Aussies in NBA: 5 observations from Aron Baynes’ early season form

Aron Baynes has enjoyed a successful start to his second season with the Detroit Pistons. The Australian entered this campaign fully fit, a stark contrast to last year where ankle injuries derailed his first months in Detroit.

His Pistons have survived the loss of starting point guard Reggie Jackson, splitting their first eight games. Detroit will be in San Antonio tomorrow and Baynes will be pitted against the franchise which launched his NBA career. This will also mark the first time he will share the court with Patty Mills since the Rio Olympics, this time on opposing sides, of course.

Ahead of Baynes’ return to San Antonio, here are five observations from his early-season performances.

Improved rim protection

Protecting the rim has never been a strength of Baynes’ game. He’s always been a savvy defender, often getting himself in the right positions, but NBA athletes have frequently found a way to get the better of him. Things look much better this season though!

Baynes is protecting the rim more effectively than any other point in his NBA journey. His block rate is currently at a career high, and opposition attackers are only shooting 40 percent at the rim when defended by Baynes. That ranks Baynes 12th among all players with 35 such defensive attempts and represents significant improvement over last year's figure of 51 percent.

Perimeter defence

Baynes has also showed great competency defending out on the perimeter. Take this play against Marreese ‘Mo Buckets’ Speights.

Baynes is able to quickly close out to Speights, denying a dangerous shooter the chance to launch the long ball. Baynes is then nimble enough to slide his feet and prevent Speights from reaching the rim. Speights isn’t an athletic freak by any means, and will never be confused with an elite NBA specimen, but this is nice work from Baynes. Every center needs this skill in the modern-day NBA.

Role in the half court offence

Baynes’ main role in the Detroit offence is to set screens, bust his arse and throw his considerable frame around. He is occasionally rewarded with post touches, and against the right matchup, this can be advantageous for the Pistons.

One thing that does limit his impact is the talent of those around him, Beno Udrih in particular. With Ish Smith replacing Reggie Jackson in the starting lineup, Baynes has been accompanied by Udrih for over 80 percent of his minutes.

No offence to Udrih, but he is a replacement-level NBA point guard and not much more. Baynes is constantly running the floor hard and not being rewarded by his point guard. In the matchup against Denver alone, there were multiple occasions where Baynes sprinted up the floor, created a deep seal and established great post position, but Udrih just couldn’t find him. A healthy Jackson could remove Udrih from the rotation and give Baynes some extra touches.

Leuer issue

Coming into the season, many questioned whether the addition of Jon Leuer would erode Baynes’ playing time. I certainly did. After two weeks of basketball, it doesn’t seem to be an issue. Baynes’ per game minutes average has dropped ever-so-slightly but it’s nothing to be alarmed about.

Given their respective roles on the Pistons, Baynes’ minutes will be invariably linked to Andre Drummond. Leuer’s talents allow him to play with Drummond, Baynes’ don’t. It really is that simple. Leuer is averaging over 10 minutes per game alongside Drummond and these minutes aren’t available to Baynes.

The big Australian has not played one second with Drummond, and don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Baynes is Drummond’s backup and will only see the court when the All-Star needs a rest, gets in foul trouble or starts bricking free throws.

It’s also worth noting that Leuer has been on the court for 85 percent of Baynes’ minutes, serving as a floor spacer and nice complement to the Australian’s game. The two have shown nice chemistry and help prop up an improved Pistons second unit.

Nets beef and haircut

Let’s finish with my two favourite Baynes-related anecdotes. First, we have the beef! Baynes decided to try and battle Trevor Booker, Isaiah Whitehead and the entire Brooklyn Nets roster last week.

And then we have that wonderfully juicy haircut and beard combination. This set-up is a beautiful, intimidating mess. Look at the scowl on the face of the great man, he will block your shots and scare you senseless!

May the bearded samurai live on forever! Twitter certainly loves it.

Never change, Aron.