Aron Baynes has a new home.
After spending the past two seasons playing with the Detroit Pistons, Baynes signed a one year, $4.3 million (USD) contract with the Boston Celtics this offseason. In a news cycle littered with trailblazing announcements from the more publicised Australians in the NBA, Baynes' arrival in Boston was one of the more unheralded player movements during July.
Baynes has the chance to contribute for a franchise that dreams of returning to the NBA Finals. There is a clear role available on this revamped roster, as Baynes could even become a regular starter for the first time in his NBA career. The Australian started Boston’s first preseason game on Tuesday morning, playing 18 minutes, as he recorded 10 points, 5 rebounds (2 offensive), 3 assists, 1 steal and 1 block in the Celtics’ 94-82 win (recap).
Today, we continue our Aussies in the NBA Wish List series by looking at how Baynes can make his first season in Beantown a success. If you have missed any of our previous instalments (Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Ingles, Thon Maker, Ben Simmons and Dante Exum), please check them out.
1. Do the little things
With Boston short on frontcourt options, Baynes should receive regular rotation minutes on a bona fide contender. This represents a welcome change after he was stuck behind Andre Drummond on a floundering Pistons team. While his surrounds have changed, the Celtics will be hoping Baynes’ mindset remains exactly the same.
Baynes’ blue-collar game is a perfect fit for this Boston team. With Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward leading things on the perimeter, Boston needs an interior presence who complements Al Horford.
The former Atlanta Hawk will be a focal point for Brad Stevens’ offence. He is being paid a maximum contract because of his diverse offensive arsenal. Baynes’ talents are almost the exact opposite of Horford, and funnily enough, that is his competitive advantage on this Celtics roster. Counting measures have never defined Baynes’ NBA career and that won’t be changing anytime soon. He has formed an NBA career from being a professional irritant, something we routinely saw during his two-year stint in Detroit.
From the moment he steps on the court, Baynes is a physical force who is willing to sacrifice his interests for that of the team. The Australian clearly has his limitations, especially given the NBA’s small ball revolution, but excels in the subtle areas that underpin his value. One such example is his ability to set those wonderfully illegal screens that frustrate the living hell out of opposition sides.
His big frame is thrown around like a battering ram, clearing out opposition defenders and opening crevices for his teammates. Here are two examples from his time in Detroit (credit SB Nation for the videos).
Baynes created all the space required and was impactful in each bucket, all without even touching the basketball, and herein lies his worth. He doesn’t need the basketball to make an impact, and that ability could prove invaluable this season. Baynes’ low-usage, no-nonsense game is a great complement within a Celtics starting line-up that will include three All-Stars.
The league is clearly tending toward small-ball lineups, and with Horford likely finishing most games, it is unlikely that Baynes will close games. With that said, the Celtics closing lineup will invariably change on a game-by-game basis. Baynes will be more suitable to certain teams, although his mindset will be required throughout the season.
As Kein explored on Tuesday, Baynes has immediately added a level of mental toughness to his new team. It’s the little things like this that will determine his value in Boston.
2. Interior defence
Baynes was one of Detroit’s most integral players last season. Of all players in Van Gundy’s regular rotation, Baynes finished with the second highest individual net rating. The defensive end was where Baynes made his biggest impact, posting a defensive rating of 98.5, a mark almost seven points below that of the team.
In a welcome development, Baynes turned into an elite interior defender. The Australian has historically had trouble staying in front of NBA athletes, often being exploited inside and sacrificing rim protection while on the floor. Things were much different last season.
According to NBA.com, Baynes had a defensive field goal percentage of 50.5 when defending inside of six feet. That placed him fifth among qualified players (minimum 200 attempts), ahead of defensive stalwarts like Hassan Whiteside, Tristan Thompson and DeAndre Jordan. Baynes isn’t a physically gifted defender (by NBA standards), but he is strong and stout. He has gotten much more adept at sliding his feet and defending opponents as they move through the defence.
We have previously highlighted this play against Isaiah Thomas, and it bears exploring again. This is exactly what the Celtics will be hoping Baynes can contribute. Baynes pre-empts Thomas curling around a dribble hand-off, before expertly denying penetration by sliding his feet and eventually blocking Thomas’ attempt.
Besides Baynes, the Celtics don’t have a lot of experienced big men that can pass as reliable inside defenders. With Boston projected to play a lot of small-ball, Baynes' ability to control the inside will be vital.
3. Hit the offensive glass
Baynes’ role in the Celtics offence will likely be centered around setting screens and throwing his considerable frame around. There will be the occasional pick and pop jumper - something we saw briefly during the Celtics’ preseason opener – although offensive sets run for Baynes’ will be few and far between.
One way Baynes can create opportunities is by attacking the offensive glass.
This is just another illustration of where Baynes’ motor can add value to the Celtics. The likes of Irving and Hayward will be taking a number of outside attempts, leaving Baynes with space inside to bully opposition defenders, and create second-chance opportunities.
In a league where mobility and shooting is prized, Aron Baynes isn't going to change the world with his fundamental, lumbering style of play. His efficient play however, coupled with an ability to do the gritty little things on the court, will undoubtedly make an impact with the Celtics.