There's been a lot of talk in the preseason about how the newly-acquired Jerryd Bayless will be able to replace O.J. Mayo as a scoring guard off the bench. Well, that's a great discussion to have. But, dot-dot-dot.
With the Grizzlies simply letting Mayo walk this summer, their most pressing need became two fold: find a backup point guard to take some of the load off of Mike Conley and find a shooter, or shooters, to help in not only replacing Mayo but in turning the league's worst 3-point shooting team into a respectable one.
Enter, Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington and, to an extent, Tony Wroten.
Wroten, a 19-year-old rookie, is ways away from being an impact point-combo guard, in the mold of Russell Westbrook. Ellington, who is basically the best shooter of the three, will have an opportunity to be the stretch-shooter the team desperately needs, but he too will have to compete with second-year guard Josh Selby for that particular role. And, truthfully, Ellington offers little else aside from his ability to shoot the basketball.
So, this is where we start to break down Bayless. Honestly, I think he's going to be the most important guard off the bench for the Grizzlies this season, even though the need for Selby and Ellington to stretch the floor is pressing and quite glaring.
Bayless got off to a shaky start in the preseason, dishing just one assist in 20 minutes in the Grizzlies "first" preseason game against the Bulls. He caught some slack for being over-matched against a Bulls team that, really, has some underwhelming guard play without their MVP, Derrick Rose, in the lineup. Bayless went on to say all the right things after the game, though, recognizing that he didn't play well and stating that it was going to take time for him to adjust to playing alongside his new teammates. That's understandable.
Thankfully, though, for the sake of our preseason sanity, his comfort level improved greatly in preseason game number two, against the Hawks, where Bayless played some great on-the-ball basketball, dishing seven assists to just two turnovers in 27 minutes. It was the moment where he actually looked like he could be a more than sufficient backup point guard, while also showing that he can play in sets off-the-ball alongside Conley. It was a nice showing.
I think the key in trying to figure out "what Bayless is," is recognizing who he is/was and how he'll fit into this Grizzlies system. I will say this, he's not going to be our "new Mayo." In fact, he doesn't need to be. He needs to be more of a hybrid of things. Mayo's roll was to score, shoot and stretch. Though he wanted to be a point guard, he just wasn't. And we were "OK" with that, or resigned to the fact that we didn't have a backup point guard. With Bayless, we need him to be just that. He needs to have a 3:1 AST:TO ratio, and he needs to post about a 30 AST% - he needs to distribute, set the offense, run the break, penetrate and kick, etc. You know, point guard-y things.
On the flip side, Bayless does have some scoring chops. He's not quite as skilled as Mayo, but he is combo enough to where he can create his own offense and work defenders off the dribble. The positives from a somewhat underwhelming 2011-12 season for Bayless is that he posted career-best efficiency ratings. He shot a career-best 42.3 percent from beyond the arc and 85.2 percent on 2.8 attempts from the line -- leading to a 56.1 TS% and 50.4 eFG%. In fact, his percentages were higher than Mayo's, across the board.
Now, again, I'm not trying to say that Bayless is a more dynamic scorer than Mayo, and naturally we have to take into account that Mayo over his career has been more of a bulk shooter than Bayless, but that wasn't necessarily the case last season. Mayo essentially took 0.41 shots per minute, while Bayless was at 0.39 shots per minute. More efficient, almost equally as effective.
Again, again, there's an argument to be made here that Mayo was in the wrong system and that his ceiling is above and beyond that of Bayless' -- at least as a scorer -- but the other argument is that while we're looking for the "next Mayo," it doesn't necessarily have to be all on Bayless. Ellington and Shelby are in the mix, and they too will wear the "next Mayo" tag. Heck, all of our bench players will be wearing one tag or another -- "is Wroten the next Tony Allen or the next Russell Westbrook." We just need them to be who they are -- Bayless a combo, Selby and Ellington shooters, Wroten a many, developmental things.
Though I will recognize that our expectations are easier to gauge when we have someone we can compare each player to. For Bayless, we can call him a little Mayo, but we shouldn't let the comparison define him. He's a much better, and much-needed play-maker. So let's embrace his good, forgive his flaws and take him out of Mayo's shadow.
He doesn't belong there.