Salt Lake City — Almost without having to be called, Aron Baynes popped up off the bench and immediately pulled his warm-up jersey over his head.
It wasn’t his normal time to check into the game but when Baynes saw that Andre Drummond had picked up his second foul less than three minutes into the game, coach Stan Van Gundy almost didn’t need to waste his breath.
In Saturday’s loss at Denver, Baynes played a season-high 30 minutes and one of his best games this season, posting his first double-double, with 13 points and 10 rebounds. He was efficient, hitting 6 of 7 field goals and splitting his two free throws.
He had the biggest shot of the game, a go-ahead basket with 48.3 seconds left that put the Pistons ahead by one, but Danilo Gallinari hit the eventual game-winner on the ensuing possession. More than that, it was another solid performance on both ends of the court for Baynes, who has been one of the best Pistons reserves this season.
While he averages about 14 minutes this season — about two less than last season with the San Antonio Spurs — Baynes has found a groove since coming off ankle surgery in the offseason.
“As a second unit, we’re just trying to be ready for when our number is called. Every game is different and things happen — and that’s the name of the game,” Baynes said. “It’s about being ready for whatever occurs and that’s all I try to focus on, is to do whatever the team needs me to do whenever my number is called.
“I just want to get out there and do the right things within my role when I’m out there on the floor.”
On Saturday, that meant playing about double the minutes, while Drummond was in foul trouble and had one of his lowest-production games of the season. Drummond finished with a season-low four points and just eight rebounds.
In similar minutes to what Drummond plays, Baynes was able to come through with a double-double — and play some tough defense in the paint, helping to erase a 10-point deficit entering the fourth quarter, scoring four points during the go-ahead rally, then hitting the clutch shot in the final minute.
Drummond has taken notice of what Baynes’ contributions — both on and off the court — have brought to the Pistons.
“Aron Baynes is a professional; he’s come from a great team of winners and (since he’s come here), I’ve learned quite a few things from him,” Drummond said. “He’s been a sparkplug for us and an X-factor when he comes in the game. He brings a lot of energy to the floor.”
While Van Gundy has bemoaned the fact that the Pistons have struggled over the last couple weeks with their energy and effort, especially on the defensive end, Baynes has been one of the constants.
Following the loss to the Nuggets, in which the Pistons gave up a 39-point third quarter — their highest of any quarter this season — Van Gundy pointed to Baynes’ effort, in an increased role — as one of the consolations.
“In the first half, we played nine guys and one guy, Aron Baynes, put out a good effort defensively,” Van Gundy said. “The other eight guys put virtually nothing into it — on anything.”
Throughout the season, the defensive effort has slid and Baynes is looking to help the rest of the team get back to that level, when they started 5-1 and were on a roll.
“That’s one of the areas I can definitely help the team in, being down there and trying to be big and physical in and around the paint,” he said. “It’s a number of things: it’s our mentality, our preparation and a lot of the effort we have to put in. We watch the film of those games and we see second and third efforts and we didn’t stop, no matter what was happening.
“Our effort’s fallen off on the defensive and we’re too focused on trying to save it for the offensive end. That’s something we need to fix and after the last couple days, we’ve seen what we need to do — and hopefully, it carries over.”
Leaving a mark
Baynes also has made his mark playing without the ball, as a sturdy ball-screener and stalwart on the Pistons’ bread-and-butter play, the pick-and-roll.
He’s formed a potent combination with rookie Stanley Johnson among the reserves, providing another offensive duo that Van Gundy has looked to utilize more because of their effectiveness.
“It’s no offense to Andre, but Aron Baynes is probably the best screener in the league,” Johnson said. “He’s really nailing guys. All he asks of us is to wait — and I wait and keep my man on my hip.
“When I get the ball and stop and come off the screen, there’s a large gap between me and my man.”
Point guard Reggie Jackson also lauded Baynes’ picks and noted there isn’t just one thing that he does; he just sets a solid pick and makes it hard for defenders to get through.
In his three seasons with the Spurs, Baynes was a reserve behind Tim Duncan and set those same screens for the likes of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. But he also learned about leadership — a big buzz word in recent weeks with the Pistons — and brings his own savvy.
“The best leaders are guys that you go out and follow on the court,” Baynes said. “That’s what we need to do: We need everyone to go out there and do it on the court and not just talk about it. (The Spurs) have been together for so long and have gone through all types of situations
“They’ve been there and done it before and there’s never any situation that was new to them.”