It is morning at the Trail Blazers practice facility and Jerryd Bayless is doing the things that most basketball players do; the same routine he’s done since junior high.
First there is stretching to be done before some light jogging up and down the court to get the blood pumping. After that, it’s time work on ball handling skills: dribbling two balls at the same time, crossovers, keeping the ball low the court. Throughout the drills, Bayless displays an assortment of prototypical point guard skills; skills that draft prognosticators questioned whether or not he had when he declared for the NBA draft after his freshman season at Arizona.
Next up, shooting drills. Bayless works his way around the court in a deliberate manner, taking set shots from the perimeter, driving to the hoop, jump stopping, fading away, cutting hard around imaginary screens before pulling up for a mid-range jumper. Every now and then Bayless will roll to the hoop and elevate, displaying his impressive vertical leap before throwing down a dunk or laying the ball softly off the glass.
Bayless finishes up the workout with weightlifting. Already an impressive physical specimen when he entered the league, Bayless has continued to sculpt and add muscle to his 6-3, 200 lbs. frame. His body-type, broad, compact and muscular, is reminiscent of guards like Chauncey Billups and Dwyane Wade; guards that can get be physically imposing on defense while remaining quick and explosive. It’s the kind of body that is equipped to handle the beating that an 82-game season can dole out.
Nothing that Jerryd Bayless does at the practice facility on this day is all that different from what others will do, but with one exception: It’s still two hours before the start of actual practice. By the time most of his teammates show up to get their ankles taped, Bayless will have already put in a full workout.
“His work ethic is off the charts,” said assistant coach Monty Williams, one of the earliest risers in the Trail Blazers organization. “He’s in the gym when I get there, which is sad, but that’s just the way he is. And before games he’ll work out two or three times. He’s one of those guys you almost have to tell them to chill out a little bit. But he’s got a healthy sense of paranoia and he’s trying to do anything he can to get on the court. And when he does, I think all of this hard work is going to pay off for him.”
Getting on the court has been difficult so far this season for Bayless, who, after being name the MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League, has played in just six games through the first month of the season. Veterans Brandon Roy, Steve Blake and Sergio Rodriguez eat up most of the burn at the guard position in Nate McMillan’s rotation, leaving little opportunity for Bayless to get significant minutes. It’s the proverbial catch-22 of being a high draft pick on an already good team: plenty of opportunity to learn from some of the best in the NBA, but little time to utilize those lessons in game situations.
“All I know is that I’m putting in the work,” says Bayless. “That’s all I can do. Everything else is up to coach. I’m working out and doing everything that I can to get better, but when it comes to playing time, it’s all up to coach. But when my chance comes, I’ll be ready.”
It’s an adjustment for a player who, up until now, has always been the first option on any team he has ever been on. The competitive nature and self-assurance that drives the most successful athletes can’t simply be turned off and on, so Bayless has worked on refocusing that energy into improving his game while he waits for an opportunity to prove himself on the court.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that his time will come,” said general manager Kevin Pritchard, the man responsible for orchestrating the trade on draft night to acquire Bayless from the Indiana Pacers. “When it is? That I don’t know. But he is preparing himself, and I use that word very strongly. He is definitely preparing himself to be a good basketball player in this league. And that’s why we’re very encouraged because he’s competitive and he’s tough. He’s going to get his chance.”
Until that chance comes, Bayless will keep working earlier and more often than the next guy, preparing for that opportunity as he has always done.
“I try to improve on everything everyday. Right now I’m just trying to be Jerryd, and hopefully everything thing will work out.”