“I think the time you put in the gym will show. And everybody who is really good in this league puts a lot of work into it. That’s what I want [to become], and that’s why I do it.”
CAMDEN, NJ – The off-season regimen would start early. Early enough for Jerryd Bayless to arrive at the 76ers’ training complex and get on the court between 6:45 and 7:00 in the morning.
The 29-year old guard usually stayed on the floor for an hour and a half or so, typically finishing up his routine by 8:30 or 8:45 am.
Then, after some ball handling and finishing drills, it was off to the weight room, until voluntary 5-on-5 pick up games with teammates began around lunch time.
In the afternoon, there would be yoga sessions, followed by a few hours away from the Sixers’ facility. But before Bayless’ long days were done, he’d ultimately return to get up more shots, and have dinner.
On a team full of hard-working guys, many agree that Bayless, set for his 10th year in the NBA, might be the hardest worker of all.
“Maniacal” is a word Bryan Colangelo used recently to describe the way Bayless has gone about his preparations for the forthcoming campaign.
Brett Brown, meanwhile, has found the veteran to be particularly motivated.
Bayless’ teammates have praised him for helping bring an intensity to the Sixers’ training camp even higher than previous years.
As for Bayless himself, he chalks up his approach to simply playing how he plays. The residual effects, like highly competitive practices, are just that.
“I guess that happens,” Bayless said Wednesday, following the Sixers’ second practice of the preseason, which went nearly three hours.
When you listen to Bayless talk about everything he’s been through in the past year, since he first started feeling soreness in his left wrist last September, the factors fueling him become that much more clear. As for what these factors might be…
First and foremost, Bayless is just eager to play NBA basketball on the heels of being sidelined for all but three games a season ago. Second, the Arizona product has a burning desire to be as good of a player as he can be. On top of all that, he wants to win, and seems to be willing to go to extra lengths to push his club.
“It’s been a long road, so I’m just really excited to get out there, and get this thing going,” Bayless said recently.
Signed to a free agent contract in July of 2016, Bayless was coming off arguably his most well-rounded season to-date, averaging 10.4 points, 3.1 assists, and 2.7 rebounds for the Milwaukee Bucks, while hitting a career-best 101 3-pointers. He was brought in not only to add a respected voice to the Sixers’ locker room, but also to act as a versatile backcourt threat.
Now fully healthy, Bayless can begin to fill such a role. Brown believes Bayless’ year off, “where he could step back and sort of feel the program,” will wind up serving the combo guard well. The fifth-year head coach views Bayless as someone capable of providing “lightning in a bottle” scoring punch off the bench early in games (Brown made comps to Manu Ginobili, Jamal Crawford, and Eddie House), as well as a dependable defensive presence.
The Sixers, Brown said, want to “turn [Bayless] loose,” and empower him to score with an attacking mentality.
“He’s as hard a worker as anybody that I’ve been around,” Brown said Wednesday, issuing a telling admission, given the caliber of talent Brown’s been around over the course of his time in the NBA. “He just works. I think the combination of having that year off – plus looking forward to being able to enjoy the fruits of his labor with all the time he’s put in – has really let him come into this camp motivated, and trying to find his place, really trying to carve out his own role within this team.”
Hear Bayless discuss his off-season trip to Israel on The BroadCast:
Bayless doesn’t mince words when discussing the difficulty associated with having to sit out virtually an entire season. He called the experience “terrible.” His only three games came the week of Thanksgiving, and included one start, an 11-point November 25th performance against the Chicago Bulls. The outing ended up being Bayless’ final one of 2015-2016.
“Last year was really tough for me, not being able to play, and watching the team play,” said Bayless. “That’s the first time that’s ever happened to me for that long of a time period. I couldn’t do anything. I was in a cast. It was four or five months. From a competitive basketball standpoint, it was the worst time that I’ve ever been a part of, because I couldn’t compete, and that’s all players usually want to do.”
Even with his wrist in a cast, Bayless tried to stay active, and engaged. He kept up his cardio, did some modest shooting exercises here and there, and lent his sharpened perspective to practices and games.
Now, back on the hardwood, Bayless is carrying a welcomed, valued edge with him. Other members of the Sixers’ guard stable have taken notice.
“He’s probably one of the most competitive guys I’ve been around,” TJ McConnell (a fellow Arizona Wildcat) said following Wednesday’s workout. “He tries to get under your skin a little bit, which is a technique that helps the guys play harder, and kind of lights a spark under their butt. I love the way he tries to get under your skin. It helps out a lot.”
“He’s not afraid to speak,” said Brown, acknowledging that Bayless constructively challenges teammates. “But I think the thing that speaks loudest is how he works. Everybody recognizes his work ethic, and his leadership is very organic. It comes in different ways, shapes, and forms, and his way, although it can be done with a bite in his voice, it’s mostly done through his actions.”
One particular prospect with whom Bayless appears to have created a strong connection is Ben Simmons. The two had plenty of battles during voluntary summer pickup games, and have had chances to line up across from each other again this week during camp.
“You always want to learn from a guy like that,” Simmons said of Bayless, noting the elder statesman doesn’t hesitate to call out someone when mistakes are made. “The teams he’s been on, it’s great for me to just learn, and soak in everything. It helps me get better, and not only me, it’ll help the team get better.”
As demanding as Bayless may be of Simmons, there’s no doubt the former believes in the latter’s potential immensely. Bayless’ logic is straightforward. The better Simmons gets, the better the Sixers will be, collectively.
“Part of the mindset for me is to help this team win,” said Bayless. “I think we have a collection of a lot of really good players, and just being a part of that and helping this team win in different ways on a nightly basis is something I’m looking forward to.”
The time to make a difference is here, and it sounds like Bayless doesn’t intend to let the opportunity pass him, or the Sixers, by.