By: Alex Raskin
Hurry Up and Wait in 2008
If Jerryd Bayless' last 365 days had a single maxim, that would be it. The former Arizona Wildcat freshman exploded onto the Pac-10 scene at the end of 2007 before being whisked away to the NBA Draft. Taken by guard-hungry Indiana in the Lottery, he was quickly traded to the NBA's biggest pool of young talent – Portland.
The jump from a college dormitory to the draft lottery was only the beginning. His MVP performance at the NBA Summer League (Bayless averaged 29.9 points in four games) ignited some "Rookie of the Year" chatter.
"Yeah it definitely gave me confidence but I realized that the summer league and the real thing are two different things," Bayless said prior to Tuesday's Blazers win at Madison Square Garden. "I'm going to take it with a grain of salt and right now I'm just trying to get into the game."
After starting the season with a 15 minute performance, Bayless' momentum has come to a screeching halt as he has played less than 30 minutes since. He currently sits patiently as Steve Blake and Sergio Rodriguez run the Trail Blazers offense.
"Right now Sergio is our backup point guard," said Portland Coach Nate McMillan. "Our second group has done a good job... That opportunity will come (for Jerryd)."
But there are no excuses for Bayless. The former Arizona Wildcat has ignored the depth chart while attacking the practice court.
"You can really see that he is trying to learn every day," Blake said. "He is really one of our hardest workers we have on the team right now. He's always in the gym early, working hard, and you can see he's really starting to pick up the NBA game."
For Bayless, the "NBA game" means he no longer can think about scoring first. Bayless is on a team of scorers that includes fellow rookies Rudy Fernandez and Greg Oden as well as Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Travis Outlaw. And while Bayless has more scoring ability than both Blake and Rodriguez, he doesn't provide the steady, veteran presence this young team requires.
Blake's ability to run an offense coupled with Rodriguez's chemistry with the fellow Spaniard, Fernandez, promises to keep Bayless grounded for quite some time. Meanwhile, the man he was traded for, Brandon Rush is getting over twenty minutes per game in Indianapolis. Winning may be nice for Bayless, but every rookie wants a chance to contribute. It's a test of patience many rookies have to endure.
"I think that he is in the same situation as me," said Knicks forward and fellow lottery pick Danilo Gallinari. "It is frustrating to be out… My situation is like his. It is what it is. Anyway, we have to fight through the situation (and) we just have to be patient."
Gallinari has remained on the bench in partly because of a back injury, but like Bayless, he also has been pushed out of the rotation by the play of his teammates.
"I think it's the learning curve," Bayless said. "Right now I'm going to support our other two point guards. I'm going through a learning process and when my time comes hopefully I can take advantage of it. Hopefully I can stay out there and get some more time."
Bayless is going to have every chance to succeed. Like a newly drafted quarterback stewing behind a veteran journeyman, this rookie has been a sponge around veterans. Over the summer he learned from the likes of Chris Paul and Deron Williams with whom he scrimmaged against as a member of the USA Basketball Select Team.
"They're experienced playmakers," Bayless told HOOPSWORLD in September. "And they helped me out. I'm going to try and take what they taught me into this season and I hope it works. It was a learning experience. They do things very well. They're two of the best point guards in the league."
But the majority of Bayless' education has come from the Portland roster itself.
"He's been there for me since Day 1," Bayless said of Blake. "I've learned how to run a team from him. He's taught me the basics about being a point guard. He's teaching me from day to day. I'm learning from him by watching him play and run this team."
Blake has contributed to Bayless' schooling (and reduced minutes) by putting forth his best season as a pro. He is committing a turnover less than nine times per hundred possessions (a career best) and his true shooting percentage has soared to 59.5%. Simply put, Blake is playing an efficient style of basketball that Bayless needs to incorporate into his game.
Fortunately for Bayless, he has abilities that neither Blake nor Rodriguez have.
"His quickness, jumping and skills (jump out at me)," said Gallinari. "He's a skilled guy. So he knows how to beat (his man) and get to the basket. He does so much."
Bayless averaged nearly 20 points per game during his brief season of college basketball. Prior to the draft, his ability to penetrate along with his improving jump shot foretold future stardom. Bayless' 2008 has taken him from the college dormitories to the USA Select Team. Unfortunately, his 2009 might not be as eventful. While the Blazers have gotten off to an excellent start, Coach McMillan has neglected to set any goals for his lottery pick.
"Not yet," Bayless concluded. "I haven't had enough playing time."