Against the Atlanta Hawks, Aron Baynes had his first clunker as a starter this season, yet the Phoenix Suns still won. That is a good thing.
Averaging 17.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in his first nine starts, while shooting not only 58.8% from the field with an amazing 48.8% from beyond the arc, some people have clamored for him to supplant Ayton in the starting lineup when the younger player returns.
Have that argument again, I do not care – I do not believe that there is any chance that Ayton begins on the bench upon his return – however, it was a very easy argument to make considering Baynes’ current stretch-run (and when ignoring Ayton’s rookie season and opening night performance).
That said, in the Phoenix Suns’ blowout victory over the Atlanta Hawks, Baynes finally had a statistical clunker.
Picking up four fouls in a stretch of only a few game minutes at the end of the second quarter and the start of the third, while also never getting into a rhythm offensively missing all three outside shot attempts and finishing just 1-5 from the field, Baynes made a minimal positive impact in his team’s victory, even finishing as the Suns’ only player to log negative plus/minus minutes, finishing -10 in 18:14.
Seriously though: that is a good thing.
Yes, of course – everyone would have preferred that Baynes had played a better all-around game, that he had made a couple of 3’s, and that he hadn’t have gotten himself into foul trouble so early in the third quarter which ultimately led to an early benching from which Frank Kaminsky (19 points, 6 rebounds, and 3-5 from beyond the arc) was able to take advantage.
It was Kaminsky’s solid outing that actually made Baynes’ poor outing so manageable.
While not a starter in the NBA either (let’s face it – Baynes is a backup), Kaminsky proved that the roster has the required level of depth (if not above average) at the center position in the modern stretch-five system that Monty Williams is running, which allowed the team’s offense to remain in it’s usual pattern, even with Baynes out of the lineup for longer than he generally is.
Whether Ayton starts upon his return or not (he’ll start), the Phoenix Suns will need as much depth at center as possible, and cannot rely on Baynes (or Kaminsky) at the center position to carry the team towards the most successful season possible – or even the playoffs.
Baynes has had an incredible start to his season – there is no doubt about that. And Kaminsky has shown flashes that he could end up being the best mid-level signing in the NBA from this past offseason.
So long as one of them is having an effective game (as occurred against Atlanta), then the Phoenix Suns will be strong at the position and will be able to consistently keep their opponent’s defenders on their toes – especially with their outside shooting.
Plus, having the two of them on the roster will allow Monty Williams to test the waters early and see if one is hotter than the other (particularly from the outside) and ride that particular player to the end of the game – backing up Ayton.
But in the end, that is all that either of them are. Neither has the overall skill, pedigree, or history to be counted on as a starting center for the long run throughout a season.
Let us too not forget that Baynes is not 23-years-old too.
He is 33, and while he does not necessarily have a lot of run in his legs considering that he has never averaged 20 minutes a game in his career before this season (he is currently averaging 23.8), he has been a professional basketballer for many years, and while age is just a number, in professional basketball, one’s age does offer a construct for the pace at which a player is likely to decline.
Baynes is not capable of carrying a team at center, and while his stats this season thus far have been outstanding, they are neither going to continue throughout the entire year, nor is the benching of Deandre Ayton (and thus the potential slowing in the development of the second-year center) for a player who may not even be on the roster beyond this season is not worth it.
Baynes’ poor performance against Atlanta, even in a victory, coupled with the positive performance by Kaminsky, is evidence enough that when Deandre Ayton returns, the team is even deeper than anyone had truly realized before the start of the year.
Deandre Ayton is still easily the team’s best center, and knowing that when one of his backups are off, at least the other one should be able to carry the reserve water and help lead the team to victory.
Obviously, everybody wants to see Aron Baynes continue to succeed because the better he is the better the team is overall – with and without Deandre Ayton.
However, he had had very good games in every one of the team’s victories to date (aside from opening night), thus playing poorly in a victory is evidence enough that they can do it without him starting, and will be even better off when Ayton returns.