Not too many Detroit Pistons outperformed expectations in 2016-17. One of the few was Aron Baynes.
In fact, he was one of the best players on the Pistons this season. Which seems odd to say about a guy who posted just 4.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. But Baynes’ virtues aren’t about numbers. Not the traditional ones, at least.
In many ways, his play is the antithesis of the of the starter playing ahead of him, Andre Drummond. From the moment he steps on the court, he’s physical, a vocal defender, and does the small team to help his team from play to play. Though his physical limitations like his unreliable hands, limited leaping ability, and short wingspan prevent him from physically dominating the way Drummond is able to when he’s focused.
Baynes’ game is about being a pain in the ass. On offense that means his tooth-rattling screens as well as one of my favorite observations that mophatt1 pointed out in his awesome High/Low series, clearing out the help defender.
But it was on the defensive end where Baynes made his biggest impact. He had a defensive rating of 98.5, a difference of 6.8 below the team’s mark. It’s not something you’d expect out of Baynes by looking at his traditional defensive marks, but he was a game-changer defensively. He had a defensive field goal percentage of 42.7 percent, holding opposing players to 4.8 percent below their average field goal percentage. His defensive field goal percentage was the third best mark for centers in the league and his differential was the fourth best.
Baynes doesn’t get up high, but he gets up strong and stout. His verticality was tremendously effective:
Verticality is a word, right?
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Baynes’ season was his rebounding - or rather the team’s rebounding with him on the court. Andre Drummond was a dominant rebounder again this year. He once again led the league in rebounds and rebound percentage. Aron Baynes wasn’t any where near Drummond’s level for individual statistics.
But somehow, the Pistons were a better rebounding team with Baynes on the court than Drummond. They averaged a rebounding percentage of +1.4 percent higher than the opposing team while Drummond was on the court, +6 percent with him on the bench. Their rebounding percentage was +6.3 percent higher with Baynes on the court and only +2 percent higher with him on the bench.
The clip above was a great example of why. Baynes may not always secure the rebound, but he manages to prevent the opposing team from securing it either by being a pain in the ass. Like here:
At the end of the day, Baynes was the Pistons best center. He played better than Drummond this season and it wasn’t even close. He has a player option for $6.5 million for next season and his agent says he hasn’t made a decision yet - that he will likely use most of the time until the June 20 deadline.
Baynes certainly doesn’t have the name recognition to get starter dollars. But last offseason Ian Mahinmi and Timofey Mozgov signed for $64 million deals and Joakim Noah signed for $72 million. Baynes is a far better player than any of those guys.
However, it’s possible that opposing teams might not recognize that just yet. If the market sounds dry for Baynes and he winds up opting into his third year with the Pistons, he’d be an incredible bargain. And with him only playing 15.5 minutes per game compared to Drummond’s 30, it’d be worth considering an even split between the two.