It’s been widely assumed that Brad Stevens would start the same five players he did on Opening Night a year ago: Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, and Al Horford. With Irving and Hayward healthy and a year and under the belts of Brown and Tatum, that starting five could be special. It’s Boston’s version of the Death Lineup and could also close a lot of games. It’s tough to make a case against any of them to not start.
The elephant--the gentle giant, the wall, All of Australia--in the room is Aron Baynes.
Here’s just a quick statistical case for Baynesy to remain as a starter. Of the four lineups that played more than 100 minutes together, Aron Baynes seemed to be the common denominator of winning basketball. In the starting lineups that featured either Irving or Terry Rozier, the Celtics had a NetRtg of 13.4 (in 354 minutes) and a whopping 16.2 (115 minutes) respectively. Baynes only averaged 18.3 minutes per game in the regular season, but he was the anchor of the best defensive team in the league. He preserved valuable minutes where Horford could avoid banging in the paint as a center so that Big Al could shine in small ball lineups and had the best individual DefRtg on the team at 97.0.
His 0.6 blocks per game don’t exactly scream “rim protector,” but he’s a good communicator on the base line and a pride-swallowing last line of defense. ESPN Boston’s Chris Forsberg wrote a great column about Baynes’ indifference about getting posterized last season.
Basketball is made up of hundreds of split second decisions. Some seem inconsequential in the moment like contesting a shot you can’t block or boxing out with Steph Curry at the free throw line. Others are instinctual. A sense of duty drives a player. It’s in their blood. Exhibit A:
This isn’t Giannis Antetokounmpo coming off a pick in the paint and trying to yam it on the help defender. This is a Greek freak of nature getting a full head of steam from half court and Baynes standing him up and putting him on his wallet. He doesn’t get credited for the block, but you can bet that Heinsohn was dishing out Tommy Points to one of his favorite players.
And as quickly as Baynes reacted to the charging Giannis, that’s how fast Danny Ainge re-signed the Aussie to a two-year deal at the stroke of midnight on July 1st. All year, Brad Stevens commended Baynes for his leadership, selflessness, and professionalism. He was a veteran in the locker room and never complained about role or playing time. So, starting or not starting, getting dunked on or preventing an easy two, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that Baynes is “back in Boston. YEAH BUDDY.”