The Toronto Raptors' late-season struggles continued last night in a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. However in the loss, Jerryd Bayless again stood out and the HQ ponders his future with the franchise...
At one point during last night's Toronto Raptors' telecast, commentators Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong spoke about how the Dinos were using the last few games of the season to look at what some of their younger talent could do.
It was no doubt a frustrating comment for most fans given that we all know, had Andrea Bargnani, Leandro Barbosa, or Amir Johnson (a last-minute scratch yesterday evening) been healthy enough to play, guys like Alexis Ajinca and Joey Dorsey wouldn't have seen a whiff of action in last night's 104 to 96 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Hell, Linas Kleiza would still probably be starting at the 3 if he hadn't been felled by the injury bug.
However with injuries to key players, and other usual starters looking a bit rough (ahem - Jose Calderon who went 0 for 7 last night), guys like the aforementioned Ajinca, and Jerryd Bayless got a lot more burn than they usually do.
It's a bit of a blessing in disguise as the Raptors, a team with more questions than answers as it prepares for a long off-season, needs to give some of these guys as much run as possible.
Ajinca had 9 points and 7 rebounds in 23 minutes of action, but he was only 4 of 10 from the field and looked over-matched in most cases.
However Jerryd Bayless continued his torrid scoring pace of late, dropping in 28 points, most of which came late in the game as he willed the Raptors back into a match that they looked out of from essentially the tip-off.
Bayless has now averaged 24 points over the past four games, all of which he's either started or played major minutes in, and it begs the question, "is Bayless a player who should be part of Toronto's future?"
At face value the answer is yes.
He's no doubt a talented scorer who can slash to the rim better than anyone else on this team. He may not be a true point guard, but he provides an excellent change of pace off the bench behind Jose Calderon, and he's on the books for only about $3M next season.
The problem is, as TSN.ca's Tim Chisholm recently pointed out, Bayless has been terrible as a reserve, and simply doesn't control the offense well enough as a starter. He had only three assists last night and played some of those Bargnani-esque minutes down the stretch where his negative decisions cancelled out the big shots he hit.
However his defence is a definite upgrade over Jose Calderon and while Baron Davis hit some daggers last night to put Toronto's futile fourth-quarter run to bed, all were of the ridiculous variety with Bayless contesting each shot as well as possible.
In addition, Bayless at times seemed to be the only member of the Raptors last night who cared about winning the game, a game that by all accounts the team seemed primed to lose considering injuries and it being the club's fourth game in five nights.
And for me, that's the biggest reason to hold onto Jerryd a little while longer.
This Raptors' club has shown very little grit or feistiness this season, and next year, Toronto needs more of the characteristics that Bayless possesses. The Score.com's Holly MacKenzie noted on a few occasions last night via Twitter, that Bayless was visibly upset at teammates for blowing defensive assignments or making boneheaded plays.
The team needs more of this.
As well, Bayless by all accounts is a tireless worker and that too is a precedent that the team could use an extra boost of. I recall talking to Ben Golliver of Blazers' Edge about Bayless after the trade that sent him to Toronto, and one of the main things he emphasized was how much time Jerryd spent in the gym working on his game. On a young team like the Raptors, that's a must, and the stats have echoed Bayless' improvement.
He's averaging 9 points and 4 assists per game this season, all career highs, and while he's playing more minutes than in his previous stops in Portland and NO, his percentages have improved dramatically. He's shooting a career-high 42 per cent from the floor and while that's still not great, it's a big jump from previous averages of 35 and 37 per cent.
From long-range, the jump is even more dramatic as Bayless is hitting on 35 per cent 3-pointers, up from 21 per cent last year, and when you add in his ability to get to the line, and his 80 per cent free-throw shooting when he does get there, it's enough to make you think that the Raptors could have something here if used correctly.
And that's the big issue going into this off-season.
Jose Calderon has had a bounce-back season by all accounts, but he's not quite starting point guard material thanks to his D.
Bayless is not starting PG material either, thanks to his O.
Combined, the two would make a formidable player in the mould of a Chris Paul, but right now, the Raps are stuck a bit at the 1 between a rock and a hard place.
Perhaps the solution then for next season would be to land Kyrie Irving, and move one of the two somewhere else. Irving announced his intent to enter the upcoming NBA draft yesterday, and Toronto's 57th loss of the season keeps them with the third best shot at the former Duke "one-and-doner" since both Sacramento and Washington lost their matches as well.
However there's no guarantee that the club gets Irving, nor is there any guarantee that Bayless, if retained, takes another step forward in his development.
Right now his future is about as murky as the franchise itself, on pace to have statistically one of its worst seasons of all time...
...a season that continues to provide more questions than answers on and off the court.