Tuesday was a red-letter day for Aron Baynes. The big Australian got his first start of the young NBA season and reminded everyone what he is capable of.
With All-Star center Andre Drummond sitting out due to an ankle injury, Baynes was inserted into the starting line-up for Detroit’s matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder. And he balled out.
Baynes finished with 20 points, 8 rebounds and a single assist over his 34 minutes of court time. This was undoubtedly the most influential performance by Baynes this season, and arguably his career in Detroit.
The workload for Baynes was more than double what he has become accustomed to this season – he came into the game averaging only 15.1 minutes per game and 4.5 points per game. Baynes set a career high for minutes played and fell one point shy of matching his personal scoring record of 21 points.
The most impressive aspect of Baynes stepping into the starting line-up was that he got a chance to play Detroit’s most talented. As we touched on last week, Baynes has often been underutilised whilst playing with Pistons reserves, and this wasn’t an issue yesterday.
Baynes’ teammates assisted on 7 of his 8 made field goals, along with all four of his free throws against the Thunder. It was great seeing Baynes finally get some system buckets within the flow of Detroit’s offence.
"It was just everyone else was drawing the defence, and the guys gave me the easy play to make. So it's a credit to my teammates more than anything," Baynes said following the game.
The feeling from Baynes’ teammates was mutual. Tobias Harris was very pleased with his performance.
"Going out there without Andre says a lot about Aron coming in and stepping up as big as he did for us," The Pistons forward shared in a post-game interview. "He brought a lot of energy tonight, he got us flowing, he got us going. He was a big piece and the reason we won the game."
Last year, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy referred to Baynes as the best backup center in the NBA. He went one step further in his post match comments following the Pistons’ victory.
“As the president, I’m not supposed to say this — he can be a free agent, and you’re not supposed to promote him — but he’s a starting center in the NBA. He’s just playing behind an All-Star. But you look around at all the starting centers, and Aron’s a starting center in this league, a starting-caliber center.
“So it’s not surprising that he played as well as he did. That’s who he is. He’s a really good player that when he gets an opportunity like tonight, he steps up and takes advantage of it.”
Baynes was hit in his protective mask by Westbrook late in the game and required medical attention to stop the bleeding. Luckily, no further damage was done and Baynes can now retire the Batman mask.
“Tonight was my last night with the mask, and it was good to have it on," Baynes said. It really was a perfect night of basketball in Detroit.
While Baynes will return to a reserve role once Drummond regains full health, this performance was a nice reminder that he belongs in an NBA rotation and is an effective option against most teams.