Aussies in NBA: The biggest thing Aron Baynes learnt from San Antonio

After three seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, you would think Aron Baynes' new season with the Detroit Pistons surely would take some getting used to.

The center however, seems to be enjoying the change of pace so far. During a recent interview with the NBA, Baynes agrees that the new environment has made him a better player overall, and points to the experienced coaching staff (including ex-NBA players like Tim Hardaway and Malik Allen) as an important factor.

"The coaches here are great, everyone from Stan (Van Gundy) and on. I’m still learning the game of basketball that I’ve been playing for as long as these guys have been around. There’s always more that I can learn and getting with these guys as well on the court."

"I have a different role here than I did in San Antonio. I’m enjoying it, I’m trying to embrace it, and I’m going to do what I can to help the team improve and help myself improve.”

On never taking a play off

From being just one of the guys, Baynes is now counted on to be one of the veteran voices on his new team, and help the team grow.

If there are any pearls of wisdom Baynes could impart from his earlier years with the Spurs, it is that focus matters. Focus and determination on making every play count, never to take a second off until the buzzer sounds.

"... You have to come and compete every possession. That’s one of those things that Pop (Spurs coach Gregg Popovich) really engrained in the team," Baynes explained. "You see how well they’re playing this year, they don’t take a possession off."

The San Antonio Spurs have long been known for their longstanding excellence, and this season's 61-11 performance so far, is no exception. The Spursian work ethic is undoubtedly something Baynes hopes to help nurture in Detroit.

"That’s something we can learn here, and hopefully I can be one of the foundations in that. Playing every possession, the pounding the rock attitude that they have down in San Antonio. That’s the metaphor that Pop used all the time - ‘it’s not necessarily the 900th hit that broke the rock it’s the 899 leading up to it.’ So that’s kind of how they play basketball, it’s every possession."

The Stonecutter Credo

The reference to pounding the rock (or The Stonecutter Credo), is a timeless quotation from Danish-American social reformer Jacob Riis. The quotation lives in the AT&T Center, not only in English, but in a variety of languages --including Meriam Mir, an obscure Eastern Torres Straits language that Patty Mills' relatives had to help translate-- the multi-national Spurs embody.

Patrick next to the Meriam Mir translation of the San Antonio Spurs motto (quote by Jacob Riis)

Posted by Benny Mills on Saturday, 9 January 2016

Most importantly, it speaks of the organisation's attention to what lies behind success: the grinding, non-stop process that leads to the results, and even beyond.

"When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it -- but all that had gone before."

Five years ago, Pop was asked about his choice to adopt the quote as the team mantra, and explained it in his honest, no-nonsense manner.

"... I thought it embodied anyone’s effort in any endeavor, really. It doesn’t have to be basketball. It can be a musical instrument, or learning mathematics, or going to law school or figuring out how to turn the water off in your house when you’re an idiot. You just keep looking, you keep trying, you keep going.

“The way he said it, it was very eloquent. I thought it fit. You get tired of all that other junk. ‘Winners never do this’ or ‘Losers always quit.’ ‘There’s no I in team’ – all the typical, trite silly crap you see in locker rooms at all levels. It’s always turned me off.

“I thought this was maybe a little more intelligent, a different way to get to the guys and make them think about things. They’ve had that in their brains for a long time. They’re probably totally tired of it, but it’s worked well for us.”

As a former Spur, Baynes would likely concur with Pop, and says so in not as many words.

"[That focus] is what we need to focus on here and that’s something that can help us take that next step to get to the playoffs. That’s what we’re trying to focus on now - not taking possessions off. At the end of the day, if you do that then you can compete with anyone in this league.”

For a youthful Detroit team that is still finding its identity and journey towards NBA greatness, this single-minded focus on taking things one possession at a time, might just be the reminder the Pistons need for a solid playoff run this postseason.