Jerryd Bayless can help Celtics
Besides facilitating cap-saving deal, newcomer adds variety of backcourt skills
Newly acquired guard Jerryd Bayless will play his first home game with the Boston Celtics on Monday night, and the pro shop probably doesn't need to put a rush on printing replicas of his No. 11 jersey.
That said, Bayless showed some encouraging signs during a four-game glimpse after joining the team out west, and early indications are he can be a good fit for what Boston has long needed off its bench.
The Celtics snagged the 25-year-old Bayless, a former lottery pick (11th overall in the 2008 draft), last week as part of a three-way trade that sent Courtney Lee to Memphis.
The obvious benefit for Boston was shedding the two years and $10 million remaining on Lee's contract after this season, offering the team greater flexibility while navigating its transition process. What got diminished a bit with so much focus on the money is that Bayless is a guy the Celtics have liked for a while and believe can be part of their future even with an expiring contract.
There's no doubt that Lee was having an excellent individual season, shooting at career-high rates from the field and beyond the arc. But the numbers suggested the bench didn't thrive when Lee was on the floor. As the team prepares for Jordan Crawford to shuffle to a reserve role with the impending return of Rajon Rondo, Lee and his bloated contract became expendable.
Enter Bayless, who in four games since joining the Celtics has handed out 17 assists. By comparison, Lee had 16 assists in the entire month of December.
Bayless' early distribution is even more impressive considering the team likely has given him only a small sampling of the playbook and immediately asked him to direct the second-team offense.
Lee often noted that the Celtics had asked him to work on his ballhandling as, lacking an experienced point guard and with Rondo injured, the team needed players who could facilitate the offense. Lee's turnover percentage the past two seasons had spiked, diminishing the impact of his scoring.
Bayless hasn't been perfect, but we've seen glimpses of how he can quarterback the second unit. When Crawford shuffles back to the reserve group, that will give Boston two capable creators who also have the potential to get hot with their own shot.
Crawford and Bayless each handed out a team-high six assists during Saturday's trip-closing loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Bayless has to drive down his turnover numbers (three versus Portland, seven in four games), but he's had some nice feeds.
Midway through the second quarter Saturday, Bayless shook Mo Williams with a little stutter crossover then delivered a pocket pass to popping rookie Kelly Olynyk for a long jumper. In the third quarter, Bayless' penetration created room for Jared Sullinger, and Boston's big man buried a 3-pointer from the right wing.
Bayless is still getting to know his teammates, but he's done a nice job getting the ball to Sullinger and Avery Bradley in their preferred spots for quality looks. It's never easy for a point guard to jump into the fray at midseason, but Bayless didn't look overwhelmed with his new squad.
Boston's offensive rating with Bayless on the floor the past four games was only 99.8, but that was only 0.7 points off the team's average over that span. The Celtics' defensive rating with Bayless wasn't pretty (109.4), but it was actually 2½ points better than Boston's average during those four games.
Bayless really struggled as an individual defender with Memphis this season. According to defensive data logged by Synergy Sports, he was among the league's most inefficient defenders, giving up more than a point per possession. If we've learned anything about Brad Stevens to this point in his Boston tenure, it's that defense must be a priority, particularly for the reserves, if they are going to stick on the floor.
Along with Rondo's return, Bayless' arrival will diminish playing time for rookie Phil Pressey, who logged a rare DNP versus Golden State but played 11 minutes against Portland on a back-to-back. If backcourt minutes clog up, you can't help but wonder if the Celtics would consider time for Pressey in the D-League to improve confidence in his shot and offer increased game reps. Pressey has been a quality defender and has the potential to be a nice low-cost depth option moving forward.
Bayless, meanwhile, is on his fifth NBA team in six seasons, a career path similar to that of the departed Lee. When he joined the Celtics, Bayless noted he would like to establish some roots with a team.
Even with his expiring deal, Boston will have a chance to retain Bayless this summer. At the right price, he could be a quality backup option. The Celtics have had success recently shaping combo guards and finding ways for them to thrive, whether it's been Terrence Williams or Crawford.
Bayless has offensive potential. It's on Boston to maximize it. He's a career 41 percent shooter, but that's down to 37.5 percent this season. His 3-point shot isn't falling consistently. Two seasons after shooting a career-best 42.3 percent beyond the arc for Toronto, Bayless is shooting 28.7 percent this season, including 18.2 percent in his brief time with the Celtics.
His game fits what Boston needs; Stevens need to make the most of it. When Bayless checks in for the first time Monday night at TD Garden against the Rockets, he'll likely get a warm welcome from the fans of his new club. His play will determine just how long they'll keep cheering him.