It would, naturally, be tough for any professional player to go from playing regular rotation minutes, to sporadic minutes. For Aron Baynes, the 6’10 Australian, the transition to the NBA was made smoother with the situation he found himself in.
Some may say it was serendipitous, but if you follow the Spurs’ organisation, you’ll know that nothing is left to chance when it comes to their player selection. Nothing is left to chance.
Yes, Baynes found himself at the end of a deep San Antonio bench, but his Boomers teammate Patty Mills, and then-national team coach, Brett Brown, were there to help guide him through the rigors of the NBA schedule. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt when you have one of the game’s greatest big men, Tim Duncan, to learn from while playing on a championship-calibre team.
Basketball Australia caught up with Baynes just before the 2013-14 season was set to begin to get his thoughts on last season, and what lies ahead.
Basketball Australia: Firstly, how was your summer? What did you spend it doing?
Aron Baynes: It was good. I spent a lot of time in San Antonio, played in the Summer League, and worked out here the rest of the time. I had a lot of time to get better, worked with big guys like, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. It’s been good to be here and be able to develop my game.
BA: What have you been working on when you say develop your game? What have you added to your arsenal?
AB: My low post game. Just trying to get better with playing within our system and making the right reads. Not only offense, but also on the defensive end, going up against those guys every day for the summer it definitely helps me get better, just learning, and practice.
BA: Let’s go back to last season for a minute. You came in to the team at the halfway point. San Antonio ends up making the NBA Finals. I know you didn’t play much during the playoff run, but what was that experience like for you?
AB: I came here in January so they were already up there in terms of position. I came in knowing that the team was flying and that there would be some opportunity for me to go out there and play so I used it as a learning curve.
Theres no better opportunity for me to learn than to go through to the Finals. From January to Game 7 of the Finals was a chance for me to learn, see how guys do things, see how they approach things. I’m just lucky to be around the team, trying to get better and understand the system. That’s the thing for me, [I was] just using it as a learning curve. That definitely sparked me to work hard as I could this summer because I know what it takes to get to that point. This year we’re hoping to go one game better.
BA: You’ve been playing pro ball for a while now. You’ve played overseas, with the Boomers as well. How tough was it to come in and learn on the fly? Especially with an established system like the one the Spurs have?
AB: It’s different coming in to a team – I’ve never actually gone into a team halfway through the season – so it was a little different for me, I just tried to use it as a learning curve. It’s just a great team, both on-and-off the court, they welcomed me in to the team and made me feel a part of it.
I’m very lucky I came to this team. It’s got a very European feel to this team, we’ve got guys from all over the place but we all speak the [same] kind of language: Basketball. It’s definitely a joy to be a part of it.
BA: Having Patty Mills around must have helped as well, I’m sure?
AB: Yeah. When I got here Patty was here, and he’d been here for a year, but [also] Brett Brown was here. Everything about the situation coming in here, I was lucky to be a part of it and use that to my advantage.
BA: You guys were under half-a-minute from winning an NBA championship, ended up losing in Game 7. What’s the team’s mentality heading into the new season? How do you recover from a loss like that?
AB: We just want to go out there and play our style of basketball – what got us to that position last year. We want to go out and do even better this year. There are a few things we can work on throughout the regular season, then when it comes time for the playoffs to be able to go out there all guns firing.
There are things we’re working on right now. We can’t take anything for granted, we have to go out from the first game and play how we need to play to put ourselves in the best position possible.
BA: Obviously the team goal is to win a world title, but what are your personal goals heading into the new season?
AB: I just want to be able to go out there and be a team player and play within the system. Whenever my number is called I want to go out there and not be disruptive to the team, but help us get better and play better. That’s my focus right now, just doing what I can do and playing within the team.
I’m looking forward to it, and still learn as much as I can because the guys I’m playing with have so much experience. There’s nothing for me to do except learn while I’m here.
BA: Matty Dellavedova’s signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers makes it four Aussies in the NBA this season – the most we’ve ever had - what are your thoughts on what this means for Australian basketball right now, and also for the future of the sport?
AB: Oh, yeah. It’s great. Like you said, we have more Australians in the league right now, it’s great because a lot of us have played together the last four years [at national team level]. ‘Bogey’ [Andrew Bogut] has unfortunately been injured, but the other three we’ve been together, we’ve been taking steps internationally. That’s one of our big goals in international competition, we want to go out and [win a] medal for Australia at either the World Championships, or the Olympics.
That’s definitely our goal when it comes to the Australian team. This exposure that we’re managing to get over here, it’s a great thing for Australian basketball. Basketball has done a lot for all of us and anything we can do to let young kids back home know about it, or learn about the game and try to pursue the game themselves, we’re more than willing to go out and help with that.
We’re all happy to be ambassadors for Australian basketball.
BA: Your head coach Gregg Popovich is famous for his interactions with media and also for getting the most out of his players. Do you have a personal ‘Pop’ story you can share with us?
AB: Pop’s definitely a character. He always has some joke for you, but he’s not quite as dry amongst the players as he seems on camera some times. He’s just having a good time [with the reporters] and joking. I don’t have a particular story to tell you right now, but he’s just a great guy both on-and-off the court. He’s able to step it up when he needs to get a bit more ferocious out there, and he lets you know when you’re not doing what he wants.
But at the same time he’s able to sit down and joke with you as well ---
BA: He hasn’t been too tough on you though, in practices?
AB: It’s not too tough. He gets on you, but he wants you to get better so you try to listen to what he’s saying and take it from there.