We continue our look at the expectations facing each Portland Trail Blazers player as they start the 2010-11 season by ruminating over guard Jerryd Bayless. It's reflective of the state of the Blazers and of Bayless' progress that he's appearing so soon in this process (which is going generally, but not exactly, in order of importance in the rotation). One could make a strong argument that Bayless is the most important reserve on Portland's roster heading into the year, excepting perhaps Marcus Camby should he come off the bench. This comes after him being firmly mired in, say, 10th-12th place in the lineup at the outset of the 2009-10 season.
Placing expectations on Jerryd Bayless is hampered not only by his youth and growth curve but by the two divergent visions I, and I suspect most Blazer fans, vacillate between when considering his future.
It's evident that if Bayless is to succeed with this team it will be as a point guard. His forays into shooting guard territory have been less than stellar and the team has plenty of minutes penciled in for their current off-guards without adding him into the mix. As such one would expect Jerryd to develop a point guard game suitable to this roster. That probably means having an eye towards everyone else scoring before he does, instilling confidence in Nicolas Batum, ceding space to Brandon Roy, and finding Greg Oden for dunks. Omni-directional ball-handling, an outside shot, and foul-free defense would help...all of which need development in Jerryd's game.
The second vision of Bayless is an instant-offense 6th man. Regardless of position or situation he could be an explosive scorer, a constant foul-drawer, a game- and momentum-changer. He might not have 007's license to kill but he should at least have 004's license to shoot. He would be the Vinny "Microwave" Johnson of Portland's deep playoff teams...the guy who makes the opponent say "Oh no!" instead of "Oh good!" when the starters take a rest.
I will confess up front that I do not see a marriage of these two visions, which would roughly equal a star-level starter, playing out in Jerryd's Portland tenure. He'd need more minutes and more ball/game control than he's likely to get here. That kind of opportunity might well come at the expense of more established players and there's a long line of current Blazers who could lay claim to needing it as much and having more right to it. Even if he got that kind of opportunity I doubt he would turn out to be the next Dwyane Wade or Chris Paul. If that were in the cards he'd already have his minutes and his role.
This means Bayless is caught in limbo between what the team needs and what he might be best suited for, trying to make them work together and still earn enough minutes from Andre Miller ahead and a forest of youngsters behind to make a difference.
My first expectation, then, is that Jerryd figure out what he's going to be. I say that knowing full well that his answer might not be what the team or his coach needs him to be, and so be it. If that's the case, perhaps a trade would serve everyone well (be that of Bayless or whatever players would need to be moved to give him his place if he's really that good). But I'd rather see that, or even some honest friction, than a young guy still in limbo at the beginning of next season. Whatever Jerryd is, he should be. Perform well enough and efficiently enough and the coaches will have to find a way to fit you in. But if you're going to fail, at least fail being yourself and fulfilling your own vision.
As he's carving out his place I would expect Jerryd to continue to work on his off-hand, to continue drawing fouls, to improve his outside shot, and to apply some of his fantastic physical attributes to fantastic defense. When I first saw Bayless in person I surmised he could be an amazing defender if he so chose. He's been good at times, poor at others. At no point has he been amazing. If he's to be feared for a reason other than his scoring potential, that should be it. That's also a near-foolproof way to ensure that the coach will keep you on the floor regardless of the situation. Scoring or no, if Bayless lets one of the younger guards pass him in defensive effort or intensity then the amount of territory he can claim as uniquely his shrinks by at least half. With that comes a reduction of reasons to play him or hope for his future. Because of his potential, because it's an attribute that's been lacking in Blazer point guards, and because of team needs defense will be a huge key to Jerryd's growth.
Besides that, I just have this nagging feeling in the back of my head that Bayless could be very close on-court buddies with Greg Oden. If they can develop a taste for working off of each other, attacking the middle with a one-two punch, Bayless could find his ascent fast-tracked. I don't know if that's realistic or just an odd thought but it's something to watch, particularly if both end up on the second unit to start the year.
What are your expectations of Jerryd Bayless in 2010-11? Share them below.