In Appreciation of Aron Baynes

Aron Baynes does all the right things for the Celtics and deserves your appreciation. His play off the bench gives the Celtics everything they need from a backup big man, and positions the team for success moving forward.

Aron Baynes plays with a quiet ferocity on the basketball court. He's always active on the boards, sets hard screens, and plays stout defense around the rim. He's not afraid to take a charge (he's tied with Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart for the lead on the Celtics with nine, despite playing about a third of the minutes as either) or gets dunked on. His impact on the Celtics isn't easily seen in the box score, leading to him being overlooked by many fans and media. However, by watching him play and looking at advanced metrics, his contributions to the team become impossible to overlook. With the second best defensive and net ratings on the Celtics, it's no surprise that the team plays better with him in the lineup (22-12, .648 winning percentage) than without him (15-10, .600 winning percentage). His return from a broken hand on January 16th provided a spark to the Celtics, who proceeded to win nine of their next ten games. While he's currently out again with a left foot contusion, fans can only hope for a swift return to the court for a Celtics team that needs his toughness now more than ever.

Baynes entered his first game back (January 16th vs Toronto) with 1:24 left in the first quarter and the Celtics down 33-26. He quickly announced his return with a strong two-handed dunk.

This kicked off a run where he scored or assisted on 9 of the next 15 points the Celtics scored. When he left the floor at 5:37 left in the second, Celtics were up 4. They didn't look back from there and won the game 117-108. Baynes' final stat line of 9 points, 5 rebounds (including 4 offensive), and 2 assists didn't stick out of the box score, but he played a pivotal role in the turning the game around for the Celtics.

In his next game (January 18th vs Memphis), Baynes showcased how he positively impacts the game even when his shot isn't falling. He only scored six points (on 2-6 shooting), but led all players with 12 rebounds (seven offensive) and three blocks. He also was a +21 in a game the Celtics won by six. His rebounding was key for the Celtics in this game, with a perfect example found in the clip below. This tip-in gave the Celtics a 23-22 lead and started a 13-2 run to end the quarter.

Baynes' work on the boards is a big reason for his success on the court. While his counting numbers for rebounds (4.3 per game) seem low, it jumps to a much more respectable 10.4 per 36 minutes. However, this still misrepresents how important he is on the glass at both ends of the floor. Brad Stevens philosophy is to have big men boxing out, so guards can secure the ball and push the pace up court, which decreases rebound numbers for bigs. Baynes fits this philosophy perfectly, and is leading all Celtics in box outs per 36 minutes with 14.74, which is almost 3 more than the next closest player (Daniel Theis with 12.08). Even while focusing much of his efforts on boxing out, Baynes still manages to lead all Celtic's regulars in offensive rebound percentage (11.4), total rebound percentage (13.9), and is second to Marcus Morris in defensive rebound percentage (18 to 16.5). His elite offensive rebounding (11.4% OREB%) is in the 87th percentile for all centers, and is a boon to a Celtics team that often gets pushed around on the boards.

Baynes' best game of the season, on January 28th vs Brooklyn, showcased his versatility on both ends of the floor. Baynes first entered the game with 2:55 left in the first quarter, and scored the next 7 Celtics points, which included a three-pointer and this beautiful offensive rebound sequence below, where he outmuscled three Nets for the ball and the put-back.

He re-entered the game with 3:51 left in the second quarter, and proceeded to score the next 5 points for the Celtics on a three-pointer and an offensive rebound, where he was fouled and hit both free throws to put the Celtics up eight. This was a reoccurring theme for him, as eight of his 16 points came from offensive rebounds, and six came from three-pointers. He finished the game with 16 points, 6 rebound, 3 blocks and a team-best +14. Throughout the game, Baynes showcased his defensive talents that have been huge for the Celtics all year. On the season, Baynes has a block percentage of 2.2, which places him in the 70th percentile for his position. Opponents are shooting a minuscule 38.3% against him on the season, with an adjusted field goal percentage of 43%, which is best among Celtics regulars. With Baynes on the court, the Celtics allow 5.2 fewer points/100 possessions and increase their defensive turnover percentage by 2.9 (which places Baynes in the 96th percentile for his position). Most importantly, he is adept at defending bruising centers in the low post, which can be seen below.

He's currently allowing 0.517 points per possession on post-ups, which leads the team by a large margin, and places him in the 97 percentile among centers. He's able to do this by excelling across all facets of post-up defense: he held opponents to a 29.2 fg% in the post (compared to the team average of 46.5%), causes turnovers on 13.8% of possessions, and rarely fouls (opponents shoot free throws on only 6.9% of their post-ups against him). This is especially important come playoff time, where the Celtics are likely to encounter adept post players like Joel Embiid, Marc Gasol, Blake Griffin, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

While Baynes is excellent at providing a spark off the bench, it's important to also acknowledge his success in filling in as a starter when Al Horford is injured. Horford has struggled with injuries this year, and Baynes (67 games started last year, 10 starts this year) gives the Celtics a reliable big man to plug in as starting center. In the 9 games that Baynes has filled in for Horford as the Celtics starting center, Baynes has averaged 6.7 points, 5 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game on .578/.375/.929 splits that mirror the .528/.369/.800 splits Horford has on the season. More importantly, the Celtics are 7-2 in these games. Whether it's in spot starts, or off of the bench, Baynes is able to fill in for one the most indispensable players on the Celtics' roster, and the team doesn't miss a beat.

Aron Baynes might not stand out on the basketball court, but he does all the little things right. As highlighted above, he provides scoring at the rim and the three-point arc while rebounding and defending at a high level. He also provides elite screening (he narrowly trails Horford in screen assists per game 3.5 to 3.2 despite playing about half as many minutes) and an infectious sense of humor that he brings to the team (here's a clip for your viewing).

All these aspects of Baynes' game come together to show what he does best - making the Celtics a better basketball team. Here's to a speedy recovery, the Celtics just aren't the same without him.

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