Al Horford is a center. In fact, he’s one of the better centers in the league. Of course, he doesn’t like to be called a center, and there’s the rub.
Horford seems to be cut from the cloth of the new age centers who pride themselves on being all around basketball players and not the pigeon-holed, lumbering giants of yesteryear. Put another way, he’s closer in style to the modern unicorns than he is to the ancient dinosaurs.
So Brad compromises and calls him a “big” instead of a center. Fine. There are fewer and fewer seven footers in the league chained to the paint, so Stevens has been free to finish games with his best lineups. Most of which featured Horford as the largest human being wearing green.
With all of that said, there are still big guys out there that can and have given the Celtics fits because of their sheer size and strength. You can usually counter those matchups with Horford stretching them out on offense or beating them down the court in transition. But sometimes you just really need another bruiser that can push back at the bullies.
Anyone watching the playoffs last year knew that Amir Johnson’s days on the Celtics were limited, regardless of what other moves they made. The spirit was there, but he just didn’t look spry enough to keep up with the pace of the game.
Johnson is just 30 years old, but he’s been in the league a long time and has battled a number of lingering injuries that may have played a role in slowing him down. Still, Brad Stevens relied upon him to at least start most games and play about 20 minutes a game. Why? Because he provided solid defense and he didn’t make mistakes that cost the team.
With Amir Johnson off to Philly, Brad Stevens needs someone else to fill that role. Specifically he needs someone adept at setting screens, boxing out, and defending other bigs.
Enter Aron Baynes. He’s big, he’s Australian, and he used to play for the Spurs. As a fun loving giant all clad in green, he kinda reminds me of Shrek.
Johnson was a better shooter, passer, and defender which obviously gives him a better Net Rating than Baynes had in Detroit. The only area where Baynes stands out is on the glass where he had a 15.8% rebounding rate compared to Amir’s 12.7%. The Celtics certainly need help on the boards but I don’t know if that much of an uptick is going to really move the needle that much.
Our friends from Detroit Bad Boys elaborated on his rebounding.
Baynes can be frustrating as a rebounder thanks to some lobster claw hands, but he’s tough and goes about the game the right way. He grabs a reasonable number of boards on his own, but he’ll also seal off the other guy and make rebounding easier for the other guys on the floor. He’s that guy at the gym you hate playing against. But still, he has some physical limitations (lack of athleticism, limited wingspan, bad hands) that does make it so that his team can get beat up on the boards at times.
So what are we getting with Baynes? Well, he’s a big body who can bang with other big bodies.
He’s also younger and (in theory) could have more upside potential than Johnson did (at a lower cap cost). [Nope, same age. My bad.]
Personally I’m setting my expectations at “15 - 20 minutes a game” depending on matchups though it is possible that he could grow into a larger role. Stevens could also choose to have him starting in the same way that he had Amir Johnson start last year (only to give way to more flexible lineups the rest of the game). Perhaps Brad can convince Horford to start at “center” (or whatever he wants to call it) with the promise that if they are playing a bruiser that Baynes will be in there to help pretty quickly.
The big concern has to be injuries. Right now, if Horford misses any stretch of time, we’ll be leaning heavily upon Baynes with little in the way of traditional bigs to back him up. Perhaps Morris, Theis, Ojeleye, and Yabu can play non-traditional minutes as “bigs” but it would be nice to have at least one other Jurassic big man.
For now, we’ll just have to get to know the big Aussie better. Come for the rebounds, stay for the hair and beard and attitude.
Here’s a highlight video of when he scored 20 points against the Thunder.
“Somebody once told me the world was gonna roll me...”