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2016 Detroit Pistons Preview: Aron Baynes continues to prove his worth

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After signing a contract initially considered to be an overpay, Baynes has proved to be a bargain.

Art by Christopher Daniels

“Baynes is a fine basketball player deserving of an NBA contract—just not this contract.” Rob Mahoney, Sports Illustrated

“I like Aron Baynes as much as the next guy, but…” Zach Lowe, ESPN

“"Van Gundy’s major frontcourt addition, the competitive but limited Aron Baynes, arrives on a generous 3-year, $20 million deal a few months after he was unable to stay on the court during the playoffs." Ben Golliver, SI

The Aron Baynes signing from last summer was pretty widely criticized. Most agreed that he was a decent, tough big man but that $20 million was far too much money for him.

Well a year after the consensus was that Baynes was an overpay, a year later the consensus is that he is almost certain to opt out of the final year of his contract to make some extra money. So much so that the Pistons signed Boban Marjanovic to a similar deal to prepare for Baynes’ eventual departure.

Baynes proved to be an ideal fit for the Pistons. He brought an extremely physical style which was rather missing yet essential for a squad of the Bad Boys heritage. And with a drastic increase in Hack-A-Dre last season, Baynes offered a solid free throw shooting option off the bench.

And beyond just the fit, Baynes was just damn good last season. Enes Kanter was the only backup center in the league (among centers starting 20 or fewer games) to accumulate more win shares than Baynes - though Kanter made $17 million last year compared to $6.5 million for Baynes.

But Baynes does come with some limitations as a player. With the most dominant rebounder in the league in Andre Drummond as part of the starting unit, the team struggled on the glass at times with Baynes on the floor. While Baynes can hardly be blamed for all of the second unit’s struggles, the team also posted -3.5 percentage points worse on their field goal percentage with Baynes on the floor.

Baynes was the most consistent, reliable player off the bench for the Pistons. But often it just wasn’t enough to keep the ship afloat.

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When the Pistons signed Boban, fans generally assumed Baynes slid onto the trade block. Don’t count on it just yet.

Detroit has solid depth at center, even if you take Baynes away from the equation. Between Boban, Jon Leuer, and Henry Ellenson, that’s quite a few bodies who could spend time backing up Andre Drummond.

And there’s reason to think that they could reasonably replace his production. He’s a slightly better rebounder than Leuer, offering a 17 percent rebounding percentage compared to Leuer’s 16.1 percent. He’s more of known entity compared to Marjanovic or Ellenson.

But none of them bring quite the same element that Baynes offers. Without his tooth-rattling picks, Detroit area dentists would see a decline in business. And it’s that physical style that sets Baynes apart.

Perhaps the most important and controversial part of Baynes’ preseason though has been his new look. Bearded and bunned, he’s been going for a look out of Vikings. Personally, I find it an upgrade over his “I Cut My Own Hair” look from last season. Feel free to weigh in on this essential aspect in the comments.

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At the end of the day, Baynes represents the Pistons being in a great spot with their big man depth. The big question is whether Baynes ends the season in Detroit or is traded at some point over the course of the year.

Much of that will depend on what Marjonvic shows during his chances to get on the court. So far this preseason, Boban hasn’t yet indicated he’s ready for the full responsibility of the backup center minutes. If he does, based on Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower’s past seasons, they’re unlikely to hesitate to hold onto a player with limited team control who could be used to address a position of weakness.

But if he does remain, he’ll likely offer the same reliability, toughness, and fit he showed last season.

Prediction:

42 games, 6 points on 58 percent true shooting, 4 rebounds, .5 blocks, traded midseason