Aron Baynes toils in relative NBA obscurity, but his path to growth late in his career deserves praise. Entering free agency, he’s reinvented himself once again.
Aron Baynes has never been the most talked-about player on any NBA team he’s played for. He probably hasn’t broken the top-five on any team, in fact. Whether it be with the San Antonio Spurs, the Detroit Pistons, the Boston Celtics or the Phoenix Suns, backup big men just don’t get that much buzz, it seems.
He’s found ways to overachieve relative to his shortcomings, and he’s done so in ways nobody could have expected. In his days with the Spurs and Pistons, his utility was almost exclusively as a backup center with a defensive emphasis. He could clean up around the basket and get some accidental points, but neither Gregg Popovich with the Spurs or Stan Van Gundy with the Pistons saw much value in integrating him offensively.
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That changed in Boston when head coach Brad Stevens unleashed him as a 3-point shooter.
Of course, “unleash” in this case is a relative term. Serving little purpose other than to stretch the floor occasionally and just see what Baynes could do with some additional offensive responsibility, Baynes took just 21 3-pointers in his first season with the Celtics, making only three of his attempts.
In season two, which took place in 2018-19, Stevens gave Baynes a tad more freedom and he responded well. This time he shot 61 3-pointers and connected on 34.4 percent of them. That’s pretty close to what you’d like to see out of a fledgling stretch-five.
This was progress, but certainly there was no reason to expect that going into his age-33 season he would make the leap into the realm of sharpshooting volume-3-point shooting big men. However, under head coach Monty Williams with the Phoenix Suns, he did just that.
Rising with the Phoenix Suns
Baynes was given the freedom to fire away from distance, and he did plenty of it. He shot 168 3-pointers in his 42 games of action before the NBA season and made 35.1 percent of them.
He was so effective from 3-point range that he transitioned the bulk of his offense behind the arc with 44.1 percent of his attempts coming from long distance.
Not only did all of his 3-point shooting numbers skyrocket, but he was more effective inside the arc as well. He set a career-high from 2-point range, shooting 58.2 percent from two. Some of this can be attributed to him taking roughly half as many mid-range shots this season as he did last season, and his efficiency could only go up as a result.
Aron Baynes will turn 34 in December, but his usefulness has only increased as he’s gone deeper into his 30s. Perhaps his longevity will benefit from having fewer miles on his legs than many bigs his age as he’s really never been more than a spot starter.
Whenever the 2019-20 season finally comes to an end, Baynes will become a free agent. With such a remarkable surge in offensive efficiency, one would think he’s positioned himself for a significant bump in pay. His age works against him, but he’s had decent health through most of his career.
He won’t be competing for a max contract or anything, but there’s no doubt Aron Baynes is worth the biggest two-year contract of his career. With the two-year, $13 million contract the Detroit Pistons gave him in 2015 being the current leader, he definitely has a shot at beating that in free agency.