Why did the Spurs sign Aron Baynes?

USA TODAY Sports

A burly 6'10 center from Australia picked up mid-season by the Western Conference Champion Spurs, you'd think there would be some kind of evidence left behind as to what he's capable of, or why the Spurs added him to the roster. But with precious little playing time in the 2nd half of the season, and hardly any in the playoffs, Aron Baynes is as much an enigma as ever.

Aron Baynes was signed in January of the past season after a dominant stint for a mediocre team in the Euroleague and rarely got to play. I could post his stats with the Spurs but what possible conclusion can be derived from such a small sample size mostly gathered in garbage minutes? Summer League didn't provide me with any new insight about the big man so after watching him play for a while there's a very simple question I can't seem to answer: is Aron Baynes any good?

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Baynes is strong. You can see that right away. He can body up post players and he is hard to move out of position under the glass. But it often looks like his strength is there to make up for a lack of grace and coordination, not to complement it.

He doesn't back down. No one can call Baynes soft, that's for sure. If he is pushed, he pushes back. He also fouls like crazy because of it, using brute force when good positioning might have been more effective.

He shows solid post footwork at times, connecting on jump hooks and even flashing a good turn around jumper on occasion that makes me go "where did that come from?" But I wouldn't want my offense running through a guy that recorded a single assist in four SL games and five assists to 25 turnovers in ten Euroleague games before joining the Spurs.

Can he build on the good and overcome the bad? Who knows. I honestly can't figure out if Baynes is going to stay in the league for ten more years as a solid defensive role player or will go back to a peripheral European team and finish out his career as an enforcer off the bench.

Looking at his collegiate career, nothing stands out. He was a bit player his first two years at Washington State and emerged as the type of solid but unimpressive big man that understandably goes undrafted after spending four years in school. He bounced around Europe for a couple of years, playing in Lithuania and Germany and, after a breakout season playing for a middling Greek team, signed with Euroleague bottom dweller Union Olimpija. He made the most of that shot, becoming perhaps the most prolific rebounder in European basketball and inciting interest from Euroleague powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv. So far that looks like a reasonable career progression: a non-NBA caliber big matures as a player and reaches his peak as a contributor at the highest level outside of the league based on one elite skill.

But then out of nowhere the Spurs signed the already 26-year-old to a four year contract and I can't figure out why. So yet another quesion emerges: What did PATFO see in him?

Baynes has some nice physical tools but he is far from being an athletic freak. He is also not an über talented head case that just needs to put it all together. And it's not that the Spurs needed to plug a hole. The team had five bigs under contract at the time and the player Baynes most resembled, DeJuan Blair, was mostly relegated to mop up duty in favor of the perimeter-oriented Boris Diaw. I guess it's possible the Spurs anticipated Blair would leave and wanted a replacement but finding a fifth big is not a pressing matter. And I can't believe PATFO could even consider Baynes as a potential replacement for the more decorated and comparatively much more skilled Splitter.

Don't get me wrong, I like Baynes and think he could be a good bench big. But there are a lot of other players out there, both in the D-League and in the fringes of most team rosters, that have the potential to give a team a good 10 minutes off the bench. Why choose Baynes, specifically, over all of those guys? What did the Australian center that was playing in Europe after a quiet college career in the US had that others didn't?

Let me clarify that this is not a post about how there were better options out there and the Spurs messed up. He was basically signed for the minimum and for only two guaranteed years and could still very much prove to be a worthy investment. I simply can't see the reasoning behind such a peculiar (and probably meaningless) signing and that keeps me thinking about it more than it probably deserves. PATFO have scouts and a lot of resources I have no access to--not to mention the fact that they are much smarter than I am-- so I can't help but feel that there is something about the Aussie center that set him apart in their eyes. Even if I can't see it, it must be there. Right?

Looking at his LVSL numbers, he seems to have been one of the best big men there, averaging a double-double and a block. He also shot below 50% from the field and the free throw line(!) and averaged 2.8 turnovers and four fouls a game in 26 minutes. I have no idea what any of that means. Are the good parts a sign that Baynes can contribute, especially on the boards, for the Spurs? He could help make up for some of his teammates flaws. As for the bad stuff, maybe the Summer League setting doesn't mesh well with his game. It's possible in a more controlled environment and in a more defined role he can actually excel and make the Spurs' FO look like geniuses once again. Or maybe he is simply a turnover-prone foul machine that scores inefficiently even in a semi-featured role and the Spurs misjudged his potential.

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It seems like the more I watch Aron Baynes play the more my opinion about him oscillates between sort of seeing something there and being puzzled by the Spurs' decision to sign him. Sometimes I'm certain he is the next Rasho (and I mean that as a compliment) and sometimes I can't help but see him wearing a Toros jersey for most of next season before maybe grabbing a bench spot for a different team after the Spurs let him go. Neither scenario would shock me.

After watching him play in Summer League, I'll probably try to catch at least some highlights of his participation with the Aussie team, if he decides to join Mills on the Oceania world tournament qualifier series against New Zealand. Not because I think I'll finally crack the case of Aron Baynes, basketball enigma but because even if I have no idea what he is, I can't seem to look away. There's a bittersweet pleasure in uncertainty--if you don't believe me, ask Christopher Nolan and his spinning top-- and for some reason Baynes represents that to me. But there will be no fade to black here. So I'll keep watching the Aussie look wobbly only to keep on spinning, simultaneously looking promising and disappointing until boring, old reality ruins everything by providing a definitive answer.

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