It's been a while since we first heard the Spurs had bought out Aron Baynes' contract, but now that we've seen him talk to the press at a Spurs game there's no doubt he will join the team soon. I only have fleeting memories of Baynes as a Australian national team player in which he seemed like the kind of brute that could help a team with his physicality but was destined to be in constant foul trouble. But that was just my first impression of Aron. I've been researching his game, and I can honestly say that I think he could end up being a solid rotation player sooner rather than later, even if he might experience some hiccups early on. Here's what you need to know about Aron John Baynes.
Everything I've read on Baynes, which I will link to at the bottom of this post, seems to suggest that Aron has a budding jump shot that is still being developed. He's not a serious threat from outside, and like Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair, will probably make his living around the basket. This is not a stretch big the Spurs are getting; he's very much a traditional center. As a proponent of the Spurs staying the course with their offensive roles, this move should worry me but it doesn't, as both Splitter and Blair have been able to coexist with Duncan, and the Diaw-Splitter pairing, perfect on paper, hasn't been able to deliver consistent rebounding. That shouldn't be a problem with Baynes; more on that later.
His team's offensive rating took a nose dive when Baynes played, but his individual numbers were solid. According to Gigabasket.com, he had a true shooting percentage of 61.5%, which is stellar in any circumstances, but especially so when considering his high usage of 25.5%. Those numbers would place him alongside this terrific group of NBA players. Of course, the ridiculously small sample size in which he collected those stats, along with the inferior competition in the Slovenian league (and the occasional Euroleague games), serve as a grain of salt, but the stats Baynes had show that he was enjoying a serious amount of offensive success playing for Olimpija Ljubljana.
His teams have utilized motion heavy offenses that rely on pick and rolls, so he hasn't had the opportunity to punish players in the post, but he seems sturdy and athletic enough to do so against weak post defenders and likes to go to his right-handed hook shot. The Spurs won't rely on him for post scoring, which should ease his transition into the NBA, as he's not an accomplished post player yet, regardless of his physical tools. The consensus seems to be that he is a good catch-and-shoot guy with the strength and athleticism to get a shot off under the basket. If that sounds a lot like Splitter and Blair, it's because that's just what he seems to be.
Where Baynes seems to be way behind the Spurs' current bigs is in passing. At least in his Euroleague stint and limited Olympics run, Baynes was pretty turnover prone and didn't get the helpers to balance it out. After finishing with a cool zero in assists to turnover ratio in the Olympics, Baynes finished his Euroleague play with 0.20. In case you are not familiar with the stat, those are some pretty bad numbers, even for a catch-and-shoot big man.
As a screener, Baynes' girth and strength make him effective, which should endear him to Tony Parker, who is always looking for a big man to provide enough room to create separation and look for his own shot. If the reports of him showing explosiveness when he slips the screen are true, he should develop chemistry with Manu just like Blair has in those situations.
In conclusion, Baynes plays offense like a traditional big; he sets hard screens, knows how to finish around the rim and scores efficiently as long as he's not asked to space the floor or make plays for others.
Here's where I have my doubts about the Baynes Train. If he has to step up and defend a smaller player in open space, I could see Aron struggling. By all accounts he has a high motor and doesn't take possessions off, but it remains to be seen whether he has the natural physical abilities to make up for his lack of experience facing elite athletes. Again, I'm basing this after watching Baynes play limited minutes for team Australia, some Youtube clips and a lot of scouts' reports, but right now he just doesn't seem to be mobile enough to step out to the perimeter, which is something I was hoping for in a big man addition. His strength will probably help him a lot in the post but let's just hope he gets used to the change in physicality sooner rather than later, or he could suffer the same fate as Tiago Splitter, continually looking with disbelief at refs calling the kind of contact that is allowed in Europe and FIBA play.
As a shot-blocker and ball hawk Baynes seems to be average, at best. He got a block per game in the Olympics but just 0.7 per 36 minutes in his short stint of Euroleague games. His steals numbers were the exact same as his blocks figures in both competitions. Looking for Baynes to immediately make plays on the defensive side would be silly at this point, but if he can play solid post D and contain his man without neglecting rotations, he should find a place within a Spurs system that relies more on players not making mistakes, rather than forcing opponents into making them. Here's where I have to admit that his team seemed to do almost four points better on defense with him off the court, but that's mitigated by the squad as a whole not being very good defensively. Let's face it, at this point in his career, a defensive stopper he ain't. But he could play a role as an aggressive post defender that doesn't gamble.
Here's where Baynes truly shines. In the Olympics he was a superb offensive rebounder, gathering more offensive boards per game than defensive ones. In Euroleague play, he had a ridiculous 16.9 offensive rebound percentage, which would have him ranked second in the NBA. But he's not just an offensive rebounder as he pulled down 30% of all available defensive rebounds, which would rank him fourth in the NBA.
The Spurs have improved by leaps and bounds in the rebounding department but adding a high motor player that is committed to always boxing out and pulling down boards could only help, especially in lineups including Bonner, Diaw or Splitter. On his introductory press address he compared himself to Reggie Evans and if he can bring that type of toughness under the boards, he might earn some minutes pretty soon.
I have no doubt about it: if Baynes is going to make his mark in the NBA it will be with his rebounding.
As a final note, I would like to mention that nearly everything I read included a mention of Baynes' work ethic and commitment to improve. Hopefully, that allows him to continue to develop for the future while contributing in the present. The Baynes Train is coming to San Antonio, and I for one am cautiously optimistic. He might not be the answer to all the Spurs' woes but if his contract is reasonable, signing the Euroleague's breakout big man early could prove to be another great move by PATFO.