There have been a multitude of words to describe the San Antonio Spurs over the years: consistent, methodical, disciplined, professional, boring; but one that seems to escape the media’s lexicon is opportunistic. Coach Gregg Popovich and his interactions during interviews and post-game conference have caught fire on the internet as some of the most sarcastic and humorous sound bytes that the NBA can offer. But, an overlooked aspect of Spurs GM R.C. Buford and Popovich’s success has been their ability to identify (often times foreign) talent, and get an exceptional return on their investment. Enter Aron Baynes.
A 6’10, 260 product of the Washington State basketball program, Baynes had a career night Tuesday night against the Toronto Raptors to the tune of 14 points, six rebounds (four offensive), and a hearty net differential of +19 in a mere 21 minute. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Baynes breakout performance is the narrative that surrounds the opportunity.
As a native of Australia, Baynes was coached on the national team alongside teammate Patty Mills by ex-Spurs assistant Brett Brown (currently the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers), receiving a heart recommendation. Although he has spent his Spurs tenure wavering between the Developmental League and the end of the Spurs rotation, his outbreak performance has perhaps earned him playing time going forward.
With another developmental project turned success story Tiago Splitter sidelined with a calf injury, Baynes has seized the opportunity and performed admirably. Versus the Raptors, he showcased a variety of skills all integral to earning playing time in the Spurs system: solid screen setting, good range as a pick and pop jump shooter, constant cutting to the rim, necessary court vision to read both the pick & roll and dribble pitch scenarios, and sufficient finishing ability at the rim.
Prior to this game, Baynes’ best accomplishment can arguably be goading Dwight Howard into an ejection during last year’s playoffs. But by proving he can be efficient and aggressive when his number has been called, the Australian Big Man may be part of the team’s plan moving forward.
Entering last years playoffs, the Spurs were an anomaly. Not because of their abundance of foreign players or the way that their system seemed to crush the spirit of their opposition before the NBA Finals. What perhaps stood out the most was the number of lottery picks on the roster. Tim Duncan is the only player to be drafted (aside from Tracy McGrady) inside the top 16.