Amari Bailey: Many Talents, Many Outcomes
Garbage Time Ghim is back from summer break and is ready to dive into one of the most exciting freshman in the Pac-12 and in the nation. "Let's Ride!" -Russell Wilson
“I suppose summer had to end sometime. It’s sad, though, because I had a great summer.”
-Michael Gary Scott
I was mindlessly scrolling on Tik Tok recently; when I found this lady talking about the end of summer and how that means the end of watermelon season. I was pretty sad; I had maybe 2 or 3 watermelons all summer, and it made me wonder if I’m truly living my best life. Now that everyone has seen Top Gun: Maverick (and loved it), laughed at Andrew Tate, and is ready to jump back into Sunday nights with angry dragons and incestual royalty, I had to get back into the groove of writing again.
Unlike 4th grade me, who didn’t read “Hatchet” over the summer and had nothing to write about the first week of school, I’ve been doing my homework and locked in on a couple of guys I’ll be previewing over the next couple of weeks. My first guy is Amari Bailey, and he’s almost as cool as Tom Cruise.
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Bailey is a 6’5” guard embarking upon his freshman year in Westwood for Mick Cronin and the UCLA Bruins. ESPN ranked Bailey the #2 Shooting Guard in his class, and he comes from highly touted Sierra Canyon, where he played with Bronny James last year. Those are all good things to know; what I want to do in this piece is break down the different aspects of his game that I enjoy and wait till the season starts to start focusing on his warts.
I just finished watching” The Rehearsal” on HBO, and it got me thinking about the college basketball experience and the pre-draft experience as a whole. If you watch anything in the next week other than basketball, please watch that show because it is one hell of a ride and truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen. In many ways, all basketball before the NBA is a wild rehearsal where you can try out millions of different variables and hope to find all the right answers before it matters. The issue for Bailey is that he’ll be playing for Mick Cronin at UCLA, who, unlike Nathan Fielder, may not be open to so many different styles and variables and may stubbornly play his “guys” all season. I’d hate if Bailey had a similar experience as Peyton Watson did last season. The last thing Bailey needs is to ride the bench and barely see the floor. I believe Bailey will need many opportunities to try things, make mistakes, and grow from them.
I don’t have exact measurements for Bailey, but from the eye test, it’s pretty clear that he’s a big, physical guard and may end up being 6’5” or larger when he gets to the league. He looks to have long arms and a great frame for his age, and he moves with a fluidity that screams athlete. These are all things I like, and the cherry on top is that he’s a lefty.
Growing up, I always appreciated finesse players. Guys like Glen Rice, Chris Mullin, Glen “Big Dog” Robinson, and Allan Houston were some of my favorites. Despite their lack of elite athleticism, I loved how they were good to great players. For the record, if Glen Rice played in today’s NBA, he would have been so fun to watch because his knees would have been healthier, and he would have taken way more 3s. Rice was one of my favorite players before the Knicks traded for his corpse, and he hurt my feelings by being too old and bad. Watch him give Scottie Pippen buckets in this game from ‘99, SPLASH.
Bailey is not like those guys, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed watching his game. Bailey is not the silky smooth shooter that those other guys were, but he does incorporate finesse into his game. To be clear, the guy is athletic, nothing generational or anything (@Nbadraftdude), but he has functional athleticism, is really strong, and embraces contact. At first glance, he may seem like a guy who tries to bully high school guys with his frame and athleticism. After watching hours of his tape, I’m starting to think there is a nice foundation of basketball IQ and finesse to his game that needs to be highlighted. I’m only going to be talking about his offense in this one because high school defense is mostly a train wreck, and I want you guys to enjoy reading this.
I like Bailey as a passer. Watching him play for Sierra Canyon, I never felt like he was a magnet to the ball. I like that he was comfortable playing within the flow of the offense, and I never saw any bad body language from him when he didn’t get the ball. I thought he was good on or off the ball and was proactively looking to get his teammates involved when he did have the ball. The clip posted above looks like a pretty standard kick-out from a drive. He got downhill going baseline, the defense collapsed, and he found one of the three open shooters on the perimeter. The first thing I liked was the gravity he had going to the basket; it was pretty cool to see the whole defense lock on to him as he got downhill. Honestly, for many high school superstars, you could see them just go up with that and try to make something happen for themselves. I know this wasn’t some elite-level pass, but this is a pass that shows that Bailey can be a willing passer.
The passes only get better from here. I like how he pushes the pace, looking to attack a defense that isn’t set yet. He drives right down the middle and glides past two defenders; the two back-line defenders step up to finally stop the ball. He goes up acting like he’s going to shoot it, realizes the big is gigantic, and laserbeams a nice no-look dime to his man for the bucket. There’s a measured control to his game that I do think he deserves credit for having.
In “The Rehearsal,” there’s a scene at the end of Episode Four where the older teenage actor pretends to go into a slide, and a smaller child actor ends up coming out of the slide. Without spoiling the show, Fielder did this because he wanted to go back in time in his simulated world and needed the actor he was working with to go back to being a child instead of a teenager. That scene was so jarring and wild to watch because it continued to accentuate the eccentricity of Nathan Fielder as a creative and the show as a whole. The fact that he chose to have that teenage actor pretend to go through the slide just for that scene and then see him climb out of the slide after the fake was ridiculous.
As interesting as that scene was, you can’t help but respect the process and the intentionality of Fielder and how committed he was to creating an authentic experience and reality for himself and the actors he was working with on the show. Fielder was fully committed to his method and creating the best process and result possible. I say all this because I know that not much of what Bailey is doing now is that crazy, but I love the intention that he plays with on the floor. I like that he’s trying to build out good habits and style of play to prepare himself for when he gets to the league. He’s going to make mistakes at times, and his coaches and fans won’t always be happy with the results of him trying different things, but ultimately the process of him trying these things will benefit him and whatever team he ends up on in the NBA. At least, I hope it does.
This is one of the best passes I saw him throw last season. Bailey brings the ball up, and all eyes are again on him. He starts to drive middle and realizes he’s got three guys on him. I didn’t love that he picked up his dribble, but I did like how he made a quick read and threw a pinpoint, one-handed pass to the weakside corner. Look at the screenshot below, all five defenders are locked on to him, and he’s got multiple options on the weakside.
That’s an absolute dime, and you have to give him credit for the accuracy and the processing speed. A pass like this is important because if we discuss his role/ceiling in the NBA, passes like this could define that. I know Bailey is 6’5”, which is a good size; it’s hard to say if he’s going to be a secondary guy or a lead guard. At this point in his development, I’d lean towards him being more of a secondary playmaker with some passing ability than a guy with whom I’d trust my offense. But that’s the thing about him being in the “rehearsal” stage; because of passes like the one I attached above, you can’t help but wonder if he’ll only get better as a passer, and then we’re talking about a completely different player, in my opinion.
This last pass is a treat.
There are eight seconds left on the clock; Bailey gets the inbound pass and goes into the screen with great pace, and credit the big for destroying his man with the screen. Bailey splits it, attacks the big waiting for him, and instead of settling for the game-winning shot, he continues his drive and identifies the strongside help, and dishes to the corner for the open look. Of course, the strongside defender had no business leaving his man in the corner, but it is what it is, and Bailey made the correct read in dishing it out to the corner for the open look. You can say that’s high school defense, but what can we do? At the time, he was in high school and made the correct decision against a high school defense. For the record, tons of NBA guys also make that mistake; human beings tend to do that.
The second aspect of his game that I enjoyed was the aggressive spirit he plays with out there. Aggression is often synonymous with being wild, but I don’t think Bailey played out of control. Like some of the possessions I highlighted in the passing part of the piece, he is a composed operator with the ball in his hands. The mix of composure and aggression will eventually lead to some dynamic moments.
In the clip above, I enjoyed how Bailey went at his defender and drew the foul. I wish he hit the shot, but it was a tough shot, and he was fouled. I want to give the defender some credit for fighting over the screen to stay with Bailey, but the spin Bailey put on him going to his right hand was pretty lethal. The speed and violence of that spin were awesome and created enough space for him to get the shot off and draw the foul. The truth is that Bailey could get off the passes he did in the segment above because of this type of aggression. High school defenders were always on high alert when he had the ball in his hands because they knew he was capable of this kind of stuff. With that in mind, Bailey just had to react to what the defense gave him and make the correct reads.
Look at this clip from his junior year against Jaden Hardy’s Air Nado squad. Off the crosscourt pass, Bailey makes a quick decision to get downhill. As Jaden Hardy steps up, Bailey keeps his man on his hip and gives him a STRONG bump. Hardy jumps out to the strong side corner, and Bailey finishes strong against their last line of defense and picks up the foul. This is the type of aggression and power that Bailey can play with.
This next clip isn’t much either, but Bailey picks up the loose ball, hits the defender with a smooth in-and-out dribble, gets to the basket, and hits the last defender with a vicious euro step. That’s some vintage Le’Veon Bell stuff with the sick footwork and power. There was a time when I was really happy that my Jets signed him; happiness is just not for me.
I do have some questions about Bailey as a shooter. Currently, when he shoots off the dribble, I think his shot can get really flat at times, but when he has his feet set and has some time to gather, it looks good, and he gets good arch on it. Look at this catch and shoot three below; not bad at all. I’ll probably watch his growth as a shooter the most, but I’m not walking into the season pessimistic about his outlook. I think there is a foundation for him to be a strong shooter, or at least good enough to make defenses think about it. Which, of course, is all you need. The more a defense has to consider and think about different variables, the more dynamic and effective you’ll be at scoring the ball.
When I start stitching together the things I like about Bailey’s game, I find myself starting to believe in him as a guy you can trust to make decisions for your squad. Bailey needs a long runway to try things out, try them out some more, and then try them again. The guy needs many opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them because the foundation is good. Size, speed, aggression, play-making ability, and a developing shooting stroke are many things to like.
The overarching comment that Nathan Fielder makes in “The Rehearsal” is that you ultimately cannot plan for life. No matter how much we plan, practice, and prepare, there are too many variables for us to ever really know what is to come. And ultimately, the exercise of trying to predict and prepare for any and all solutions leads you into a rabbit hole of doubt and never-ending possibilities. As human as it is to wonder, sometimes we can lose our humanity as we endeavor to know all. I don’t want to claim that I know that Amari Bailey will be a star. What I wanted to achieve with this piece was to inspire you all to believe with me. I just want to believe that with time, Bailey can achieve his true 1% outcome.
Talk soon, guys; more fun prospects to come. Also, enjoy this banger above.
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