Aron Baynes precisely what Raptors need to fill centre void

Phoenix Suns center Aron Baynes (46) goes up to shoot against Houston Rockets center Clint Capela, right, during the second half of an NBA basketball game. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

In a seemingly rapid-fire sequence of events, word spread Sunday night that the Toronto Raptors were losing free agent centre Marc Gasol and signing Aron Baynes.

With Gasol’s departure and Serge Ibaka leaving for the Clippers late Saturday night, Baynes will now step in as the heir apparent to what has been a bedrock spot for the club over the past two seasons.

Joining Baynes in this lofty endeavour will be the slim-but-talented Chris Boucher — who reportedly re-signed with the team Sunday night as well — and while the prospect of a Baynes and Boucher centre rotation may not sound like the most formidable on paper, the acquisition of Baynes, in particular, will offer certain advantages that not even Ibaka nor Gasol would be able to provide.

Here’s a little more on the new Raptor.

Age: 33
Nationality: Australian
Position: Centre
Height: Six-foot-10 | Weight: 262 lbs
Former team: Phoenix Suns
2019-20 stats: PPG: 11.5 | RPG: 5.6 | 3P%: 35.1

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His contract is better than it looks

First thing’s first, cold as this may be to say, the most important thing to point out with Baynes is his contract.

Baynes is reportedly signing a two-year deal worth $14.3 million, which may sound like a lot of money at first when you consider he’s never put up great-looking numbers.

However, his on-court value exceeds what counting stats can tell (more on this in the next section), and more importantly, with word that the Raptors are only spending part of their mid-level exception to sign him and that the second year is a club option, this deal is, essentially, just a one-year contract for Baynes at a reasonable rate.

This is a good piece of business for the Raptors as it keeps maximum flexibility for the team’s ambitious goals during the 2021 off-season.

Plus, if Baynes performs to expectations, and there’s room next season, picking up his option then wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if, for nothing else, as a possible trade piece as he will be a player on an expiring deal.

His game is precisely what the Raptors need

Another added bonus is the fact Baynes can really play.

No, his game doesn’t feature the gorgeous playmaking Raptors fans may have grown accustomed to with Gasol, nor is he anywhere near the kind of athlete Ibaka is, but that doesn’t matter because Baynes will check off boxes as just one player that only Ibaka and Gasol could do together for the Raptors.

Though he’s getting up in age, Baynes has continued to grow as a player and last season he added a pretty reliable three-point shot to his offensive repertoire, shooting 35.1 per cent from deep on four attempts per game.

This is outside shooting comparable to the 38.5 per-cent mark on 3.3 attempts seen from Ibaka last season, and, better yet, Baynes probably plays better defence than Ibaka.

Now, whether Baynes is the same level defender as Gasol is a different question, entirely, but there’s an argument to be made that his defensive impact could be similar to that of the Spaniard.

After Phoenix played its season opener last season, DeAndre Ayton was suspended for 25 games due to diuretic usage, leading to Baynes being named the team’s starting centre and helping the team out to a 6-5 record during the first 11 games without Ayton until Baynes was forced to miss time with injury.

During that stretch of time, the Suns were a little more than five points per 100 possessions better with Baynes on the floor than off it and it’s mainly because he’s an adept defender with quick feet who can hedge out to the perimeter and recover back in time where he can protect the rim thanks to his sturdy frame and smart positioning.

The centre spot isn’t one the Raptors necessarily need a ton of contribution to be coming from. All they need out of there is guys to play good defence, rebound the ball, set strong screens and knock down the occasional three enough to stretch the floor a bit.

Baynes can do all of that, and if he’s able to stay healthy he should fit in with the Raptors rather seamlessly.

He has a lot of fan-favourite potential in him

Raptors Twitter is arguably the best, most passionate social media community in the NBA, and it’s about to get introduced to, arguably, the best, most passionate individual player account in the NBA.

Welcome @AronBaynesFanClub!

This account alone is likely to make Baynes a popular guy, but given how much Toronto fans love their blue-collar, hard-working athletes, Baynes’ popularity could shoot through the roof as he’s exactly that kind of player, as well.

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