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Aron Baynes showing his true value with the Phoenix Suns

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Baynes has become a focal point since Deandre Ayton’s suspension.

Phoenix Suns v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

What if I told you that Aron Baynes was exactly what the Phoenix Suns needed when he was acquired on draft night? I wouldn’t have believed it at the time either, but Baynes and his overall development before he turns 33 in December is remarkable.

Baynes is averaging 14 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 block per game while carrying an elite 68.6 true shooting percentage. Part of this sudden breakout from the Aussie is helped by Deandre Ayton’s 25-game suspension for a diaretic, which ends December 17, but the surge from three-point range stands out most.

The Suns’ backup center, who is now thriving in a starting role, has become a high-volume shooter from deep during his eighth season. Attempting 3.8 three-pointers in 22.2 minutes, which equates to 6.2 over per 36 minutes, Baynes has become a legitimate perimeter threat.

Baynes first started attempting threes two seasons ago going 3-of-21 (14.3 percent), but the next year he bounced back to the tune of 21-of-61 (34.4 percent). Now, Baynes has already chucked up 19 three-pointers in 111 minutes.

Brook Lopez stumbled upon the perfect system for his newfound skillset to thrive as a stretch big with Mike Budenholzer in Milwaukee. Did Aron Baynes just do the same with Monty Williams in the Valley? At least on a five-game sample size, it sure looks like it.

Through five games, we know Suns head coach Monty Williams also loves to utilize his big men in playmaking roles. As we saw on Wednesday night in the Suns’ blowout of Golden State, Baynes finished with 5 assists. Baynes leads the way with 3 assists per game, but Frank Kaminsky (2.8) and Dario Saric (2.6) aren’t too far behind.

In Ayton’s absence, Baynes has been empowered to become a fulcrum of Phoenix’s system.

Over the last four games, the Suns’ new starting center ranks fourth on the team in usage rate at 19.2 percent. Ranking behind only Devin Booker (28.3), Kaminsky (24.2), and Kelly Oubre Jr. (20.4), Baynes has certainly stepped up to the tall task of trying to fill Ayton’s role offensively.

The on/off numbers show Baynes’ true value. When Baynes has been on the floor since being named the starter, Phoenix scores 117 points per 100 possessions. However, when he sits, it torpedoes down to 92.3. Super small sample size alert, but Baynes has had a bigger swing on the offensive production than Booker recently.

Baynes’ impact on the Suns’ overall efficiency has been eye-opening, too. Phoenix has a true shooting percentage of 59.9 percent when Baynes is on the floor but 53.7 when he’s not.

Williams also structured the rotation where Baynes and Booker have played the most minutes together (92), and they rank No. 1 amongst all two-man lineups in offensive rating (minimum 90 minutes). Those two together along with strong play from Ricky Rubio, Saric, and Oubre has made the Suns’ starting lineup formidable.

With a 43-minute sample size, Phoenix’s new 5-man unit to open games has the following advanced metrics: 122.6 OffRtg, 103.2 DefRtg, 19.4 NetRtg. Baynes has been a critical anchor to the Suns’ recent success. Not only is his value off the court felt daily featuring championship leadership habits, but the on-court presence has propelled Phoenix to being one of the most surprising storylines of the 2019-20 season.

Since he subbed in for Ayton and will until mid-December, Baynes has averaged 23 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists per 36 minutes. The only others to also pull that off? How about the 2017 and 2019 MVP — Russell Westbrook and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

So, is it time to pump up the Baynes for MVP talk? No, but it’s time to start realizing how valuable Baynes is to helping create a winning environment. And if this type of production continues over the next six weeks, Baynes is going to cash in as a full-time starter somewhere else next season.