“It’s the first step in the right direction. We’re in the playoffs but we’re not content. We want to go out there and prove that we belong, and compete.”
That was what Aron Baynes had to say earlier, during an interview with Fox Sports Australia.
The youthful Detroit Pistons, under the leadership of head coach Stan Van Gundy --and an experienced coaching roster boasting the likes of ex-NBA veterans like Tim Hardaway and Malik Allen-- have emerged as an eighth seed in the Eastern conference, ready to make a stand and prove their worth.
Despite playing only 15.2 minutes a game this regular season, the 29 year old big man has averaged 6.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 0.6 assists while clocking an impressive 81 games - the most games he's played in a full NBA season to date.
The Big Banger is averaging less minutes in comparison to his prior season with the San Antonio Spurs, but surprisingly has only had a slight scoring dip (0.3 points) during his first year with Detroit. He also clinched a new career high by scoring 21 points against the Brooklyn Nets.
What are the expectations for him, going into this playoffs series against the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers?
Being part of the Spurs' championship run in 2014, it's no surprise that his leadership will be part of the equation. Baynes has admitted to his current team's lack of exposure to the playoffs heat, but is confident that their experience in playing under pressure will help.
If you needed any evidence of the Pistons' poise, look no further than their recent victory against the Washington Wizards, whom they had struggled against all season long. The win was all the sweeter, when you considered the fact that Detroit's triumphant victory also secured their playoffs berth.
“We went out there with everything that we had, and we were able to come out on top," Baynes commented. "It was just a great team effort, and Reggie (Jackson) played phenomenally the entire game. Other guys stepped up and we were able to clinch our spot. So, it definitely meant a lot.”
Sinking the free throws
It's no secret that Aron Baynes has been the designated backup to their star center Andre Drummond in times of foul trouble, but the Big Banger's utility goes beyond that. Drummond's free throw woes have been well-documented, and Baynes' proficiency at the charity stripe (80.1% career, 76.4% this season) will help the Pistons avoid "Hack-a-Drummond" scenarios, when missed free throws become more than a mere inconvenience.
“One of the reasons I was talking to Stan (Van Gundy) before I signed here, was that he definitely wanted that option (of a free throw shooting big-man)," Baynes shared. "That’s something that I work hard toward doing. I figure that’s something I can go out there and make the most of."
Rebounding is definitely a big key.
The Pistons have won the season 3-1 against the Cavaliers, but Cleveland took their only win against Detroit on the road, 114-106 in Auburn Hills. The Pistons were outrebounded 47-39 in that loss, with Tristan Thompson (14 rebounds) leading the battle of the glass. Baynes had 5 rebounds that night, and will undoubtedly have to contribute his fair share (and more) on this end, if the Pistons are to have any chance.
It's doubtless that Aron Baynes has his role carved out for him. The big man however, is relishing the challenge.
“Cleveland has proven that they're the best team in the East," Baynes said. "I think that we’ve proved that, when we play against the best teams in the league, we come ready and prepared.”
“We're looking forward to the challenge, and can’t wait to get started.”
Game 1: Detroit Pistons @ Cleveland Cavaliers
When: Monday, 18 April 2016, 5 a.m. AEST Where: Quicken Loans Arena