaged 9.1 points in 22.0 minutes, making 45.5% of his 3-pointers. That ranks seventh in the NBA, and would look pretty good coming off a Celtics bench that needed shooting depth all season.

Bane is also an outstanding catch-and-shoot perimeter player, making 47.8% of his 3s, according to NBA stats, in C-&-S situations. That ranks 11th in the NBA, and could have added a nice dimension to a Celtics offense that is decidedly limited when it comes to catch-and-shoot opportunities. Boston does not create enough of those kinds of shots, but maybe with a producer like Bane on hand, the Celtics would make it more of a priority.

It is true that the trade of Bane did serve a purpose beyond bringing in future second-rounders—the Celtics had to clear out Kanter’s salary to create room for a full midlevel deal. But they used that midlevel to sign Tristan Thompson, another big guy to replace Kanter. Of course, Kanter had been brought in to replace Aron Baynes, who was dealt to Phoenix in 2019 … along with a first-rounder because the Celtics wanted to get out of his salary.

The Celtics, then, used the pick to twice rid themselves of moderately successful big men, only to sign another moderately successful big man, Thompson. They’ve also spent much of 2020-21 searching for useful players and had to use the team’s coveted trade exception to bring in wing Evan Fournier from Orlando at the trade deadline. Meanwhile, in Memphis, Bane has grown into a surefire rotation player—not quite as good as Fournier, but not far off.

This has been a season packed with a multitude of insults for the Celtics, from the loss of Gordon Hayward in free agency, through the health issues that torpedoed the team and into the team’s most recent flop, a loss to the Thunder, who had been on a 14-game losing streak.

In all of that, though, don’t forget that Boston gave away one of the best shooters in the league on draft night.