Durable Aron Baynes sits out with sprained ankle

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — It didn’t look good for Aron Baynes at first.

In the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over the Miami Heat, he came down awkwardly and lay on the floor, writhing in pain and holding his left ankle, after a Heat player landed on his foot.

After being examined by team athletic trainers, Baynes was taken back to the locker room and following the game, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said Baynes was in a walking boot but his long-term status was unclear.

Things changed over the last couple of days for Baynes, the Pistons’ 6-foot-10 backup center.

Baynes didn’t participate in the morning walk-through before Tuesday’s game against the Indiana Pacers, but Van Gundy said he would be a game-time decision. After going through pregame warmups, Baynes was not able to play, missing his first game this season.

That opens the door for 7-foot-3 reserve center, Boban Marjanovic, who has played sparingly this season — mostly at the ends of lopsided games. Van Gundy said the plan was to have Marjanovic guard veteran center Al Jefferson, who’s not as mobile, and use big man Jon Leuer as the backup center against Myles Turner, who’s younger and more mobile.

Although the injury looked serious at first, Baynes isn’t expected to miss significant time in working his way back.

From that standpoint, he was a little fortunate.

“It felt pretty sore when it happened but it’s one of those things; I was unlucky, but I was lucky at the same time,” Baynes said Tuesday morning. “I came down and they came down on my foot and then my knee and everything kind of twisted.

“I didn’t really think long-term (injury).”

Baynes has been durable in his two seasons with the Pistons — missing just one game last season because of back spasms — and playing in the first 36 matchups this season. He’s averaging 4.3 points and 4.1 rebounds, but he has the best plus-minus rating on the team.

As Andre Drummond’s backup, Baynes plays about 16 minutes per game, which will be split Marjanovic and Leuer until Baynes returns. Although Baynes has suffered a broken nose a couple of times in the past two seasons, he’s played through it, wearing a mask, and worked through foot issues early last year.

It’s going to take more than a little sprain to keep him out for an extended period.

“It was one of those things. I’ve done things to my feet and ankles so many times; it hurts at the time but you figure a way to play through,” Baynes said. “Every guy in this league is playing through something. I’m just trying to be no different and go out there and do what I can.”

Marjanovic’s role

With Drummond and Baynes taking most of the minutes, Marjanovic has been limited to finishing out the final minutes of lopsided games this season.

But when Marjanovic is needed to step into a more significant role, Van Gundy isn’t worried about there being a dropoff.

“Our backup (center) doesn’t end up playing a lot of minutes anyway, 15-18 minutes, and (Marjanovic) is more than capable of doing that,” Van Gundy said. “We’ve been getting him up and down the floor (in practice).

“Even the one day last week when we gave the regulars off, those (reserve) guys went 4-on-4 full court for 25 to 30 minutes. He’s in good enough shape and he’s a good enough player.”

When Marjanovic was signed in the offseason, he was viewed as a potential third option this year and a backup next year, in case Baynes opts out of his contract in the summer. Until then, the Pistons are happy with what they’re getting from Baynes as the backup.

“We’ve been very comfortable with Aron and Aron’s been our best guy in terms of plus-minus on the entire team,” Van Gundy said. “I’ve got great confidence in Boban; I’m not worried at all if he has to play.”

Also, in guarding against the Pacers’ quick guards in the pick-and-roll, Marjanovic might not be the best option, but at 7-foot-3, his height can make up for some of the movement issues.

“It’s tough, but we can make some adjustments with that,” Van Gundy said. “He’s got to stay focused on what he has to do and I think he’ll do that.

“With most of the centers, that’s the issue, with how they move their feet. It’s hard for the big guys; you have to take advantage of what they do at the other end.”