Aron Baynes Will Crush Bones

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Are you ready? Because Bone Saw is Ready.

As Toronto watched two of the most popular players ever to don the Raptors jersey walk away this offseason (Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka) a contingency plan appeared in the background in the form of Aron Baynes. The journeyman big from Australia (but born in New Zealand!) brings 3 surefire skills to the Raptors – 3-point shooting, bone-crushing screens, and paint physicality.

The signing of Baynes signals what will likely be a significant shift in how the Raptors score in the pick n’ roll. Last year, save for some late game rumbles to the bucket from Lowry, the pick n’ roll was typically used as a playtype to service everyone but the ball handler – save for some inspired relocation from Lowry and Fred VanVleet. The Raptors took great advantage of Ibaka’s ability as a scorer on the short-roll, and used Gasol as a conduit to connect the middle of the floor and the corners.

Relative to other teams, the Raptors don’t often ask their pick n’ roll initiators to score. However, with Baynes (3 screen assists per game in 22 minutes) in the fold, VanVleet and Malachi Flynn could see considerable growth as scorers in the pick n’ roll. Baynes’ screens are notoriously tough to navigate for on-ball defenders, and they should both find themselves in lots of space. VanVleet with his growing on-ball game, and Flynn having just finished a season as, maybe, college basketball’s best pick n’ roll player and mid-range assassin.  Perhaps most importantly, if the Raptors are still pushing Siakam ahead on his superstar tour, Baynes as a pick n’ roll partner could provide him with a lot of downhill opportunities. Which, of course, would be very welcome for one of the NBA’s very best downhill players. And Lowry? Well, he could make the pick n’ roll work with me if he wanted it bad enough.

Since Baynes has gone to great lengths to increase his viability as a ‘popping’ big, the Raptors resident genius, Lowry will be able to make use of Baynes spacing above the break, where the overwhelming majority of his 3-point attempts come. Although Gasol and Ibaka are both recognized as better shooters than Baynes – and they are by the numbers – Baynes still launches more often than both of them from downtown. That should be particularly encouraging, given that Gasol’s well documented hesitancy from beyond-the-arc had a tendency to gum up the offense and allow rim protectors to roam the paint against the Raptors.

Again, Baynes won’t score like Ibaka, or pass like Gasol. But if the Raptors want to make scorers of Siakam and VanVleet especially, Baynes will create wide chasms of space for them in straight up pick n’ roll plays, DHO’s, hawk screens, pin-downs, he’ll float and set screens against a zone for a shooter, you name it. Baynes provides stars with space, and it’s why Phoenix was so enamored with him at the start of the 19-20 season – Devin Booker got to stretch his legs next to his grimy and gritty game. I’m hopeful Baynes will have a presence similar to the Tasmanian Devil in the half-court. If this year is a year for reps before the Raptors take their swing at Giannis Antetokounmpo or another major name in free agency, Baynes’ addition should help the Raptors receive clarity about some of the shot-making on the roster.

A lot of the margins in the NBA can be conquered through effort. Baynes is a big man who doesn’t saunter over to screens, but sprints. If his ball handler clears the screen and Baynes sees an opportunity to seal, he’ll morph into a bowling ball and ram the dropping big under the bucket or out of the lane. He thrives on disrupting anything he can with his brutish strength.

Three really fun screens here. Baynes stalks Booker’s defender to get a better screen laid on him. A lot of screeners wait for the ball handler to lead their defender into the screen, or they’ll screen a spot on the floor – easy pickings for agile defenders to dodge or climb past. Every 2-man game has it’s quirks and rhythms, but Baynes proactive screen setting is really disruptive and has a proven track record. That diligence to go meet the defender and create the bump that sends him north while his teammate goes south, that makes a big difference. On the last play it’s just a hard shoulder, then a clever little flip to create more space. Baynes is an absolute talent in this facet of the game.

The mix of Baynes willingness to plant a screen anywhere and VanVleet and Lowry’s off-ball motion should be fun.

While not being particularly lengthy or speedy, Baynes has the smarts to legibly hedge ball screens when he’s healthy, and he moves well in the interior of a defense. He’s a journeyman, and they make their living in the little stuff. Baynes can make reads and court map defensively at a decent level. He understands his limitations. When he jumps out on a hedge, he’s well aware of the angles he needs to take away, and the ones he might be giving up. He doesn’t cut incredible defensive corners or have the length of Gasol, nor does he have the help-side pop that Ibaka provided, but if Baynes is healthy he’ll more than likely be solid for the Raptors on the defensive end.

Despite not having gaudy rebounding statistics, Baynes has always helped his teams close defensive possessions. He boxes out like a maniac, and is capable of neutralizing some of the most chaotic offensive rebounders the league over. He won’t eat teams alive as an offensive rebounder, like another recently signed Raptors big man might (Chris Boucher), but he’s a player other teams have to be conscious of when brings that big body into the paint. He scrambles after loose balls, sprints to screens with vigor, and plants himself firmly above the charge circle at a clip similar to Lowry (.38 charges drawn per game). He’s going to smash the hustle quota any fan might have for an incoming player. And he’ll do it with a smile on his face.

He’s struggled to stay healthy these past couple years, and if I had to guess, the Raptors are probably anticipating games without him in the lineup and will give him rest where they can. It’s more than likely that the Raptors best 5-man unit this year will feature OG Anunoby at the ‘5’ anyway, so getting Baynes to come and eat minutes while providing is great. And he’ll close a game here and there, too.

This is a genuinely exciting scoop for the Raptors. Phoenix fans were over the moon with how Baynes played when healthy. So much so, that their fanbase was split on if DeAndre Ayton should start once he came back from suspension. I like Baynes, and you should too.

Have a blessed day.

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