ANOTHER SEASON HAS BROUGHT ANOTHER CHAPTER IN JERRYD BAYLESS’ JOURNEY IN THE NBA. While helping the Memphis Grizzlies in 2012-13 to their best finish in franchise history, he ratified his role as a lethal and versatile combo guard. Now, JB is employing those skills and his six years of experience in the rebuilding efforts for the Boston Celtics.
Able to play more consistently than at any other time in his young career, Jerryd emerged as an integral part of Memphis’ run to the 2013 Western Conference Finals. But a midseason trade in January 2014 sent him east to Boston, where the C’s are amid a reconstruction phase.
In Beantown, JB has already used his wide range of skills, scoring and facilitating as a sixth-man and part-time starter in Boston’s skilled backcourt. While playing alongside Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley, Jerryd helps to catalyze the Celtics’ offense.
With a bright young head coach in Brad Stevens and JB contributing to an energetic backcourt, Boston has a bright future ahead.
SON OF ARIZONA
Born on August 20, 1988, in Phoenix, Arizona, to Denise Bowman and Brad Bayless, Jerryd provided ample evidence of his athletic ability at an early age, winning the 100m in the 9/10 year-old Junior Olympics. But it was on the basketball court that Jerryd showed his greatest gifts, often playing with his brother, Justin, who was four years his senior.
As Justin told the Tuscon Citizen in 2008:
“He never backed down to anything,” Justin said. “He played with us every single day, and he played like it was the last game of his life…Everybody always had Jerryd’s back, even though we always beat up on him. Everybody knew this kid was advanced.”
By his high school years, he was widely regarded as the best basketball player in his home state. At St. Mary’s High School, were he was preceded by Arizona and NBA player Channing Frye, Jerryd tallied 33.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 2.0 steals per game his senior season en route to a state tournament runner-up finish. He also collected virtually every available award: A four-time first-team all-state selection; a McDonald’s, Nike Brand, Parade and EA Sports All-American; winner of the Arizona Republic “Big School” (4A-5A) Player of the Year; Gatorade state player of the year (junior and season years); and a member of both the USA Basketball Junior National Select and U-18 National teams.
His high school coach, Dave Lopez, gave this assessment of his star player.
“He has that extra edge most athletes don’t have,” he said. “A competitive desire to be the best. Nothing else mattered to him. He’d always ask, ‘Am I better, and what do I have to do to get better?'”
One of the most recruited players in the nation, Jerry ultimately decided to stay in the state where he grew up, opting to play for the Arizona Wildcats.
SEASON OF THE WILDCAT
In his only season at the University of Arizona, Jerryd transformed from heralded freshman to team leader and NBA lottery pick by the year’s end. The top freshman scorer in Arizona history (592 points) and the Wildcats’ first All-American since 2005, Jerryd put his explosive talents on display.
He ended the year with averages of 19.7 points (team-high, third in Pac-10), 2.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists (sixth in Pac-10), while shooting 45.8% from the field, 40.7% from long distance and 83.9% from the free throw line (team-high, fourth in Pac-10).
His fiercely competitive nature was also on display, according to then-interim coach Kevin O’Neill.
“He’s as tough a competitor and as hard-nosed a guy as I’ve ever been around,” he said. “He’s competing all the time.”
Shortly after the conclusion of the season, with hoops prognosticators unequivocally declaring him a potential lottery pick, Jerryd decided to enter the NBA Draft.
On June 26, 2008, Jerryd was selected with the 11th overall pick of the NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers, but would never play a game for the team that drafted him. Roughly two weeks later, Jerryd was acquired by the Portland Trailblazers along with Ike Diogu for Jarrett Jack, Josh McRoberts, the draft rights to Brandon Rush and cash considerations.
Not long after, Indiana got a strong sense of what they had given up, and what Portland had gained.
Making his debut in the NBA Summer League, Jerryd was sensational, so much so that after his first three contests, NBA.com’s David McMenamin dedicated an entire column to him. He wrote:
There are a plethora of numbers that jump off the page when you look at Portland rookie guard Jerryd Bayless’ stat page through his first three games at the Las Vegas Summer League.
First you see his 27.7 points per game average. That’s damn near 30 a game from a kid who doesn’t even turn 20-years old for another month.
Next your eyes will fix upon his 5.3 boards per game (you’re trained to read points-rebounds-assists in that order, anyway) and you’ll think, “Not too bad for a 6-3 guy.”
With a little bit of digging you’ll get to the money stat … The one that’s truly special … The one that makes you believe the player could be truly special: Bayless is 44-for-55 (.800) from the free throw line in three games.
To put that in perspective, he’s averaging more points just from the foul line – 14.7 – than last year’s No. 8 pick, Brandan Wright, is averaging overall – 14.3.
Unsurprisingly, Jerryd was eventually named the summer league’s MVP, capping off the final game of his first professional run with a 17-point fourth-quarter and the game-winning jumper against Phoenix in a 74-73 win.
The future looked bright. When he arrived in Portland, however, Jerryd found himself on a team crowded with point guards, and little opportunity to get onto the floor. Through his first two seasons, he averaged a mere 15 minutes a game with only 11 starts.
Nonetheless, when injuries to starters afforded Jerryd the chance to play, he showed what he was capable of. As Michael Schwartz wrote on the Valley of the Suns blog prior to Portland’s 2010 first-round playoff series against Phoenix:
“The Suns know firsthand what Bayless can do because the UA product scored a then-career-high 29 points in a December win over Phoenix. Jerryd was especially clutch in the fourth, combining with Roy for 29 of Portland’s 35 in the quarter, dicing the Suns with a variety of jumpers and forays to the rim.”
Prior to the start of the 2010-11 season, to the surprise of many observers, Portland traded Jerryd to the New Orleans Hornets. Jerryd eagerly anticipated backing up Chris Paul, who he had known since high school, but after only 11 games, he was dealt to the Toronto Raptors (again, by coincidence, for Jarrett Jack, among others).
In his first season in Toronto, Jerryd got the most playing time of his career to date, and as was the case in Portland, turned in some electrifying performances. Playing against the Detroit Pistons on Dec. 11, 2011, Jerryd and the Raptors found themselves trailing by 25 points midway through the third quarter. But keyed by Jerryd’s career-high 31 points, Toronto stormed back; he scored all 10 of Raptors’ points in the final minute as they surged to a 120-116 victory.
It was in games like these that Jerryd’s ability to score rapidly and under game-determining pressure — what are becoming two of his defining qualities — first emerged at the NBA level.
Though an injury cut short Jerryd’s 2011-12 season, it ended with an incredible run that showed precisely what he would be capable of in a consistent role. With free agency looming, The Score noted that Toronto had a potentially valuable asset on its hands.
When he was healthy this season, I thought [Bayless] was very good. In the short stretch of games where he started at the point, he was excellent (21.8 points on 54 per cent shooting, 57 per cent from deep, 7.6 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 steals), leading some of us to wonder whether he should be given more of an opportunity down the stretch of what is supposed to be a season of development.
In the summer of 2012, Jerryd signed a two-year deal to join the Memphis Grizzlies. It was an exciting change for Jerryd, who found himself moving from one the youngest teams in the league to a playoff contender. It was noted with equal enthusiasm in the Memphis Commerical Appeal.
In Bayless, the Griz believe they have an athletic and attacking player who can score and facilitate on offense.
Bayless is described by NBA coaches as someone who comes with great work ethic, is a student of the game and is a class act off the court. His immediate role will be to spell starting point guard Mike Conley and manufacture points in a variety of ways.
Bayless is an improved three-point shooter. He’s also proficient at dribble drives to the basket and getting to the free-throw line. Bayless is a career 82-percent shooter from the foul line. NBA scouts also consider Bayless an underrated defender because of his toughness and tenacity.
As was the case in his other NBA stops, Jerryd initially found himself behind a backlog of starters, unable to find time in the Memphis rotation.
That would change in late January of 2013.
Memphis traded Rudy Gay, and as the New York Times detailed, Jerryd gradually emerged as integral part of the Grizzlies.
One player who has significantly picked up his level of play since the departure of Gay is Jerryd Bayless. Before the trade, Bayless averaged 18.9 minutes per game with an effective field goal percentage of .450 on 5.5 field goal attempts per game. After the trade, though, Bayless’s minutes increased to an average of 25.9 per game, and he improved his effective field goal percentage to .492 while almost doubling his field goal attempts to 10.6 per game.
In addition, Bayless reduced his turnover rate, from 19.8 turnovers per 100 plays before the deal to 11.8 turnovers per 100 plays after the deal. His ability to increase his shooting efficiency and decrease his turnover rate while simultaneously increasing his usage has paid huge dividends on the offensive end for Memphis.
By the time that Memphis had reached the postseason, Jerryd’s value had made itself abundantly clear. Writing for 3 Shades of Blue, ESPN’s Grizzlies blog, Steve Danziger was unhesitating in his praise of Jerryd’s play at both ends of the floor, and especially careful to point out his impact on defense.
A glance over at his 82games.com profile highlights that his metrics fare much better when he plays the two-guard over the point, as do those of the Grizzlies. For instance, individually speaking, his effective field goal percentage jumps from 46.4% to 52.9%. From the team’s perspective, the net differential per 48 minutes swings from a -4.2 with Bayless at the point to +6.3 when he’s out there in the company of another point.
It’s also nice having him out there next to Conley because he’s competent enough to bring the ball up, which allows Mike to work off the ball, some. Freeing up Conley to play off the ball a bit not only takes some pressure off his back, but also provides some much needed diversification for the Grizzlies’ offensive attack with his shooting ability.
All of my rambling about Bayless has been about his offensive production, but I would be remiss if I closed this out without mention of what he brings to the table on the other end of the court. The switch to a more shooting guard-heavy assignment has surprisingly rendered him more effective on the defensive end of the floor, from a numbers standpoint. You would think Bayless, a “little guy” by to NBA standards, to be a liability when matched up against bigger players, but man is he a bulldog. The story of this can be put on display by his opponent PER ratings. Per 82games, opposing point guards post a PER of 16.8 when matched up with Bayless, but shooting guards are held to a meager 9.6. The only drawback to his defensive approach is that he tends to foul off the ball more than you would like, but his physical style of defense allows him to compensate for the lack of vertical size, and the contact is a drain on his matchup.
To sum it up, he has arguably been playing the best ball of his career lately. It’s certainly the best we’ve seen of him in a Grizzlies uniform, and he has got to be feeling good about it. Right on time for the Grizzlies’ playoff push, he has settled into a role that is a simultaneous fit for him as well as the needs of the team.
Jerryd would continue to thrive in the postseason, contributing his characteristic effort and energy as Memphis — written off after the Gay trade — knocked off both the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder, both regarded as potential Finals contenders. Though the Grizzlies would be swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, it was the end of a remarkable run.
Jerryd was grateful to be a part of it.
“Memphis fan support is second to none,” he said. “It was a great experience being in Memphis, learning the city and being a part of the Grizzlies…it was a blessing just to get to the Western Conference Finals. Hopefully we’re able to do that again.”
NEW ROOTS IN BEANTOWN
JB picked up in the 2013-14 season right where he left off from Memphis’ run to the Western Conference Finals. He reached double-digit points 13 times in 31 games, including 22 in a victory over the Celtics team he now plays for.
But Memphis as a team struggled to a 15-18 record and decided to shuffle the deck.
On January 5, the Grizzlies sent JB to Boston as part of a three-team deal that brought Courtney Lee to Memphis. In anticipation of joining his sixth NBA team, one smack in the middle of a rebuilding process under a new coach, Bayless’ outlook was positive.
“I’m excited. It’s a different opportunity, a young team and I’m trying to help,” Jerryd said. “Coach Stevens is a wonderful young coach in this league. I look forward to going out and playing for him, and being part of this organization. It’s one of the most storied franchises in all of sports. I’m looking forward to getting out there and representing it well.”
Meanwhile, the C’s were happy to add a player who had torched them of late. In his last three games against Boston, Jerryd averaged 22 points on 56.1 percent shooting.
JB got off to a hot start in his new threads, though it came more as a distributor than a scorer. He dished 24 assists in his first six games playing in a completely new system, a testament to his versatility and willingness to adapt to his surroundings.
“I’ve played the one [point guard], I’ve played the two [shooting guard], I’ve been kind of the scoring niche off the bench and I have bounced around a lot,” Jerryd said. “I am looking for a home where I can just settle in. I don’t think it’s a negative, because every time you bounce around, somebody else wants you. That’s the way I try to look at it. Here, hopefully this can be one of my last stops. I’ll try to make the best of this situation.”
The success continued as Jerryd scored in double figures in 10 of his 20 games as a reserve. And when Avery Bradley went down with an ankle injury, JB slid seamlessly into the starting lineup.
He kicked off a 10-game stretch as the starter alongside Rajon Rondo by pouring in a season-high 29 points as Boston beat the Atlanta Hawks 115-104. The win ended Boston’s five-game losing streak.
Though Bradley’s return sent Jerryd back to the bench, his recent play has garnered talk that he could be a part of Boston’s future after his contract ends this season. Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com noted his surprising play.
In 14 appearances in March, Bayless is averaging 10.4 points over 27.1 minutes per game. At no point in his six-year career has Bayless averaged more than the 22.7 minutes he did a couple seasons ago with Toronto, but he’s on pace to set career highs for starts and minutes per game this season between Memphis and Boston.
In 35 total appearances for Boston, Bayless is averaging 9.7 points, 3.2 assists, 2.2 rebounds and one steal over 24.7 minutes per contest. He’s shown an ability to provide an offensive jolt while playing multiple positions and settling into Boston’s system.
Bayless has shown an ability to get hot late in games, nearly willing Boston back from large deficits in recent outings in Dallas and Toronto. He stayed hot at the start of Sunday’s visit from Chicago.
Stevens certainly wouldn’t mind having the combo guard at his disposal beyond this season.
“You don’t know how all the numbers are going to work themselves out and all the different people, but he’s a good guy to have on your team,” Stevens told reporters before a March 30 loss to the Chicago Bulls. “He’s bright, he thinks about the game on both ends of the floor, he’s physical, and he can score the ball in a flurry. I like him and I’d like to have him. At the same time, I don’t know how all that stuff is going to work itself out. I’m a big fan of Jerryd Bayless; I like him.”
JB, who seems to grow more comfortable wearing the green No. 11 jersey with each game, would have no qualms sticking around in Beantown.
“I would be happy about that,” Bayless said. “That would be great. One of the things I said when I got here is I want to find a home somewhere. I’d be very happy staying here.”