The Big Banger

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.

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As he did when he first saw No. 21, at home in Australia, more than a decade ago, Aron Baynes draws inspiration from Tim Duncan.

Then, Duncan was on television, scoring at will against Portland. After watching his first NBA game, Baynes went online to make his first NBA purchase: a pair of reversible Spurs shorts. Soon after, Baynes quit rugby in his mid-teens to focus on basketball. He tried to copy few of Duncan’s moves. It was an awkward beginning. Baynes did not know how to shoot. He would catch the ball and throw it at the rim.

Years later, the idol would become a teammate. And Baynes, now 27, continues to take his cues from Duncan.

He gets the question a lot. What are you doing differently? Or, What did you do in the off-season?

He understands why people ask. A 6-10, 260-pound center, Baynes averaged 3.0 points and 2.7 rebounds in 9.3 minutes in his first season in San Antonio. His numbers have shot up in Season No. 2. Over the past 10 games, he’s scored a career high 15 points against the 76ers, averaged 8.8 points and 5.4 rebounds in 18.1 minutes, and had his name turned into a verb. A monster dunk has inspired the term “Bayned.”

The explanation Baynes offers for his head-turning play might surprise. He didn’t train differently. He didn’t change routines. He didn’t alter his mindset. The Big Banger took advantage of extra minutes and followed Duncan’s lead.

“Timmy demands a lot of attention,” he says. “I try and capitalize on it and move to where there’s an opening.”

Duncan did not play against the 76ers but Baynes found lots of openings. “I got great passes from Cory, Kawhi and Manu,” Baynes says. “Pop puts guys in the right position for them to be able to capitalize and I did.”

Seizing opportunity is a Spurs staple. Starter goes down, backup produces big. When Splitter injured his calf, Baynes delivered and created a buzz. Playing in relief of Duncan and in place of Splitter has given Baynes time to develop rhythm and confidence.

“The minutes are coming,” he says. “And the more minutes you get, the more comfortable you get. I wouldn’t say I’ve done anything differently.”

His production in the paint has inspired a host of nicknames, all beginning with the letter “b.” He’s been called Baynesey, Banger, Beast, Barbarian, Batman. Asked about Baynes’ before a recent game, Gregg Popovich offered this: “He’s big.”

How big? Each step he takes toward the basket is like a clap of thunder, sounding all the way to Australia.
They love him and Patty Mills Down Under. The Herald Sun in Melbourne ran this headline after the Spurs defeated the Heat in June: “Australia’s Patty Mills and Aron Baynes are NBA champions.”

From the story: “The pair were quick to display their heritage during the post-match celebrations, with Baynes donning an Australian flag while on the victory podium, and Mills later proudly showing off his indigenous roots with a Torres-Strait islands flag.”

Following his NBA triumph, Baynes played well for the Australian National Team in the FIBA World Cup, averaging 16.8 points and 7 rebounds in 27 minutes. In a lesser role, he has performed solidly for the Spurs. “I’m happy to be out there doing it,” he says, “but I still feel I can improve.”

What does Duncan think of the Aussie he inspired? One picture is telling. In the fourth period against Boston, with the shot clock ticking down, Baynes took a pass from Danny Green and sank a three at the buzzer. Duncan leaped off the bench and shot his right arm in the air, index finger extended,

The Big Banger, he’s got some touch.