When Aron Baynes was traded to the Phoenix Suns on draft day, it was unclear as to what role he would play behind up and coming star DeAndre Ayton. However, the former No. 1 draft pick is serving a suspension, which opened the door for Baynes, and the Aussie has taken the opportunity with both hands.
Through the opening 10 games of the season, Baynes is averaging 16.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and close to a block a game. He is shooting the deep ball at an incredible 50% and is at almost 60% from the field.
Compare these numbers to previous years, and Baynes is a clear top contender for the Most Improved Player award.
Looking over Aron Baynes’ eight-year NBA career, for the most part, he has been an intimidating role player. He would set hard screens and finish around the rim at a high level.
This season, he still does all those things, however has added a whole lot more.
The 32 year old's highest regular-season scoring average before this season was 2014/15 with the Spurs, when he put in 6.6 points per outing. Through the first 10 games of this season, it sits at 16.2 per game.
He is also averaging a career-high in rebounds, assists, blocks, FG%, and 3PTFG%. Perhaps the most impressive of the lot is his shooting percentage numbers, as he is taking double the amount of shots he has in any previous season.
Baynes also must now be considered as a stretch big, a role he has never really been associated with. His ability to spread the floor and be both an interior and exterior threat for the Suns has suited the likes of Ricky Rubio and Devin Booker perfectly.
Age is just a number
The Most Improved Player award was first handed out at the conclusion of the 1985/86 season. Since its inception, the oldest player to ever claim the prize was Darrell Armstrong, who was 30 at the time and playing for the Orlando Magic.
Baynes would be 33 by the time the award was given out this season, and if he were to claim it, he would be the oldest ever to do so. History suggests his age works against him, but in fact it should really be the contrary.
To make such massive improvements to your game at 33 in the top league in the world is a no mean feat. The game continually is evolving, and Baynes is clearly growing his skillset with it.
Last season, while playing with the Boston Celtics, head coach Brad Stevens spoke about the Aussie’s work ethic and push to improve and change with the game.
“Baynes probably puts up as many (three-point) attempts in practice as anybody on our team, so it’s good to see those go down,” he said.
That was a team that included Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris, Marcus Smart, and Jayson Tatum, all guys who aren’t afraid to let it fly.
In fact, of anyone on that team who played at least 50 games in the season, only Daniel Theis had fewer three-point attempts per game than Aron Baynes. However, that didn’t stop the Aussie from working on the deep ball.
That work ethic may surprise some, but as Patty Mills mentioned in a recent interview with NBA.com, it’s not new to him.
"You know what, his work ethic is probably the thing that isn't surprising," he said.
“I've seen it for so long now, but I guess his ability to adapt his game to how the game is being played and it's definitely paid off.”
The best thing for Aron Baynes’ case for Most Improved Player is that people are already taking notice.
The season is very young, but that hasn’t stopped the experts from recognising what the Aussie is doing.
Although DeAndre Ayton’s eventual return to the Phoenix lineup may hurt Baynes’ usage, you get the feeling he is doing enough to still be an integral part of the rotation when that happens.
If he can keep up this level of play, the Most Improved Player award could very well be heading Down Under.