The Big Banger Theory: Why is Baynes so valuable to Detroit?
Another vastly overpaid big man? Perhaps not. Former San Antonio big man Aron Baynes could prove to be a valuable addition to the Detroit Pistons this season.
During NBA free agency, Aron Baynes clinched himself a three year 20 million dollar contract from the Detroit Pistons.
Helping Baynes secure his handsome pay rise (up from $2 million last season) was the new TV money in the post for next season, which will see the salary cap skyrocket. This resulted in NBA general managers not only loosening the money belt, but taking it off completely as they gorged themselves on free agents during the off-season.
Despite the cap increase and a steady improvement in his numbers, many argued Baynes' deal was an overpay for a 28 year old, backup center who has never averaged more than 16 minutes a night over an NBA season so far.
The Pistons saw upside and an underutilised skill-set in Baynes. Both player and team have talked of a bigger role in Detroit. While Baynes has proven effective in smaller sample sizes and in international play, it's yet to be seen if he can produce at this level with more time on an NBA court. Will he prove to be a bargain buy for Detroit?
What does Baynes bring to the Motor City?
Aron Baynes brings a variety of traits that could prove very useful to Detroit on both ends of the court: physicality, a versatile offensive skillset, and stolid defense.
Never mess with the Banger
During his time in San Antonio, not even Baynes’ teammates were safe from being manhandled by the ‘Big Banger’. They admitted fearing for their personal safety during practices, so much so they would occasionally ask him to sit out to preserve their health. Manu Ginobili clearly regretted his decision to take a charge on Baynes during one practice:
The worst idea I have had in these 12 years (in the NBA). It’s not happening (again) any time soon.
While the Banger's physicality proved unpleasant for his Spurs teammates during practice, they were happy to see it directed at the opposition during games. They often raved about Baynes' screening ability, with his wide, strong body making it challenging for defenders to navigate their way around his picks, and those who failed knew they’d been hit.
Baynes' offensive bag of tricks
Baynes is a skilled offensive player, with a nice touch around the basket, a go-to baby hook and like all the Spurs big men he has a good understanding of how to play in the pick ‘n roll. He has also demonstrated an ability to shoot from midrange, albeit from a small sample size, going 24 of 56 from this area last season (an impressive 43%).
The man mountain of defense
Defensively, he is no rim protector. The center prefers to play his defense low to the ground using his strength and width to hold post position and focusing on drawing charges around the restricted area. He can be a little slow to react at times and clumsy with his limbs, which has resulted in a 5.4 fouls per 36 minutes average for his career.
How Baynes could expand his role with Detroit
The main issue for Baynes in capitalising on a larger role in Detroit, is that the team's budding superstar Andre Drummond, plays in his position. If Baynes cannot adapt his game to fit with Drummond there will be few minutes left over for him, likely a similar amount of court-time as his San Antonio days.
Considering Drummond’s range is limited to the restricted area, Baynes will need to move away from the basket offensively to find more playing time. If he can maintain a good efficiency level from midrange on more attempts, Baynes will be effective playing alongside Drummond and earn the bigger role he desires.
It's all about the free throw
Another aspect of Baynes' game which should help him see more court-time is his impressive free throw shooting, with averages of 90 and 86 per cent over the past two seasons respectively. While he has averaged relatively few attempts per game, it does suggest good shooting form, which is backed by the eye test.
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Drummond, on the other hand, has shot terribly from the free throw line. Historically terribly, in fact - he's shot a clip just below 40% throughout his career.
Detroit president and coach Stan Van Gundy explained to Zach Lowe on the Lowe Post podcast, that Drummond’s struggles at the foul line along with Baynes' offensive skills were major reasons for the signing. This hints at the possibility of Detroit using Baynes to close out games, especially when Drummond’s poor free throw shooting was exposed.
SVG: "When we were looking for back-up centres we needed somebody that we thought was skilled enough on the offensive end to be able to play in big situations down the stretch in games”
Lowe: “In place of Andre?”
SVG: “If we had to. And who was an outstanding free-throw shooter. It was a big factor in our decision and we ended up with a guy who is an 85% free-throw shooter.”
Lowe: “Yeah, a lot of people don’t know that about Aron Baynes, that he is a skilled offensive player, he is a legit 85% free throw shooter in the NBA.”
SVG: “No question, and if you look at all the big guys who were out there this year there is nobody really better than him in terms of field goal percentage or free throw percentage. I mean he’s a 58% field goal percentage guy and an 85% free throw percentage guy.”
How Baynes impressed during the 2014 FIBA World Cup
Van Gundy went on to say Detroit looked closely at Baynes’ performance for Australia at last year's FIBA World Cup to gauge how he would perform in an expanded role. Over there, he was the focus of the offense and averaged 16.8 points, 7 rebounds per game, while playing against NBA talent in Jonas Valanciunas, Omer Asik and Gustavo Ayon.
SVG: “To really have an idea of what his skill-level is, you even have to go beyond San Antonio and watch him play when he was more involved, and watch him play in the summer with Australia last year in the World Championships to get a little bit better feel of what he is capable of on the offensive end of the floor.”
The Pistons surely noticed Baynes’ per 36 numbers from last season which were impressive, jumping to averages of 14.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Van Gundy is a clearly sold on Baynes’ shooting ability, believing it allow him to share the floor with Drummond, especially against bigger teams.
SVG: “Because of Aron’s shooting ability, you can for limited minutes play him and Andre together… Andre has the quickness to guard the quicker guy of the two, Aron’s certainly got the physicality to bang with anybody down low, and can move away from the basket, you’d play a bit differently offensively obviously but it’s possible to do.”
The good news for Baynes is the person who brought him to Detroit, is also coaching the team. Van Gundy made Baynes the team’s number one target in the off-season and clearly values his skill-set. The Pistons have taken a punt on Baynes more on what he could be rather than what he has produced in the NBA to this point.
With some minor tweaking to his game, Baynes should get the opportunity to explore the full potential, and show the NBA world he was money well spent.