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Timberwolves guard Jerryd Bayless taking advantage of his chance to shine

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jerryd Bayless (8) shoots the ball against Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) during their game Jan. 25 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City. Russ Isabella / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves’ best player on the floor in its overtime win over Memphis on Wednesday, Jan. 30, wasn’t Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson or even Josh Okogie.

It was a guy who barely had played this season as of two weeks ago and was supposed to be Minnesota’s No. 4 point guard at the end of the bench.

It was Jerryd Bayless.

Bayless played 43 minutes against the Grizzlies, tallying 19 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds. The Wolves outscored Memphis by 17 points when Bayless was on the court. On a night when many of the Wolves didn’t have it, Bayless kept the team in the game.

“You give him all the credit you can give somebody,” Wolves interim coach Ryan Saunders said. “He was great.”

He’s been great. The Wolves are down three point guards -- Jeff Teague, Tyus Jones and Derrick Rose. Many teams don’t even have a fourth point guard, hardly ever are they needed to play, much less start. And if you do get to that point as a team, well, the ship is probably sunk, anyway.

But not the Wolves. Winners of four of their past six games, they’re still in the playoff race, and Bayless is a big reason why. In those six games, the 30-year-old point guard is playing 33 minutes a game, averaging 14.3 points, 6.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds and one steal.

“Obviously, we’re glad Jerryd is on our team,” Saunders said.

And Bayless is glad to have this opportunity. It’s one for which he has waited a long time. This is the type of opportunity for which he has waited 11 years. Sure, he’s started before, but it’s rare to be handed the keys to the car as Bayless has of late. He has played 37-plus minutes in each of the Wolves’ past three games.

“I’m trying to take advantage of it as much as I can,” Bayless said, “because I know how rare and how hard it is for these to come about.”

The NBA, as Bayless describes it, “is hard.” There are players who get countless opportunities and ample playing time from the outset of their careers, but there are many more who have to scratch, fight and claw for every chance they get.

Bayless admits he was “on the edge” this season. It would have shocked no one to see him drop out of the league sooner than later.

“You’ve got to fight every day to stay in it and just hope for something to happen where you can get an opportunity,” Bayless said, “and it’s finally come.”

In an entirely unlikely fashion.

“Like, who would’ve known that three guys would go down and a situation like this would have came?” Bayless asked.

No one, but Bayless was ready for it. He credits Wolves player development coach John Lucas III for helping him stay ready. He played 1 on 1 with the younger players to keep his body right and his skills sharp. He was prepared for this moment.

“You can tell he’s been working and he’s been staying ready,” winger player Andrew Wiggins said. “He’s coming in and putting up the numbers and playing how we expect him to play and he’s playing big time for us.”

Veteran forward Taj Gibson said it’s all about confidence, belief and the backing of your teammates and coaching staff in the NBA. Bayless currently has all of that, particularly from his head coach.

“Ryan trusts me, Ryan is letting me play the way I know I can play, it’s just the NBA is hard,” Bayless said. “Sometimes it won’t go your way, but I just stuck with it and finally I’ve gotten a chance, and I’m just trying to do the best that I can.”

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