Physical with a deft touch, Aron Baynes has more to offer than he showed with Spurs, SVG believes

Aron Baynes
Aron Baynes is looking forward to flashing parts of his game he wasn’t asked to use in San Antonio.
NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

(Editor’s note: Last of a five-part series on the Pistons off-season’s significant personnel moves, the free-agent signing of Aron Baynes.)

It wouldn’t be accurate to say Aron Baynes is a hidden gem because to the extent he’s been “hiding,” he’s done it in plain sight – with the San Antonio Spurs. He’s played in the NBA Finals. He started 17 games last season and was a key backup as the Spurs attempted to defend the 2013 NBA title Baynes helped win.

But one of the reasons the Pistons identified the Australian big man as their No. 1 target for a critical frontcourt role is because they think there’s a lot more to him than he was able to reveal while wearing a Spurs uniform.

“We think there’s even more there than what he’s shown in San Antonio because he was with such good players there that he was far from a focal point of their offense,” Stan Van Gundy said. “We think there’s more there than he’s had the opportunity to show at this point.”

Van Gundy likes the individual components of Baynes’ game but loves the unique whole of those skills. There might be more skilled centers and there might a few more physically imposing, but there aren’t many who combine both ends of the spectrum the way the Pistons believe Baynes will do for them.

“What we saw was a real physical guy at both ends of the floor – a good, solid rebounder and an offensively skilled guy who can shoot the ball, who can post, who’s comfortable putting the ball on the floor and going to dribble handoffs and playing that way.”

The Pistons saw all of those things in evidence from their study of Baynes while with San Antonio, but they saw it more consistently when Baynes played a larger role in international play.

“The thing that really pushed us over the top is our guys having seen him with the Australian team,” Van Gundy said. His performance in the 2012 London Olympics, where the Aussies finished a surprising seventh, really put Baynes on the NBA radar.

Baynes averaged 6.6 points and 4.5 rebounds in 16 minutes a game with the Spurs last season, his second full season in the NBA. He was signed late in the 2012-13 season after establishing himself as an NBA-worthy player during four years in Europe following his college career at Washington State.

One of the league’s best mid-range shooters, Baynes will give Van Gundy the flexibility to play a strikingly different style when he’s at center while Andre Drummond rests. The Pistons also expect Baynes to give them some minutes at power forward, especially against teams that play with two traditional big men like Memphis (Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol) or Chicago (Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol).

Another Baynes skill appealed to the Pistons: He made 90 of 104 free throws last season. Van Gundy knows that as the Pistons improve and lead more games coming down the stretch, they’ll be tested by teams sending Drummond intentionally to the free-throw line. There will be nights he’ll choose to counter that strategy by spotting Baynes for a few minutes.

Throw in one more thing that made Baynes the easily identifiable top target in free agency: his Spurs legacy.

“It’s a plus just coming out of there and the coaching he’s had and the people he’s been around,” Van Gundy said.

Baynes, for his part, is excited to bring the things Van Gundy values to the Pistons – setting hard screens, playing physical defense, contributing to high-intensity practices – but also about the chance to flex his muscles more than he’s had the chance to do so far in the NBA.

“He knows, even though he’s in a backup spot, I don’t think it’s so much the minutes but when he’s in the game the ball will be in his hands more than he’s had the opportunity to play,” Van Gundy said.

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