Bayless showing he belongs
By Ryan Wolstat, QMI Agency
|Raptors' Jerryd Bayless will start at point guard while veteran Jose Calderon nurses as sprained ankle. (REUTERS)
It took two thirds of a season to get here, but the Raptors finally have an intriguing positional battle to consider.
The play and contractual status of Jerryd Bayless will force the club to give him heavy minutes at point guard as the season winds down, even when incumbent Jose Calderon returns to the lineup as early as Tuesday in Manhattan.
Calderon has had a fine year, one of the best of his career, but he is one of the oldest players on the roster, has only a year remaining on his contract and was already almost traded once by general manager Bryan Colangelo.
What Calderon is and is not is clear at this point. Colangelo knows what he has and knows if he will keep him long-term or not.
Bayless’ status is far less cut-and-dried. He will be a restricted free agent this summer.
His past play and decision-making indicated that he would be best served replacing the departed Leandro Barbosa as a scoring combo guard off of the bench.
But hold the phone — just when you are certain Bayless is not capable of being a full-time point guard, he goes on another run like the one he currently is on, making you rethink his future in this Raptors rebuild.
He carried the club on a 2-2 trip that easily could have been the first 4-0 road swing for the franchise in years (the team held halftime leads in each of the games).
The Raptors have lacked a penetrating guard for what seems like a decade now and Bayless is filling that crucial role at the moment, pouring in 21.8 points and 7.6 assists a night on great shooting over his past five games.
Bayless, always at least an average defender, has stepped up with the most effective defence of his young career. He was tired against the Bobcats and that helps explain why D.J. Augustin went off, but Kemba Walker was invisible, including when Bayless was on him.
Bayless’ standout play has caused Calderon to perhaps speed up his return from an ankle injury — “With the way Jerryd’s playing, I would hurry up and get back too,” joked head coach Dwane Casey
Casey was a non-believer in Bayless as an effective point guard theory earlier in the year, but appears to have been converted now.
Colangelo could be too. Bayless was once considered a candidate for the No. 4 selection in his draft year, before now all-star Russell Westbrook catapulted up the rankings.
This is a weak draft for point guards and unless Steve Nash or Deron Williams can be convinced to take Toronto’s money in free agency — and only one of those scenarios is in any way plausible — Bayless could be the long-term starter at the position for Toronto.
He has said all the right things about being willing to come off the bench, but after spending the season under the wing of former NBAer Johnny Davis, Bayless appears ready to graduate to a bigger role.
The Phoenix native believes the team can play even better than how it did at times on the trip once everybody adapts to the return of Andrea Bargnani.
“Guys just have to get comfortable with each other again. We’ve had guys in and out of the lineup,” Bayless said after the loss in Charlotte.
Bayless has looked pretty comfortable of late, but if he has another gear still to be reached, all of a sudden, Toronto’s already promising future becomes even more intriguing.