Jerryd Bayless is a strange player, and an even stranger piece for teams to try and fit into their schemes. He’s like a puzzle piece with protrusions at odd angles and divots in all the wrong places: on the one hand, he can be the solution to a lot of problems; on the other, he’s just a pain in the ass sometimes.
He’s so strange, in fact, that Zach Lowe included Bayless as a part of the “How is this guy relevant All-Stars.” The fact that Bayless has been playing the sixth man role effectively for Memphis would have been basically unthinkable two seasons ago. I would even go so far to say that Bayless is indispensable for the Memphis squad as it currently stands. Why, why on earth, is Jerryd Bayless, of all people, so valuable?
Interestingly, though, I think he’s likely to see a decrease in minutes and value going forward.
Bayless is not a particularly special three-point shooter. He is slightly above average. He shot a fairly decent 35% mark last season. He’s also not a stand-still, knock down three point shooter, which is important.
Bayless’ extraordinary value for the Grizzlies doesn’t just stem from his ability to shoot the three (when no one else, apparently, can), but it comes from being the other player who can shoot. Mike Conley is a very good three point shooter, but Conley is a stand-still, knock-down kinda guy. He shoots a solid 36%, but as long as opposing teams keep one single defender on him at the three-point line, he isn’t going to get a chance to shoot it.
Bayless adds an off-the-dribble three point threat for the Grizzlies. Bayless’ shot selection is objectively insane — totally certifiably nuts — an independent gallery of poor decision making and low-percentage shots. On the other hand, he does still shoot 35% where at least half of those 3’s are pull ups off the dribble or leaners.
Those shots are pretty low value by themselves, but all of the pull ups put extra pressure on defenses. Every time that Bayless hits an off-the-dribble three (roughly once per game, by the way) defenses then have to start accounting for Bayless as he’s coming off screens, instead of dropping back to contain the paint. The result is that Bayless gives Gasol more room in the post, he gets Prince open in the corner, or he gives Z-Bo space to cut. Each one of Jerryd Bayless’ horribly advised threes actually open up the floor more than a normal three, because it forces defenses farther out past the three-point line than they would have to go for normal shooters. That’s incredibly valuable on a team as cramped as the Grizzlies are.
That’s where Jerryd Bayless’ value really lies. Not as a scorer in and of himself, but as just enough of a threat to make everyone else on the floor a better scorer while he’s there. I can demonstrate that, too.
Here’s Jerryd Bayless’ shot chart:
So, it’s…not really ideal. His above-the-break percentage is better than, say, Quincy Pondexter’s, but for a team that really needs three-point shooters everywhere, it’s not particularly encouraging. The fact that he’s taken so many more above the break threes, too, than corner threes, should be a little concerning.
Here’s the shot chart for the Grizzlies starting lineup, which lacks Bayless’ talents (Conley-Allen-Prince-Randolph-Gasol):
Here’s the shot chart for the same lineup, except with Bayless inserted in Tony Allen’s place (Conley-Bayless-Prince-Randolph-Gasol):
Ah. Hmm. That’s much better. 12-25. Almost 50%.
The flip side, of course, is that Bayless’ defense is quite bad, by NBA standards. For the Grizzlies’ starting lineup, that’s fine. Mike Conley, Tayshaun Prince, and Gasol are all outstanding defenders, and Randolph is certainly good. In almost every offense, there’s at least one player who it’s safe to hide Bayless on. Plus, the other players are more than capable of helping, should Bayless get lost.
Take Bayless out of the Conley-Prince-Gasol context, though, and the proposition becomes much more dubious. Bayless is incredibly valuable to Memphis’ offense, in part, because it’s such a bad three-point shooting team. In a context with better shooters, Bayless’ value becomes significantly lower. So, on a real bench unit next season (say, Bayless-QPon-Miller-Davis-Koufos) Bayless’ wild shooting becomes a detriment rather than an asset, and his defensive issues similarly hamper the team.
Even on a bench unit that could use the shooting, without the defensive presence of Gasol or Conley or even Prince, it’s a serious question whether or not Bayless’ shooting value is greater than his defensive problems.
The answer is…no, it probably isn’t. Per NBA.com, with a lineup of Conley-Bayless-Prince-Randolph-Gasol, the Grizzlies registered an astound 120 points per 100 possessions and allowed only 102. Unfortunately, all other lineups that logged less time that also feature Bayless were not so successful.
The next two most commonly used lineups featured Bayless as the primary ball handler (Bayless-Allen-Prince-Arthur-Gasol), and then the same lineup with Rudy Gay, registered 90 points per 100 possessions and 96, respectively, while allowing 96, respectively. Bayless not being a good ball handler is the primary issue here.
The other issue, the one with his defense, comes up with the first lineup that doesn’t include Marc Gasol: Jerryd Bayless-Wayne Ellington-QPon-Darrell Arthur-Marreese Speights. This lineup only defended at a rate of 100 points allowed per 100 possessions (which is actually league average). It also, unfortunately, could not score.
The most commonly used Bench lineup starring Bayless that played after January (when he started getting more playing time) allowed 120 points per 100 possessions to only 100 points scored. So…there’s that.
The thing, ultimately, is that Bayless is very good at what he does. He’s very good at shooting, shooting pretty well, and shooting a lot. He’s not good at defending, either. That means that:
a) Lineups that can already shoot don’t really need him.
b) Lineups that aren’t already fantastic defensively can’t use him.
This explains why he blew up to the sixth man role last year: the Grizzlies needed shooting just about as badly as anybody can need shooting, and as a sixth man, he got to spend more time with the best defensive lineup in the league.
It also explains why I think that Bayless won’t be getting quite so much playing time next season.
To begin with, the Grizzlies will not be quite so desperate for three point shooting. Lineups like Conley-QPon-Miller-Randolph-Gasol will happen from fairly regularly in one capacity or another, which will be both very good defensively (QPon can cover wings, and Miller can hide on just about any weak position without terrible mismatches) and it will have no problem from long range.
With the extra lineup flexibility that Miller gives the team offensively, Bayless’ value is going to reduce pretty quickly. I’m sure he’ll still see plenty of minutes, especially in his primary capacity as “replacing Tony Allen off the bench,” since he was so good there, but I don’t think he’ll be the same legitimate 6th man he was last season. He doesn’t need to be, anymore. There are people to fill bench spots, now, who can be bench leaders and role players much more effectively than Bayless has been.
The good news is that I think this will ultimately make Bayless more effective, too. A reduction in playing time will mean that Bayless only comes in to do what he’s really good at doing: shooting crazy shots, and spacing the offensive floor hampered by a lack of shooters.
The new additions will, thankfully, take the ball out of Bayless’ hands, and it’ll allow him to do what he does best:
Shoot. Shoot a lot.
The Grizzlies have done something great with the additions of Calathes and Miller: they’ve given themselves the ability to let Jerryd Bayless do his thing, but they’ve given themselves the ability to not have to make Jerryd Bayless do his thing.