Is Aron Baynes a good fit with the Suns?

Aron Baynes will be suiting up for the Phoenix Suns in 2019, his fourth NBA team, after being traded from the Celtics this past off-season. Initial rumours that the Suns would buy out the veteran centre’s contract never came to pass and Baynes will be on the roster come opening night.

Baynes is more than just a rim protector

Baynes had an outstanding FIBA World Cup; at times he was the Boomers' most important player. Not only was he an interior force––defending the rim, taking charges––but he was also able to stretch the floor. He drilled 5 of 6 three pointers in a game changing effort against France in the second round and hit 11 of 21 attempts for the entire tournament. It was impressive to see a near 33-year-old NBA journeyman developing to keep pace with the modern game. Baynes is not normally viewed as a 3 point shooting big man; however, in the 2018 playoffs he hit 48% of his 1.2 attempts per game across 19 games. He followed this effort up by shooting 34% on 1.2 attempts per game throughout the 2018–19 regular season. The Suns have reason to believe in his continued growth as a shooter.

Regarded by many of his former teams as an incredibly tough player, who bonded well with teammates and understood his role, Baynes is primed to be one of the leagues premier back up bigs in 2019–20, especially if he adds a consistent three point shot to his play.

Playing with Deandre Ayton

Baynes offered the Celtics something they didn't have, a gritty, solid centre, but with the Suns' investment in Arizona big man Deandre Ayton, Baynes may find it harder to maintain his minutes average this season. Ayton, the 2018 first overall pick, had an impressive rookie season, despite his defensive struggles. Ayton averaged 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds on 58.5% shooting in 71 games last season and is expected to continue to be a force on the offensive end this season. He only played 30.7 minutes in 2018–19, which ranked 63rd in the league, so we can expect that to grow this coming season. As a second year player we can expect Ayton’s minutes to rise, perhaps to 33–35 minutes a game. This would leave only 13–15 minutes a night for Baynes (he averaged 16 last year, and 18 the year before).

It's possible the pair could play together. Last season’s back-up centre Richaun Holmes isn’t the same calibre of player that Baynes is, so Baynes' versatility could put some pressure on the coaching staff to play the two at the same time. For short bursts Baynes can space the floor for Ayton and be the defensive anchor of the team. However, this would require Ayton to defend on the perimeter, a role he was able to perform occasionally during his rookie season. Playing Ayton on the perimeter in defence is not in his best interests developmentally but might provide a path to a few extra minutes for Baynes.

Playing two centres simultaneously would be quite a change for the Suns who primarily played wing players, TJ Warren and Kelly Oubre Jr, or stretch forwards, Dragan Bender and Ryan Anderson, at the power forward position last season. While Warren, Bender and Anderson have all left the team, they have been replaced by Dario Saric, Cameron Johnson and Frank Kaminsky. Saric will likely be the starting power forward and, should he play well enough, is likely to see minutes into the low 30s, with Oubre and Mikal Bridges also filling in at the position.

There isn’t a lack of able bodies at the four, making it harder for the coaching staff to justify the two bigs line-up. But a line up of Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Bridges or Oubre Jr, Ayton and Baynes could theoretically thrive on both ends of the floor: they would have scoring options from all positions on offense while also having a solid guard, wing and big defender to bookend the defensive unit. Teams without two complete big men may really struggle to match up with such a line up. Ayton's offensive performance last year from midrange could draw his opponent out from the basket and allow Baynes to exploit the PF or secondary C. Likewise, on the defensive end, Baynes could take the primary defensive assignment and give Ayton some rest by allowing him to defend the PF or secondary C.

Baynes' likely role in Phoenix

Baynes could be worthy of around 20 minutes per game on another team, but with the Suns needing to push their young players' development, this might be difficult, especially given where this team is in its development cycle. The Suns have finished last in the western conference the past three seasons, but after adding veteran experience to a core of promising young players, they may be on the rise this year. But win or lose, the Suns are likely to prioritise the development of their young core. Hence, Baynes' veteran experience will prove invaluable this year. His leadership and ability to impart a lot of his knowledge and wisdom to the younger players, especially to Ayton on the defensive end, could be telling for this young Suns team.

Aron Baynes should be one of the leagues best back up centres and if utilised correctly can help this Suns team get off the bottom of the west. His minutes are likely capped, barring injury, so we can expect modest production from him in around 15 minutes a night. He isn’t a big enough name to draw headlines, but keep an eye out for his name at the trade deadline, as he's exactly the type of player who could get moved to help a contender.