Summer Reading: Jerryd Bayless

This is part of an offseason series on various things of certain natures that each Blazer can work on during the summer to prepare for the 2010-2011 title push. This is strictly about on-court performance, so topics like trades and contracts are not discussed at length. Remember to click “Continue Reading” at the jump.

It’s been a strange journey so far for Jerryd Bayless. He’s gone from no playing time, to playing time, to being awful in playing time, to being better in less playing time, to offseason excitement, to an uneven Summer League, to Andre Miller being signed, back to no playing time, Team Bayless uniting in his defense, injuries opening the door, having a few breakout games, going back to playing poorly, Steve Blake being traded giving him more minutes, using those minutes to mixed results and finally ending the season on a positive note with an aggressive series against Phoenix.

See much consistency in there? Other than it being a consistently run-on sentence, neither do I. It’s hardly uncommon for young players to see their minutes fluctuate, but the point guard position is the toughest to develop your skills at when you aren’t getting repetitions with certain situations and lineups, particularly when it’s often unclear from game to game whether you’re even playing point guard or not.

None of this gives Bayless a special pass, and he shouldn’t need one, having vaulted Martell Webster and Rudy Fernandez and the young bench player with the most promise. And now, with Andre Miller locked in for next year, Bayless is going into his first offseason with a definite role to fill and no spotlight hovering over him during a sham of a Summer League where he was supposed to “learn” the point while playing with inferior teammates.

It’s possible that that’s not what’s best for Bayless, career-wise. If he was able to focus solely on being an explosive bench scorer on a high-volume team like the Golden State Warriors, Jerryd could probably put up deceptive high-scoring numbers and earn himself a fat paycheck from a GM willing to pay up for glossy scoring ability. But what’s best for the Blazers is Bayless becoming a combo-guard in the truest sense: someone who can do a little bit of everything. That slows his progression and provides less immediate gratification, but it’s the best way to increase his win shares and for his part, publicly, Bayless seems to have bought into this concept after a touch-and-go rookie season.

So, no, we’re not going to shoehorn Bayless into a position he doesn’t have the natural instincts for. He doesn’t need to become a complete point guard to eventually start next to Brandon Roy and/or make a consistent, efficient impact over the course of a season, he just needs to be a complete player, one who can initiate offensive sets and share the playmaking load from there. He doesn’t need to be Steve Nash or Rajon Rondo, he just needs to fit, and here are some things he can work on to do that:

  • Jumper, Jumper, Jumper: Excuse us for captaining the SS Obvious, but when you shoot 41 percent from the field , 38 percent from 16-23 feet and 31 percent from three, your shot probably needs some work. He doesn’t have to become a sniper, but as long as he converts over half his shots at the rim, Bayless would be doing just fine if he can approach 42 percent from mid-range and 36 from deep. It’s one thing to be a threat to shoot, it’s another to be a threat to make, and if he’s going to be effective with Oden in the middle, he needs to be much more of the latter.
  • Offensive Decision Making: Now, even if that jumper does improve, Bayless doesn’t need to shoot more. He attempted a field goal on 69.8 percent of the pick-and-rolls he ran, which is less than Nash (76.8 percent), Tony Parker (76.3), Rondo (74.2 percent) and Jameer Nelson (80 percent). In those situations, the Blazers scored 43.8 percent of the time, which was within 1.1 percent of all those point guards, and exactly even with Nelson. With the Blazers running enough isolation offense as is, the more balanced the pick-and-rolls can be, the better. Bayless’ problem, however, is that if he gets any space for the jumper, he’s shooting it, and with the play often being early in the shot clock, this leads to little movement on offense, both of personnel and the ball. Bayless needs to recognize that just because the shot is there, that doesn’t mean it’s the best shot the offense can create.
  • Stay Aggressive: The best trait Bayless displayed in the Phoenix series was an aggressiveness in the open court. Whether the Suns scored or not, Bayless was racing down the floor to see what developed. While he forces the ball into an established defense at times, it’s a better use of his assets to run first and slowdown second than just begin slowly in the first place — just watch how Rondo is pressuring the Cleveland transition defense. I’m not saying Portland needs to become a running team, but if Bayless is probing and putting the defense on its heels, he’s going to create running lanes for Aldridge, driving lanes for Roy and space for deep position for Oden. And when he’s the primary playmaker with the second unit, we saw the past few weeks that if Bayless isn’t aggressive, that group doesn’t have many places to go.
  • Guarding the Pick-and-Roll: One of the larger post-trade deadline issues on defense was the dropoff in pick-and-roll defense from Andre Miller to Bayless. Initiate any contact on Jerryd and he dies on the pick, resulting in him either chasing the play, in a mismatch with a big man or being taking completely out of the possession — and it doesn’t seem to matter when Bayless knows the screen is coming or not. We can’t knock his effort on the defensive end, but he needs to make more deliberate decisions, stop reacting to the ball handler and make the ball handler react to how he got through the pick. Jerryd will be helped by having forwards more athletic than Juwan Howard hedging out on ballhandlers, but if he’s ever going to be a starter, he can’t settle for not being a defensive liability — he needs to be, if not a stopper, a defensive hindrance.

There are a couple different avenues for Bayless in terms of who he can study to help improve his game. From Andre Miller he can learn how to defend against picks. From Tony Parker he can learn how to balance scoring and game managing without a consistent three-point shot. From Rondo he can learn how to use his athleticism as an asset. And from Nelson he can learn how to interact with a physically-advantageous center and get him the ball in good position, either above the rim or in the paint.

But the person to emulate the most — someone whose point guard skills were much, much, much better than Bayless’ — is the 6-foot-1 Kevin Johnson, from whom Bayless can learn offensive balance:

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