The Bayless Quandary

For reasons big and small, Jerryd Bayless is a hot topic lately among Portland fans. And nowhere does the topic get hotter than when discussing his effect on the floor and how much playing time he should or shouldn't be getting vis a vis the other guards on the team.  We've written about it extensively here but my inbox still fills up with questions regarding his status, impact, and future prospects.  I'm not going to try to deliver the definitive treatise here but I want to look at some of the concepts involved in determining Jerryd's court time and especially to what extent the general assessment that he needs to get more is accurate.

For a comparative look at the backcourt I visited our old friends at 82Games.com.  Click through for some of the key stats they list followed by general analysis.

The Basics

ROY

BLAKE

MILLER

BAYLESS

Net Production vs Opponent

+6.5

-3.3

+3.2

-2.5

Net Production On/Off Court

-2.2

+6.3

+7.5

-7.1

Simple Net Rating

+3.0

+0.5

+4.9

-4.3

These stats provide a big-picture overview of a player's production in the context of team performance.  They include the team's production versus the opponent's production when the player takes the court, the team's production when the player is on the court versus when he's sitting, and an aggregate rating.  It's important to note that all of these stats--indeed all of the ones I'll be citing today--are contextual, meaning they fall prey to the vagaries of teammates, opponents, and the occasional odd situation.  They're going to be more indicative as the season progresses and aberrations even out.  It's also important to note that these numbers don't necessarily indicate the best and worst players on a team.  LaMarcus Aldridge and Joel Przybilla rank fairly low on the simple net rating scale, for instance, and we know that LaMarcus is among the most talented and Joel among the most valuable Blazers right now.  The value, if there is any, comes not in the absolute but in comparing the four players being mixed in to the same backcourt positions.  In general we're not trying to compare the players in isolation but look at the blend with the team.

Other Particulars

 

ROY

BLAKE

MILLER

BAYLESS

Win %

54.5%

71.4%

54.5%

53.8%

Average Plus-Minus Per 48

+4.0

+7.0

+7.8

-1.6

Net Points per 100 Possessions

-5.7

+7.0

+9.2

-5.6

Net PER as PG

N/A

-2.5

+1.2

-3.0

Net PER as SG

+5.4

N/A

+4.9

+0.6

Net PER as SF

+7.1

N/A

N/A

+50.0

Here we get some more details:  how often the team outscored the opponent when the player was on the court, the average plus-minus of the player's tenure adjusted to 48 minutes, the net points the team scores per 100 possessions with the player on or off the court, and the average net PER of each player over his collective counterparts' average PER at the same position.  Again, this is a wide-angle, contextual look.  Jerryd Bayless has a much higher individual PER at point guard than does Steve Blake, for example (21.3 to 11.1).  But as you can see their net PER's are comparatively close.

In case you're wondering the sample of Bayless at small forward is quite small, thus the wacky number in the Net PER category.

The Point Guard Stuff

 

ROY

BLAKE

MILLER

BAYLESS

Hands Rating

19.5

21.2

19.6

12.5

Passing Rating

8.0

7.7

9.8

4.8

This gets into the wheelhouse of point guards:  how well they take care of and pass the ball.  Again the comparative look shows us why certain players might be favored at the position. 

Here's the overall point.  When you look at a specific situation or just compare player-to-player it appears that Jerryd Bayless is exceeding Steve Blake.  But when you look at the bigger picture and try to quantify effect on the team, they're either close or Blake is ahead.  Simply put, there may be bigger reasons that Bayless is being moved along slowly than just his personal skill would indicate.

Building on that point, one of the simplest (and I believe most inaccurate) ways I've seen the situation typified is:  "Blake sucks.  Jerryd is doing well.  Play less of Steve and more of Jerryd."  The way the team is constructed, especially the way the roster looks post-injuries, Blake and Jerryd aren't even on the same planet as far as their fit with teammates.  Or at least they haven't been heretofore.

It has been remarked that a solid wall seems to have materialized between Brandon Roy and Andre Miller this year.  Even when they play together generally one is scoring or the other is.  Seldom do they find synergy.  This is not unusual in and of itself.  Most teams with dominant off-guards have complementary point guards and vice versa.  It's unusual to see two players in the backcourt who score prolifically and in the same fashion.  Even when both of those players are unselfish--such as in the "dream backcourt" of Jason Kidd and Penny Hardaway that the Suns fielded a few years ago--the mix just doesn't work.  Somebody needs the ball.  Somebody needs the lane.  Neither one is comfortable with the catch and shoot, playing off of the other. 

Jerryd Bayless is fashioned in the Roy-Miller mold far more than that of Steve Blake.  To the extent that Roy and Miller do coexist it's because one is a Second-Team All-NBA player and the other is a 14-year veteran.  Even so, one or the other disappears all too often.  Were Bayless--at least the Bayless we've traditionally known--to be paired with either guard consistently the same would happen to him, except not having the chops of the other two he'd be the one to vanish.  And that's playing with just one of those two.  Injuries have forced the Blazers to play three-guard lineups to this day.  Take Blake out and insert Bayless with Miller and Roy together and you have a train wreck.

The point is, Jerryd's main competition for minutes is not Steve Blake, it's Roy and Miller.  He has to catch up to one of them in order to increase his playing time significantly.  In doing so he also has to overcome that star or veteran gap in the minds of the coaches.  It's not impossible, I guess, but you can see why the going is slow, especially since Bayless trails both handily in nearly every category listed.

In fact I will go out on a limb at this point in saying the chances of Roy, Miller, and Bayless existing long-term on the same team are small.  Steve Blake's presence in the equation changes it not a whit.  You could cut Steve tomorrow and you'd still have the same issue.  Eventually one of these guys has to be let go.

Does this mean Jerryd's situation is hopeless until that happens?  I'd say no, for a couple reasons.

First, I think it's obvious that Jerryd was unsuccessfully typecast as a point guard during his early tenure.  This is something we called from the beginning.  You have to let players play to their strengths if you're going to play them.  You can teach them beyond those natural strengths, of course, but you can't suppress the strengths in doing so and find success.  Judging by the way Jerryd is playing and the time, position, and role he's finding himself playing in, it seems the coaching staff is learning or has learned this about him.  When he does play he's driving, scoring, and providing a credible offensive threat.  The removal of the burden of setting up plays has freed him. He looks more fluid, confident, and ironically is more in tune with what's going on out on the floor than he used to be.  They may trade him in favor of a pure point guard if that's what they think they need but they won't be putting him back in that box.  That means his play should remain strong and has a chance to get stronger.

Second, and more importantly right now, Jerryd has been showing signs of being able to play a more Blake-like role.  ‘Twas not an accident that I made a semi-big deal of a small moment in the Milwaukee game wherein Brandon drove, tossed the ball to Jerryd on the sideline, watched Jerryd drain a three, and then high-fived him as they went to time-out.  Jerryd's outside shot has looked better this year.  He's understanding more when and where he can get it in the offense.  Beyond that, think of some of the painful situations we've seen Steve in so far this season and some of the things we've posited he should do in response.  Think of the early season when Blake got stuck dribble-driving repeatedly, to little effect.  Think of recent games when he's been miserable from distance and we said he should step in a couple feet and shoot it if he can't hit the long ball.  Now envision those same situations with Bayless instead.  Problem solved.   The key is what it always has been:  Jerryd's ability to provide a credible threat from 18 feet and out when left open.  If he can hit the jumper consistently he then becomes a threat beyond what Blake can provide.

In fact if he can hit that jumper, think eventually of Andre Miller's late-game position when Roy is handling the ball and calling the shots.  Who do you want in that corner shooting the bail-out jumper or trying to create off the dribble?

So where are we now?  We're to the point where you understand that the fit has been problematic heretofore, but Bayless has shown enough production that the door opens for an incremental increase in minutes and responsibility to see what he can do.  We're not talking going from 10.6 minutes to 30.6.  We're talking maybe 15-18 most nights...more when he's hot or the matchup is right, less in certain situations.  3-4 of those minutes might come from Blake.  1-2 of them could come from Roy himself.  A Blake-Bayless-Roy three-guard setup is viable as well and may be the best option of the bunch.

If Jerryd can't hack it, so be it.  If he has no outside shot there's no way he can play with Miller or even with Miller and Roy together because you can't just turn Brandon into a three-point shooter and expect to succeed.  Then he's limited to playing with Steve or in the three-guard setup with Steve and Brandon.  That's probably the 10 minutes he's getting now at best.  I don't see him catching up to Blake and Miller in pure point guard skills this year and he'll not displace Roy whether he's playing behind him or alongside him so at that point you shrug your shoulders and lament that he's stuck behind these guys.  But he's earned the chance to see whether he can fill some of the roles that the other guards are filling less successfully.  I'm betting he's going to get that chance soon.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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