If you missed our discussion on Andrew Bogut and Dante Exum in part one of our Aussies in NBA: 2016-17 Season Wish List please check it out. Today, we are looking at Australia's very own bearded samurai.
2016-17 wish list: (i) improved offensive polish, and (ii) more free throw issues for Andre Drummond
Aron Baynes was recruited by the Pistons to serve a specific role.
When Baynes agreed to a three year, $20 million contract with Detroit, many pundits believed Stan Van Gundy had overpaid for the Australian big man. Detroit already had Andre Drummond in place as their franchise center. There was much scepticism that Baynes would be an effective use of resources, especially given the fact it would be hard to play him and Drummond together.
In the first three months of the season, Baynes did little to answer the critics. He averaged just over 4 points and 4 rebounds per game. He was highly ineffective on offence, shooting only 45% from the field and under 65% from the free throw line. The drop in production when Andre Drummond left the court and Baynes came in was severe. The Pistons bench was not producing, and Baynes was a major part of the problem.
Then the wheel started to turn. Baynes’ play dramatically improved from the season’s midpoint and the 6’10” Aussie went on to complete the best season of his career. Baynes posted career highs in minutes played, points, rebounds, blocks and basically every statistical category – well beside three point shooting, he will likely never match this one long range bomb from his time in San Antonio.
He will never be confused with the flashiest players alive, but Baynes is a reliable reserve big man who rarely makes a mistake. And this is the point.
Baynes was not brought into Detroit to challenge Andre Drummond for his starting spot. No, the big Australian was acquired to be an interior presence and simplistically enough, to make his free throws when Drummond falls victim of the Hack-A-Shaq routine. While he may be overpaid for this role, it fits him down to the ground.
After a slow start, he raised his total rebounding percentage to a solid 17%, while this number jumped significantly on the defensive end of the floor to 22.5%. To put that figure in perspective, his ability to eat defensive rebounds was less than one percent behind well-publicised rebounder Tristan Thompson, as well as Draymond Green and Greg Monroe. In fact, the numbers show Baynes to be a better defensive rebounder than the likes Tim Duncan, Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin.
As for his free throws, the percentage may have dropped from his San Antonio days, but Baynes still maintained a very good 76.4% strike rate. Impressive considering he shot, and made, more free throws in his lone Pistons season than his entire Spurs career. Baynes took approximately one free throw per game in San Antonio, but doubled that in Detroit.
All in all, Baynes enjoyed a successful first season with Detroit. He did what was asked of him in the confines of his role and skill set. Yet despite an impressive campaign, there is a real and present threat to Baynes’ playing time.
The Pistons signed Jon Leuer and Boban Marjanovic in July, and both will be competing for minutes at the expense of Baynes.
Boban is lurking on the bench should Baynes not perform, a scary thought considering the future James Bond villain was a statistically more efficient offensive option than Baynes last season.
As for Leuer, despite being the same height as Baynes and owning a largely similar resume, his perception is the antithesis of our big Australian. This can be largely attributed to one single factor: three-point shooting. This is the Great White Buffalo of the NBA, it blinds everyone and covers up every weakness. Van Gundy’s love affair with shooting big men is well known, and it figures that Leuer will receive immediate minutes in Detroit.
So how can Baynes keep his playing time? For me, the clear starting point is to improve his finishing around the rim. An obvious weakness during his career in America, this something many Pistons fans have confirmed here and here.
Of the 103 players 6’9” or taller who played 1,000 minutes last season, Baynes ranked below average in 2PT% (57th) and effective FG% (63rd). In certain situations, Baynes’ shortcomings on offence wouldn’t be such an issue, but in Detroit, they're a big problem.
It’s impossible for Baynes to share the court with Drummond, which is problematic considering the All-Star will be playing significant minutes. On that same list of 103 players, Drummond ranked 42nd in 2PT% and 45th in effective FG% - a statistical profile that shows better competency over a perceived strength for Baynes. The two only shared the court for a total of 22 minutes last season. I’d be amazed if we see one such minute this season.
Drummond averaged 33 minutes a contest last season, despite a disastrous free throw strike rate. If the Connecticut product increases his conversion rate from the line, he will likely see more playing time. This is something that would further erode the available pool of minutes for Baynes.
Leuer is a more logical fit next to Drummond, while Marjanovic will be expecting to replace Baynes as the Pistons backup five. The pressure is on Baynes to keep his spot. This is only amplified when you consider both new signees are younger, and that Baynes can become a free agent after the season.
Should Baynes make some small improvements to his offensive repertoire, expect him to remain Drummond’s primary backup. And improvement shouldn’t be unexpected, the signs are there. Case in point is this hook shot over Pau Gasol, one which almost became the biggest bucket in the history of Australian basketball.
The fundamentals are not a problem for Baynes. But he must improve his ability to finish on offence if he is to maintain a role in Detroit.
Please check back in tomorrow as we analyse what's on the wish list of Patty Mills for the 2016-17 NBA season.