Much was made of the Detroit Pistons signing of 6-foot-10 Australian free agent big man Aron Baynes over the offseason, with many media outlets slamming the reported figure of $20 million over three years. I'll admit, myself an apologist for my fellow countryman, was a little baffled at the sum mooted. Upon further contemplation, however, and realizing that with a rising cap his contract sum will look infinitesimal, I am on board the Baynes train.
Many who haven't heard of Baynes (aka most people) were unsure what he could provide the Pistons. Well, at 6-10 and 260 pounds, he provides a fair lump of human in the form of post play, both offensively and defensively. His size means that only a select few mountains can successfully back him down, and thanks to early career seasoning in Europe, Baynes has developed his offensive game so far that he has a nifty post hook and a respectable jump shot stretching to about 15-18 feet.
Whatever you make of the figures bandied around by outlets, the issue is that Baynes fills a need as a backup centre (appropriate spelling) who is more than capable on offense and will definitely provide more on that end than the kettles-for-hands Joel Anthony.
2014-15 Year in Review
Baynes appeared in 70 games for the San Antonio Spurs last season, and despite only averaging a shade over 16 minutes a night, he was actually fairly effective. He averaged 6.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, which extrapolates to per-36 minute production of 14.8 points and 10.2 rebounds. His minutes with the Pistons will probably fall in that 16-20 minute range as the first backup behind Andre Drummond, and Baynes provides a different dynamic to the spring loaded Drummond. Last year, Baynes showed silky touch as a shooter from midrange, shooting 44.8 percent from 10-16 feet, and 45.8 percent from 16 feet out to the 3-point line. Also, this wasn't a limited sample size, as over 16 percent of his looks came in this midrange area.
Just because Baynes shows a soft touch from distance, doesn't mean he's soft inside. He isn't nicknamed "The Baynger" for nothing. He finishes a respectable 63.5 percent of his shots at the rim, with over 55 percent of his shots being of the close variety. He is also an inside force on the defensive end as well. He isn't a noted shot blocker, as last season he only blocked 0.7 shots per 36 minutes, but he is an excellent positional defender who keeps his hands up and contests and alters a fair few shots.
He is also a very good rebounder, averaging 10.2 per 36 minutes with a defensive rebounding percentage of 20.7 percent. His large frame means offensive rebounders have a hard time getting around him, and defensive players struggle keeping him off the glass. For comparison, Detroit's other backup center, Anthony, last year had a defensive rebounding percentage of 17 percent.
Another appealing aspect of Baynes is, much like fellow newcomer Steve Blake, he possesses toughness and tenacity. Very slowly Stan Van Gundy is building a team of bulldogs with a fighting mentality and hustle. Guys who have found their niche in the league as tough-as-nails hardmen, hustle warriors and irritants. Guys like Blake, Anthony Tolliver, Anthony, Marcus Morris, Baynes. It's even found in abundance in rookie Stanley Johnson, meaning that this likely Pistons second unit may be channeling its inner Bad Boys and dishing out a few shiny black eyes.
2015-16 Projected Production
After Drummond, there's about 15-20 minutes of backup center time to go around. Because Andre has a history of foul trouble early in games, we may find ourselves going to Baynes earlier than what is ideal. If this is the case, I'd expect him to surpass his career high of minutes played from last season of 1,122. Baynes will be the first big man off the bench as he provides a more well-rounded game than the defensive warden Anthony, and can be expected to bang, bruise and bother. He might also play alongside Drummond in a select cases where Van Gundy wants another big body who can defend on the floor.
In terms of statistical output, he'll likely feature on a second unit including Stanley Johnson, Jodie Meeks, Tolliver and Brandon Jennings, when healthy, so his offensive role will be somewhat diminished, but not overlooked, as he is a lethal exponent of the pick-and-pop jumpshot from the free-throw line. Also, as Baynes is a capable jump shooter, teams can't ignore him when he flares out to give a guard space when driving, as he demonstrated against Charlotte. There'll be plenty of opportunities for the point guard playing with Baynes to drive it into the lane and have space, as Baynes will jump out of the lane into a midrange spot. The defender then has two options; he can either 1) follow Baynes and leave a clear path for the guard or 2) step in front of the guard and leave Baynes with an easy midrange shot.
The addition of Baynes will also allow the offense to function more fluidly because of the intense physical nature of the screens he sets, a characteristic Van Gundy highlighted in the initial press conference. Sometimes, Andre can be accused of setting cloud screens as I call them, as they're wispy and defenders can roll through then like cotton candy. But Baynes puts all 260 pounds of Down Under into his brickwork, making losing defenders and forcing bigs to hedge a lot easier for guards, leaving many opportunities including mismatches on switches, as well as a quick rim-dive by Baynes.
All in all, whatever you think of the money, Baynes could very well prove to be a shrewd acquisition by Van Gundy for all the greasework he does in a basketball game.
18 minutes per game, 7 points, 5 rebounds, 54% FG, 84% FT