Jerryd Bayless Fits in Well with Ben Simmons and the 76ers
According to Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press, the Philadelphia 76ers and free agent combo guard Jerryd Bayless have come to terms on a three-year, $27 million contract.
The contract cannot become official until the league-wide moratorium is lifted on July 7th.
The move was a relatively small splash for a team expected to be active in free agency, although with anywhere from $42 million to $60 million in cap space still remaining (depending on non-guaranteed contracts and cap holds), the Sixers are not necessarily finished in free agency.
Who is Jerryd Bayless? Does his signing help the Sixers? Is his contract fair?
Jerryd Bayless was a phenom during his only season at Arizona, averaging 19.7 points and 4.0 assists per game as a freshman while shooting 40.7 percent from three-point range and getting to the free-throw line on 59 percent of his possessions. That profile — three-point shots and attacking the basket — gave him a true shooting percentage of 61.2 percent, despite shouldering a heavy burden of Arizona’s offense, and despite shooting just 48.9 percent on two-point shots.
That offensive diversity caused Bayless to be projected as a top-5 pick for most of his freshman season, but he fell to Indiana at 11th, where he was traded to the Portland Trailblazers for a package that included Jarrett Jack, Josh McRoberts, and Brandon Rush.
Part of the reason Bayless fell was his size. While Bayless measured in at 6’3″ in shoes at the pre-draft camp, he did so with a wingspan of just 6’3.5″, which is well below average for both his size (average wingspan for somebody 6’3″ is ~6’6.3″) and for the point guard position (average of ~6’5.3″, both figures for players drafted in the first round). That physical profile raised concerns not just on the defensive side of the court, but also how well he’d be able to get his shot off and finish at the rim, concerns that were especially strong considering his struggles scoring efficiently inside the arc at Arizona.
The NBA player
Those concerns seem to have been warranted, as Bayless has never been that dynamic scorer in the NBA, averaging only 8.5 points in 21 minutes per game in his NBA career, with a mediocre true shooting percentage of 52.6 percent. His two-point field goal percentage has been dreadful, shooting just 43.7 percent inside the arc during his eight year career, including a woeful 40.8 percent last year. Among the 336 players who attempted at least 50 field goal attempts within 5′ of the basket last year, Bayless’ 44.2 percent field goal percentage on those shots was 8th worst in the league.
With the diverse offensive game that made him such a force at Arizona failing to translate to the NBA, his warts as a prospect started to come to the forefront. With below-average defense and without true point guard instincts, Bayless has bounced around a bit over the years trying to find a home, and the Sixers will be his 7th NBA team.
What Bayless has developed into is something of a specialist,
Bayless’ free-throw rate has been pretty steadily dropping, as he creates less and less (inefficient) offense for himself. Instead, with the exception of 2014-15’s blip, the three-point shot has become an increasingly large part of his game.
This newfound style of play peaked for Bayless in 2015-16, where Bayless shot 46.1 percent on catch-and-shoot shots, an incredible number considering almost all of them were from three-point range. Among the 201 players who used at least 100 possessions out of catch-and-shoot opportunities, Bayless ranked 5th in points per possessions, behind guys like Stephen Curry and J.J. Redick.
Now, it has to be pointed out that last season was somewhat of an anomaly for Bayless in that regard. Over the past four seasons, including last year, Bayless has shot 39.1 percent on catch and shoot attempts. Still above average, but nowhere near league-leading. It’s possible Bayless improved his skill level in that regard by an order of magnitude, but it’s more likely last year was a little flukey. Still, Bayless’ catch-and-shoot ability is a real weapon regardless.
Bayless’ shot chart from last year is interesting as well, with very pronounced strengths and weaknesses.
That 56 percent on right baseline three-point shots is downright elite, as is 50 percent on three-point shots from the right wing. That discrepancy from right side to left side is interesting, and in the three years worth of shots that Shot Analytics has tracked Bayless has consistently remained more efficient from the right side of the court than the left, although not usually this pronounced.
|Year||Right Baseline||Left Baseline||Right Wing||Left Wing|
It’s interesting that both 2015-16 (43.7 percent from three-point range) and 2014-15 (30.8 percent) where outlier seasons for Bayless, which is represented in that table above, and to some degree that graphic as well. Don’t expect 56 percent from the right corner next season, but it is probably fair to expect him to be more comfortable shooting from the right side of the court than the left.
Another area where Bayless really excelled at last year was shooting off of screens, which would really help open up the Sixers’ offense, and something the team didn’t have much of last year. Overall, Bayless generated more points off of screens last year than any of the Sixers’ shooters, shooting 54.3 percent on such plays (per stats.nba.com), one of the best in the league (albeit on a relatively low usage compared to the elite shooters off of screens, such as Redick).
Again, however, that success was a relative anomaly in Bayless’ career, as he shot under 35 percent on shots off of screens over the previous three seasons combined. How much of that is skill improvement and how much of that is low sample size luck remains to be seen, but judging by the fact that he still wasn’t a high-usage player off of screens last season, I’m not all that optimistic he will maintain his elite status.
Jerryd Bayless certainly has his weaknesses, most notably his struggles creating shots inside the paint and his defensive limitations brought on by his poor physical profile. Still, Bayless has mostly learned to play around them, accepting the specialist role that is sometimes difficult for high profile college scorers to embrace.
That has led to a guy who has almost exclusively lived and died by his three-point shot, becoming more dependent on that shot for success as his career has gone on. That led to great success in 2015-16, but huge struggles the previous season. Exactly which version of the off-the-ball scorer the Sixers get will determine how successful the contract is.
While it would be nice if Bayless were more of a natural point guard, or plus defender, to be a more consistent contributor even when his shot isn’t falling, he has at least learned to limit his deficiencies. His shot selection has improved over the years, he’s far less ball dominant than he was when he came into the league, he’s cut down on his turnovers a bit, and he does have the ability to slide his feet defensively and gives decent effort, even if his physical limitations limit him on this side of the court. And, despite not being what most would consider a true point guard, he’s not a non-passer, either, and he can make some creative reads out of pick and rolls and also make the simple swing passes to shooters on the perimeter.
|First 3 seasons||16.2%||1.8|
|Last 4 seasons||14.5%||2.1|
Still, Bayless’ success is more or less tied to his ability to make three-point shots. He’s had two seasons where he was firmly a positive offensive contributor, as measured by offensive box score plus-minus, adding +1.1 OBPM in 2015-16 and +3.2 in 2011-12. He shot 43.3 percent from three-point range in those two seasons. He’s similarly had two seasons where he’s been strongly in the negative side of the ledger in OBPM, coming in with -2.3 in 2014-15 and -3.8 in 2008-09. He shot a combined 29.9 percent from three-point range in those seasons.
In that respect, you hope that he’s a good fit for the Sixers and Ben Simmons, in much the same way he was when the Bucks ultimately went with point-Giannis last season. He has enough shooting where, if he’s making his shots, he should be able to open up the court for Ben Simmons to attack, and Simmons should generate enough open looks for Bayless to increase his chances of being effective from the perimeter. It’s the type of synergistic relationship that should make the two play off of each other well, and should help Bayless be more valuable to the Sixers than he would in some other situations.
And, since Simmons will handle at least a portion of the half court shot creation, it should allow Bayless to defend his “natural” (in terms of defensive profile) point guard position, while limiting his shot creation responsibilities, allowing Bayless the chance to play his more natural role on both sides of the court. Bayless’ lack of need to dominate the ball, and the driving lanes his shooting should open up, will also put the Sixers in a position where they can properly evaluate how much of Simmons’ shot-creation abilities will translate from college.
That fit, combined with the relatively low cost of ~$9 million per season, should allow Bayless to fill a much-needed role with the Sixers, even if his overall game isn’t perfect.
Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.