By Matt Esposito
In 28 games as a starter for the Phoenix Suns this season, Aron “All of Australia” Baynes averaged a line of 13.6/6.7/2.1 while hitting a career high 37.5 percent from deep. While filling in for a suspended Deandre Ayton, Baynes showed that he can be a nightly starter for the right team. A free agent this offseason, expect Baynes and his agent to cash in on what was certainly the best year of the 33-year-old’s career to date.
As a Celtics fan, I can tell you how easy it is to get swept off your feet by Baynes. What’s not to like about a gritty big man who gobbles up offensive boards and deters opponents from the paint with his sheer girth? Baynes adding a three-pointer to his arsenal only made me fall harder for him. What’s more, it’ll force general managers to shell out more cash to sign him. Considering Baynes can defend and keep the ball moving on offense too, his next contract will still be a bargain.
It would be very on-brand for me to begin a Baynes breakdown by detailing his defensive technique, but let’s have a little fun for once. Coming into this year, Baynes had taken a total of 89 three-point attempts. He damn near doubled that number this season (168 3PAs) before COVID-19 cut his season short. Was Baynes justified in taking a high volume of triples?
The journeyman center sank 37 percent of his non-corner triples, according to Cleaning the Glass. That’s good enough to land him in the 70th percentile for his position. While his shot is uglier than my pimpleified, mybodyisgoingthroughchanges sophomore-year school photo, it works. Plus, the sample size is now large enough to project Baynes as an average three-point shooter for the rest of his career. Whoever signs Baynes next is getting a legitimate floor spacer
Both the eye test and Cleaning the Glass analytics support my claim that Baynes has been an effective, skillful passer over the past few seasons. During his most recent two stops in Phoenix and Boston, Baynes has displayed a knack for making the right, easy passes, and even showed an ability to sling backdoor helpers. Smart coaching and proper utilization has resulted in positive trends for both his assist percentage and assist-to-usage ratio.
That maroon squiggle outlines his last three seasons. Solid progress, right? There have been two significant developments in Baynes’ game as a passer. First, he can hit corner shooters out of the short roll. Considering Baynes is not a high-flying lob threat, being able to play out of the short roll is imperative for him. Additionally, he has quickly picked up the art of attacking closeouts, something even elite shooters still struggle with throughout their careers.
It might have made more thematic sense to put this section underneath the one discussing Baynes’ three-point shooting, but I just want to give my editor a headache. Despite being 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Baynes is not someone who commands rim gravity—well, not in a traditional sense, however. He won’t slam down pick-and-roll lobs, but Baynes’ midrange touch still forces defenders to stay tight with him.
Although it doesn’t always look pretty, Baynes has a workable floater. While he should not be tasked with taking many shots from this area, his ability to knock them down when the opportunity arises is an added bonus for any offense. With the league trending more towards situational zone scheming, Baynes could find himself extra valuable due to his potential for passing out of a zone defense’s weak spot or sinking push shots from short range.
Perusing Baynes’ defensive counting stats won’t wow you, but the advanced stats tell a different story. One of my favorite advanced defensive stats comes from analytics guru Andrew Patton. Named Regularized Adjusted Deterrence, or “RAD,” the formula is used to determine how many shots a player prevents from being taken in the paint. It is a way to measure a player’s impact on limiting high percentage field goal attempts. For his career, Baynes has managed an elite score of -3.19. In other words, whenever he is in the game, he prevents an average of 3.19 shots at the hoop.
For context, Baynes ranks in the top 40 in NBA history with that score, ahead of career defenders like Joakim Noah and Anthony Davis. Besides his behemoth body, one of the reasons Baynes is so good at limiting shots in the paint is due to his technique. To compensate for a lack of lateral quickness, Baynes often deploys angles that ice ball-handlers towards the sidelines. This allows him the extra time and space he needs to contest shots.
When combined with his laudable effort and tendency for high hands, Bayne’s keen awareness of angles leads to timely blocks or altered attempts. The stat sheet won’t show someone contending for the league lead in blocks (and neither will the highlight reel), but rest assured that GMs know exactly how impactful Baynes is a rim-protector.
There must be a reason Baynes has not regularly been a starter in the NBA, right? A look back at his career shows that Baynes has often been rostered alongside players who are better than him (Al Horford, Tim Duncan) or were selected with draft capital that demands starting minutes (Andre Drummond, Deandre Ayton). Still, Baynes does have some limitations that must be addressed.
His lack of side-to-side speed is concerning. Baynes will never be a center who glides across the court like the aforementioned Davis. When isolated near the perimeter against a faster player, Baynes can get beat if his angling is off. And even when he properly closes lanes, shifty players can still wiggle their way into a foul or layup.
Fit & Potential Contract
Personally, I believe Baynes to be playable during crunch-time, although I’m sure many GMs would disagree with me. It is difficult to justify paying Baynes a starter’s salary if you are unsure if he can close out late round playoff matchups. Regardless, his earnings last year were far below his value, and he is on track to earn more than than the $5.4 million he most recently pulled down. But how much larger will his next contract be? Expect Baynes to be offered near whatever the maximum MLE comes out to be. That translates to a contract in the ballpark of $9 million.
With Ayton looking at a slight increase in minutes and a bigger role next year, Baynes may want to find a place where he can receive more playing time than Phoenix can offer. Here’s a scenario: Toronto signs Fred VanVleet to a sizable contract, lets Serge Ibaka walk, and brings in Baynes as their starting center by using their MLE.
Alternatively, perhaps Houston senses they need more size and offers Baynes a starting role and all of their $5.7 million tax-payer exception. The Warriors have a similar exception and may want to revive their old Andrew Bogut role with the Aussie big man. Baynes’ former team, the Boston Celtics, are a name to watch, although they lack both the minutes and money that will likely be needed to land him. Nevertheless, contending teams will chase after Baynes, and in doing so will reveal just how coveted his skill set is in today’s game.
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