Not since Markieff Morris have the Phoenix Suns had someone known for being physical on their front line. Morris battled for box-out position and set screens for guards and generally acted tough any time someone challenged him.
But would you call Morris overly physical? How about Tyson Chandler? Or Greg Monroe?
Alan “Big Sauce” Williams was big, but not exactly bruising. His game was more of finesse and bouncing off people, but not tactically bruising. Can you think of anyone else that was known for being physical in the paint?
Last year, a “big man” lineup of Dragan Bender, T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson, Kelly Oubre Jr., Richaun Holmes and Deandre Ayton never scared any opponents. Former head coach Igor Kokoskov often lamented that the opponent “didn’t feel us”, meaning box outs, screen-setting and battling for rebounds.
Enter Aron Baynes.
At 260 pounds, Baynes weighs more than any Suns player since Big Sauce, and before that you’d have to go all the way back to Robin Lopez (275), even though he wasn’t known as a bruiser. Lopez was excellent at boxing out under the basket to let someone else grab the rebound.
Baynes first came to the NBA at age 26 to the Spurs, as a free agent after playing professionally for four years in Europe. He’s carved out a nice career as a backup big in San Antonio, Detroit and Boston, doing his part to help the Spurs win a championship in 2014 and with the Celtics in their recent playoff runs.
The veteran big gives you about 5 points and 5 rebounds per game off the bench in 15-18 minutes per game, which is perfect for a backup to Deandre Ayton. He has recently begun taking threes, making 21 of 61 last year in Boston.
But more importantly, he helps set a physical tone in games and in practice, much much needed for young big man Ayton. Let’s hear from CelticsBlog maestro Jeff Clark on what Baynes brought to the Celtics the last two years in between the games.
Jeff Clark: Baynes has a reputation of being a fantastic locker room guy. He’s got that rough around the edges / heart of gold Aussie demeanor that everyone seems to enjoy. An he’s known as a tremendous worker in practice. For example, when players start warming up by jogging down the court and getting loose, most players go through the motions. Baynes made it a light hearted competition and upped the energy in a good way. He also studied Tim Duncan’s practice habits back when he was on the Spurs. Yeah, I think there’s a few good things he can teach Ayton. And yes, he’s not afraid in the least to bang with anyone.
Ayton needs someone who can toughen him up in the way that shooting guard Devin Booker had to face P.J. Tucker every day in practice during his first couple years in the league.
What can Baynes bring to the Suns on the court, besides the high rebounding rate that puts him behind only Deandre Ayton only on the Suns and slightly ahead of Richaun Holmes’ rebound rate from last year.
JC: Baynes is a really good defender, but I don’t think you want him on an island out on the perimeter on a guard for very long. He’s best when he can drop back into the paint where he’s great about getting to the spot before the offensive player does. That means he gets dunked on a lot, but for every one of those he’s disrupting the driving lane 10 other times. He can body up bigs like Embiid and (occasionally) stonewall Giannis or Ben Simmons. He knows what he does and he sticks to that.
And can he start being a real threat from behind the arc (21/61 last year), to help spread the floor for Booker and Kelly Oubre Jr.’s drives to the rim?
JC: It is real enough to be a threat, and sometimes that’s all you need. I don’t think he shot it very efficiently this year, but if you leave him wide open, he’ll be happy to take his time and launch that shot. If that makes the defense hesitate just a half a beat on their rotations, that might be enough to free someone up.
What are his flaws? Where would he struggle?
JC: He doesn’t have great hands for a guy his size and he’s not going to be a volume scorer. In a pinch he can get off a decent post up jump hook, but don’t ask for much more than that.
I have shared some Baynes highlights in recent days. Here’s one where Celtics legend Tommy Heinsohn talks about Baynes’ girth.
Baynes is a backup big. Much in the same way as a dozen or more other backups throughout the league. So let’s not make him anything more than he is, which is a guy to come off the bench and give a few rough and tumble minutes. Let’s just hope he has a lasting influence on these young Suns’ toughness.
Ready for more roster changes?
Dave gives his unique take on the draft outcome of Dario Saric, Baynes, Cameron Johnson and Ty Jerome, and then Tim Tompkins and I reviewed all the roster changes and previewed free agency on the Solar Panel this morning on YouTube live.
You can watch the replay right here!