When the Phoenix Suns traded for Aron Baynes from the Boston Celtics on draft night, it was lnown the Suns would be acquiring one of the most physical, hard-hitting players in the league. What may not have been expected is the threat that Baynes now carries when he steps beyond the three-point line.
Throughout his time winning an NBA Championship with the San Antonio Spurs and battling in the playoffs with the Detroit Pistons and Celtics, Baynes was always looked at as a tone setter on the defensive end and arguably the most vicious screen-setter in the league. While he has carried both those traits to Phoenix, his uptick in offensive production has been a pleasant surprise in The Valley and has played a critical role in the Suns’ 5-2 start to open the season.
“It's remarkable,” Head Coach Monty Williams said. “The anchor that he's been defensively, rebounding the ball, communication on defense, knocking down shots. I think the guys feel a level of confidence with him on the floor. I feel confident when he's on the floor. I don't think anybody saw this, but we knew we were getting a guy this summer that was going to help us in many ways. We just didn't know how and now we're starting to see it.”
Since arriving in Phoenix, Baynes is posting career-highs in almost every statistical category, including tripling his points per game for his career from 5.6 to 15.0 in a Suns uniform. He is also notching career marks in rebounds (5.9), assists (3.6), blocks (1.0) and field goal percentage (58.7%). But the most impressive part has come from beyond the arc.
Baynes never shot three-pointers regularly in the NBA until last season, but even then, only shot 1.2 per game with the Celtics and usually just from the corner. Now with the Suns, it’s a completely different story. The big man from Australia is launching 4.4 three-pointers a game from all over the arc at an elite 48.4 percent success rate.
“With us, we freed him up to get more trail threes and top of the key threes,” Williams said. “Obviously, when you work on your game the way he does and the way they played him on the national team is something that we tried to implement here. It's probably a byproduct of time and the work he's put in.”
While many other NBA players looked to improve in open-gym settings this summer, Baynes traveled to China to continue playing competitive basketball at the FIBA World Cup. He helped lead Australia to the bronze medal match as he gave Suns fans a glimpse of what was to come in Phoenix. But even with his dominant play overseas, few expected as big of a jump in production from the seven-year veteran.
“The game's changing and the game has changed since I've been in the league,” Baynes said. “It's about trying to continue to work on it and try and get better every single time. That's one thing Monty does with us. Every day we're trying to get better in some way and add to it because it's a long season. If you keep working, you can definitely improve throughout as well.”
The NBA has shifted to more three-pointers and mixing pick-and-roll plays with pick-and-pop to keep defenses on edge. Even at age 32, Baynes worked to adapt to the modern NBA by extending his range and, due to his elite screens, has become one of the most lethal pick-and-pop players this season.
“You have to put the work in,” Devin Booker said about his teammate. “You can only imagine the work that he puts in. You know that just doesn't happen overnight. It's a confidence thing. Adjusting to the game. The NBA has changed in the past five years and being able to adapt. But it's not just the three pointers. He's rolling, he's sealing people, he's taking charges. He's doing a lot of things that don't show up on the stat sheet.”
Baynes joins Karl-Anthony Towns as the only two centers in the league shooting over 45 percent on over four three-point attempts per game. While hard work and dedication to his craft was key to these adjustments, Baynes says his teammates play a critical role in his success as well.
“Something I keep working on, but at the same time, it's a credit to everyone on the team,” Baynes said. “The guys are creating so much space for me and giving me a lot of time. Anyone who shoots a shot on this team, which is usually the right shot for the team, and we're just trying to make the most of every single possession.”
And above all else, the team is winning and having fun while doing so.
“How can it not be fun?,” Baynes said. “It is fun for everyone here involved. That is one of the good feelings we have right now is we understand that when we’re playing within the system and the ball is moving and everyone’s getting a shot, taking the best shot for the team. That is when it is fun, when we keep playing defense the way we are, it allows us to get out in transition. It is fun sticking to the little things and doing the little things consistently and making the most of every single play. That is how we have our fun. Of course, it is fun out there.”
The Suns are currently off to their best seven-game start since the 2013-14 season. The team currently sits at 5-2 topped off with a victory on Monday night over the final remaining undefeated team in the Philadelphia 76ers. The Suns will continue their six-game homestand as they host the Miami Heat on Thursday at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Be sure to catch the action on Fox Sports Arizona.