For the Phoenix Suns, the 2019/20 NBA season has shown an eerie resemblance to many of their previous campaigns; aimless, underwhelming and tiresome.
At 24-37, they’re just an anonymous squad in the vast NBA landscape, neither competitive enough to steal away a playoff series, nor dreadful enough to merit any degree of scorn. Comparatively, the Knicks may be abysmal, but that at least makes them interesting. Mocking New York’s efforts is a source of mirth, whereas mocking the Suns would be like laughing at a random passerby on the street — why bother?
Sifting through the minutia for anything noteworthy typically goes as far as Devin Booker, ooh how shiny he is, but if you’re inclined to dig deeper, you may be pleasantly surprised by the occasional cameos from Queensland’s Aron Baynes.
Baynes is the prototypical NBA journeyman, bouncing around teams with the frequency of a ball being dribbled up court, but after collecting various mercenary trinkets along the way (including an NBA Championship with the 2013-14 Spurs, in case you were keeping score), he may have happened upon something worthwhile in Phoenix.
Through 39 games, Baynes is averaging a career high 10.6 points per contest, taking nearly twice as many shots as he did per game last season while still maintaining close to his career average in accuracy. His 21.3 minutes are also a career high, proving that he has become a critical cog in Phoenix’s rebuild as he keeps the role of starting centre warm for Deandre Ayton.
He remains an elite screener, using his gargantuan frame to completely engulf players. If Baynes is able to get in position, he effectively acts as an automatic escort for the ballcarrier, and it’s drawn the ire of many vexed opponents over the years. Ramon Sessions probably still has nightmares about Baynes towering over him.
He’s also found a newfound affinity for deep balls in the desert; after hitting 21 of 61 3-point shots last season (both career highs at the time). In 2019-20, Baynes has already nailed 45 of 136 from downtown. That puts him at 33.1% for the season; the exact same mark as Andrew Wiggins, at a mere fraction of the contract price.
Just don’t critique his form, because he legitimately looks like a drunk bear swatting at bees.
He’s been a conservative -20 in +/- through 6 games, though that figure is heavily inflated by a -13 flop in Chicago. Much more encouraging was his followup effort against the Jazz, where he wrestled his way to 8 rebounds and nearly 10 points in what would end up a 20-point blowout.
Phoenix has been 2-4 since his return, which is an encouraging sign after they languished through a 4-9 record in his absence. If you were to extrapolate these figures, Baynes is tracking towards 4-8, an entire loss fewer than previously.
All jokes aside, albeit unintentional jokes as the figures totally didn’t match the narrative I had initially envisaged, when Baynes isn’t staving off wounds, he has the potential to make a positive impact on the floor. It may be hard to recall now, but there was cause for a great deal of optimism in the early stages of the Suns’ season, as they overcame teams like the Clippers, 76ers and Nets by a combined 39 points.
Shortly before his first injury, there was a streak of 9 games where Baynes averaged 17.4 points and 6.2 rebounds. At 33, he may not be the answer in Phoenix (unless the question is ‘who is Aaron Baynes?’), but he’s got a knack for scoring in batches, and securing possession on the glass.
Where his season ends up, much like the logo on the laundry he’s currently wearing, is uncertain, though if he’s not long for Arizona, there are certainly some other teams out there that can use his presence on the boards and positive influence on the sideline.
Even if it's just at my house, I'm pretty sure he'd be cool to hang out with. We can throw a party, light the barbecue... anyone who gets too close to my wagyu steaks can be screened into oblivion. Sounds good to me!