Baynes working to mesh talents with Raptors
If joining a new team in a temporary home during a pandemic doesn’t sound like enough of a challenge for you, you might have something in common with Aron Baynes and his family.
The Raptors’ centre and his wife, Rachel Adekponya, welcomed their third child into the world this past week. Baynes posted a picture of himself holding the newborn in a Tampa hospital on his Instagram account.
“We had to make a quick decision as to where we were staying,” he said in a call with reporters on Tuesday.
“(Do we) have the baby in Phoenix or were we going to uproot everything, turn it all upside down and make it complete chaos the first few days? We definitely chose the latter, which has been fun to navigate.
“Full credit to the Mrs. She's being amazing as always and proves that she’s my better half and tougher than me every single day.”
Coming from Baynes, that carries a lot of weight.
“He’s obviously one of the tougher, more physical guys in the league,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Baynes after seeing him in-person on the court over the last week or so.
“He’s right up there. It’s probably him and (Steven) Adams, right?”
That’s something that Raptors fans will get to learn as this season gets going. Baynes, 33, happens to be right in the middle of one of the biggest questions that the team faces: What will the contributions look like from the centre and power forward spots vacated by Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka?
“It's kind of a combo between those guys (Gasol and Ibaka) a little bit,” Nurse said of Baynes.
“Gasol’s one of the best passing bigs in the world. Aron's got a little bit of that in his game. I wouldn't say he’s the passer that Gasol is but he’s a decent handler, gets it safely from side-to-side on swinging, DHOs (dribble handoffs) and handoffs.
“He did shoot it at a 37 per cent clip above the break last year from three on a pretty good number of attempts. There's some of that pick and pop there as well. He's a veteran player, experienced. I think he looks just fine.”
It’s impossible to try to step into a new job and do it exactly the way that your predecessor did. For Baynes, it won’t be about being the new Gasol. It’s about working his talents into what the Raptors are doing. Coming off of a career-best season in Phoenix where he averaged 11.5 points per game and had a breakthrough on his three-point shot, hitting 35.1 per cent (59 for 168), that bodes well for him.
“It’s something that every single day I want to get better at,” Baynes said of his three-point shot, which has gotten some tweaks and refinements over the last week with his new team.
“I'm always wanting to contribute more to the team’s success and so I'm working towards that. It's always good if you have the coach’s confidence. It’s one of those things that if you have the confidence of your coach, it breeds confidence in yourself.
“It makes that job easier to go out there and take those shots and knock them down.”
With news on Monday of three people in the Raptors organization testing positive for Covid-19, Baynes was reminded of his experience with the virus over the summer. He and his family contracted it in Phoenix in July, just when players were arriving in Orlando for the bubble.
He said that the early stress of not knowing how it would affect his family was the worst part of the ordeal. His wife was pregnant and their daughter has asthma, so he had legitimate concerns. In a July interview with The Athletic’s Shams Charania he said that he was thankful that he was the worst-affected in his family.
“It put me on my butt for a good week, I slept for four days straight,” he told Charania.
“At first...it was the unknown with Covid, we don’t know what long-term effects are going to be and the lack of being able to get out of bed and stay awake, that hit me hard.”
Just a few days into full team practices -- Nurse said the Raptors went full-contact on Tuesday -- everyone is feeling their way through their new arrangement in Tampa. Doing that while being Covid-aware can be a challenge, but Baynes said the organization is doing everything it can to make it a seamless experience.
“We're in the best possible circumstance to be doing what we’re doing. They look after everything for us,” he said.
“There's really not much stress on us in terms of what we have to do on a day-to-day schedule. The hardest thing for us is having to remember to go and get a test every single day. That's about as tough as it is for us.
“We're protected, we’re looked after so well that, sure we can't go out and do some things but at the end of the day, we're lucky to be able to do what we do. Every need we have is taken care of. There are a lot of people out there doing a lot worse and if that's the biggest stress for us every single day that's fine, it's no skin off our back.”
There are still nuances of the Raptors schemes that Baynes will have to learn, terminology that with a new team can have a totally different meaning than it did with your last. Nurse and Baynes agreed that’s what this part of the season is for. It’s something that Baynes is working on daily and that he’ll be excited to show off on Saturday, when the Raptors travel to Charlotte for their first of three preseason games.