The rap sheet on Jerryd Bayless when he arrived in Toronto was that he was an incredibly talented young guard, but one that was plagued by problems in the consistency, decision-making and attitude departments.
Three months into his tenure with the Raptors, Bayless is proving to be exactly as advertised. Flashes of brilliance on the court are eventually erased by stretches of poor play, and it's left me wondering where Bayless fits in with the long-term plans of the franchise.
Wednesday night's game against the Chicago Bulls was a perfect example of the unflattering version of Bayless. He had three turnovers and a bad shot in eight minutes of out-of-control play in a performance that screamed, "I bet on the Bulls."
Two nights earlier against the Heat, it was a similar story. Bayless was 0-of-3 from the field and had as many turnovers as assists in 15 minutes of action. In the game before, he had zero points and one assist in a shade over 10 minutes on the court against the Clippers.
But there's also nights like December 11th at Detroit, where Bayless poured in a career-high 31 points to go along with seven assists and five rebounds, spearheading the biggest comeback in Raptors franchise history in the process. He also had 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden, and 15 points, 11 assists and eight boards against the Grizzlies.
That's essentially the Jerryd Bayless experience: a roller coaster ride that features one great game followed up by two lousy ones. Good luck figuring out what he's got in store for us next.
If that comeback against the Pistons happened to be the only NBA game you watched that season, you'd swear that Bayless was in the running for MVP. He got to the rim at will, knocked down long jumpers with ease and was in the Pistons' collective grill all night long, especially as the Raps staged their late game comeback.
If you watch Bayless play, you'll quickly realize that lack of confidence is not what's holding him back. In fact, it's probably the opposite. If you were to ask Bayless who the three best players in the NBA are right now, he'd probably answer with LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Jerryd Bayless, in some order.
To say that Bayless plays with a chip on his shoulder is putting it mildly. It's a gift and a curse, making him capable of taking over a game at any time but completely derailing the Raptors' momentum at others. It also continuously leads to him getting involved in a game of one-on-one with the opposing point guard, a tendency that I like to call "TJ Ford syndrome."
That's right, much like a diminutive Raptors point guard of old, Bayless often finds himself in the midst of a trash-talking, mean-mugging, teammate isolating war with whomever is guarding him, while the other eight players stand around the court and engage in casual chit chat.
On nights when he has it going, this can result in a quick eight- or 10-point burst for the Raptors. On nights when he doesn't have it going (and trust me, there have been more than a few), this results in poor shots, offensive fouls and turnovers.
Not to mention that it leaves his teammates scurrying for offensive rebounds as their only hope of getting their hands on the rock. On a Toronto Raptors team loaded with ball-stoppers (Andrea Bargnani, Leandro Barbosa, Sonny Weems, DeMar DeRozan, pretty much everyone), the negative impact of this point should not be understated.
And there's also the issue of when he gets subbed out of a game. Bayless is likely to roll his eyes and pout to varying degrees. His facial expression seems to say "You're taking me out...FOR JOSE CALDERON?!?" and you can often find him muttering on the bench afterward.
When I observe this, it's not hard to figure out why Bayless is on his third team in less than a year. That type of behavior can fly under the radar on a lottery-bound team like Toronto, but pulling the same stunts on veteran-laden playoff teams like Portland and New Orleans (that have Andre Miller and Chris Paul as their point guards as well) is a surefire way to wear out your welcome extremely quickly no matter how much talent you have.
Having said all that, there's still a big part of me that feels silly for complaining about this issue at all. Since the Raptors' inception, fans have endured countless players who have gone through the motions, mailed it in or whatever other saying you'd like to use that symbolizes a lack of competitive fire. Now we've got a player who has trouble reining that competitiveness in, and I'm complaining about that too.
It's not because I don't appreciate what Bayless has done in Toronto, or because I'd like to see him shipped out. It's because of the games like in Detroit—nights where Bayless finds the perfect balance of looking for his own offense and setting up teammates. Nights where he walks the thin line between fired up and out of control. Where the pedigree and all his accolades up to this point seem justified.
Bayless' incredible potential mixed with the massive talent void in Toronto right now makes it a painful experience to watch him piss it away every second game. Simply put, I write this because I care.
The incredible opportunity that Bayless spoke of on his first day with the Raptors still sits in front of him. He's still very young, and he'll get plenty more opportunities over the next year-and-a-half to prove his worth. Since the trade, he's talked about his desire to make Toronto his long-term home in the NBA.
Here's hoping that Bayless emerges as one of those guys who simply took a little longer than average to get a grasp on the mental side of things in the NBA game. Like many other enigmatic players before him, the physical tools appear to be in place, but a change in mindset is needed before he can use them all effectively.
But if we know anything about Jerryd Bayless for certain, I wouldn't hold your breath.