Raptors' Bayless finding his stride

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:59 PM ET

TORONTO - The work in progress that was Jerryd Bayless is beginning to work out, progression being shown in small steps that point to something even bigger.

Just how much better Bayless is able to evolve as a floor leader remains in his court.

But for now and for the balance of the season, which has 16 games remaining beginning with Wednesday’s tip against the Pistons, Bayless is getting more minutes and starting to get a better handle on where his teammates like to get the ball on certain spots on the floor.

When the Raptors shipped out Jarrett Jack to New Orleans in a package that brought in Bayless on Nov. 20, the team’s muddled and oft-times combative point-guard tandem had finally been resolved.

No longer would Jose Calderon be forced to look over his shoulder, being able to play through some spotty stretches with no fear of getting buried on the bench.

Calderon will never be a defensive stopper, but he’s at his best when attacking opponents on high screen and rolls, looking to shoot when looks are presented and distributing the basketball — an area Bayless has shown much improvement.

The Calderon-Bayless combo isn’t among the best in the NBA, but it’s also not among the worst, it’s a workable tandem that gives the Raptors clarity and a defined role definition.

As one might expect, Bayless endured some growing pains upon his arrival in Toronto, admittedly trying to be too aggressive and too anxious to make an impact.

For once in his short career, which included stops in Portland and with the Hornets, he was given an opportunity to run, both in the literal and figurative sense.

“It’s been a transition like any player goes through when he gets traded,’’ Bayless said following Tuesday’s practice.

“It’s definitely getting easier. I’m trying to figure out where guys like the ball more and it’s getting better. I’m going to continue to get better and start preparing for the future.”

No one has a crystal ball and no one can say with any certainty what the future holds for the Raptors, a team that has much coveted cap flexibility going forward in an NBA environment that has yet to be determined.

If and when Bryan Colangelo is asked to continue his mandate, it’ll be incumbent on the president/GM to go out and somehow acquire a big who doesn’t just spot up beyond the three-point arc.

A small forward who has James Johnson’s length, but one who is more offensively polished would be welcome news.

There are plenty of areas that could use an upgrade, which isn’t exactly a news flash.

And unless they get lucky in the draft and a stud point guard emerges in the mould of a Derrick Rose or a John Wall, the team goes into the off-season with the Calderon-Bayless rotation at the point.

“He has a better understanding of our players,’’ head coach Jay Triano, whose own future needs to be addressed, said of Bayless. “He has a better understanding of what we do offensively and where guys are supposed to be.

“We keep asking him to be aggressive because that’s when he’s at his best.”

Bayless’ quickness allows him to get the basket very easily in transition when the Raptors key their break by making a stop on defence.

When the Raptors run their trademark high screen and roll, Bayless puts a lot of pressure on defences when attacking the rim.

At times, he’ll look to get his own shot off at the detriment of his teammates, but those stretches have become less frequent as Bayless settles into his new environment and role.

On Wednesday, Bayless returns to the Palace of Auburn Hills, where he helped lead the Raptors to an improbable 25-point comeback, the biggest in club history, back on Dec. 11.

Bayless would score 31 points by making shots, but more importantly by attacking Detroit with the dribble and getting to the foul line.

“We’re definitely trying to get wins,’’ Bayless said. “I think the main focus must be on continuing to get better.”


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