Jerryd Bayless’s big chance

If you were to make a list of the most promising young guards in the NBA, chances new Memphis Grizzly Jerryd Bayless isn’t on it. Perhaps because he will be playing for his fourth NBA team as he enters his fifth season, Bayless feels more like an irrelevant NBA nomad than a talented prospect.

Nonetheless, the Arizona product makes a rather impressive list with his productive play last year. Bayless was one of only 12 guards still shy of their 24th birthday to post a PER above 17. While general evaluation stats like PER are less than perfect, they do still create a reasonable baseline for assessing production. Despite being a castoff from Toronto, there’s Bayless alongside Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the top young  guards in the NBA.

But while NBA franchises are building their futures around the other players on that list, Bayless landing on the Memphis roster drew a collective yawn from the basketball community.

Perhaps the indifference can be attributed to the inefficient manner in which Bayless often plays. Stats tell us that the most efficient scorers either finish at the rim, get to the free throw line and/or make a high a percentage of their 3-point attempts. Before last season, Bayless was hardly great at any of those things.

A promising development

But during the lockout shortened season, Bayless reversed career-long trends by shooting a scintillating 42 percent shooting from 3. While it is unlikely that he ever tops the 40 percent mark again, there is still plenty of hope for Bayless to become a consistent threat from beyond the arc. On top of shooting an impressive 82 percent from the free line for his career (a number that translates well to future 3-pt success), Bayless has no glaring mechanical flaws in his jumper.

With improved shot selection, it isn’t unreasonable to project Bayless spending the majority of his career shooting in the mid-to-high 30s from that range. Couple the fact he gets to the line at the same rate of as Tony Parker and it’s safe to assume that Bayless will spend plenty of time at the charity stripe as well.

Too many long 2′s

That doesn’t mean Bayless is a star just waiting to go super nova. The problems start with how Bayless  attacks the hoop. According to HoopData.com, Bayless , compared to other guards, was a slightly below average finisher near the basket. But perhaps what stands out most is how rarely he attempted those prime shots: His 2.9 attempts per 40 minutes pales in comparison to the elite guards in the league.

Bayless was known for his driving prowess entering the league, and while he does possess a quick first step, he lacks the explosiveness to create that crucial separation from his defenders en route to the basket. Once he puts his defender on his hip, Bayless settles for too many shots outside of the paint or wild speed finishes off one foot. This not only contributes to the below average field goal percentage, but the shockingly low number of attempts at the rim.

All hope is not lost, as there are things Bayless can do to correct this problem. Despite a fairly slight build (6’3”, 200lbs), Bayless could learn to take on the traits of a power guard in the mold of say, Kyle Lowry. He has already shown the ability to make clever use of his body on finishes near the rim, so furthering developing this nuance while putting a greater emphasis on power finishes off two feet will greatly improve his results around the basket.

No matter how much he improves his finishing, Bayless’ biggest priority is to avoid the temptation to use any space he creates to settle for the most inefficient shot in basketball – the long 2. Bayless attempted 5.6 of those shots per 40 minutes last year. Only 32 other players in the entire league shotlong 2s more frequently.

What kind of player does Bayless think he is?

The issue might be one of mentality, not technique.

The long 2 is the shot shared both by the superstar and high-volume, inefficient scorer. Superstars are destined to have that shot in their arsenal due to the heavy burden forced upon them. Whether it’s a called isolation or unavoidable heave after a poorly executed possession, star players will always be prone to taking a more of these shots.

A number of good but not great offensive players are held back by their inability to swap these shots for more efficient looks. This can happen for a variety of reasons. For players like Josh Smith, there’s an frustrating willingness to chuck the kind of shot that doesn’t guarantees them the most success. Monta Ellis, though, might best embody the mentality Bayless must avoid. Ellis plays as if it in his DNA to play the part of a star and his shot selection reflects as much.

Any other improvements Bayless makes won’t have the desired impact if he doesn’t learn to navigate this very fine line.

For those with the skill set of Dirk Nowitzki or Kobe Bryant, long 2s are acceptable and often required. Too many from a non-star and he becomes Nick Young. To have a real chance to take his production to a higher level, Bayless must not only reevaluate when and how often he utilizes the long 2, but who he needs to become in order to be an efficient player. A failure to recognize this reality likely dooms him to mediocrity.

Simply put, to move closer to being a star, Jerryd Bayless needs to realize he can’t afford to play like one.

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  1. [...] Brett Koremenos at Hoopspeak with good stuff on how Jerryd Bayless can meet his potential. I especially enjoyed the comparison with Kyle Lowry, in terms of finishing shots near the [...]

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