Aron Baynes Has Lost His Pull and It's Creating Problems for the Raptors

Aron Baynes' inability to shoot from behind the arc has created offensive problems for the Toronto Raptors this season
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When Aron Baynes signed with the Toronto Raptors this past offseason there was some excitement about what he could provide Toronto on the offensive end of the floor. Losing Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka was a tough pill to swallow, but signing Baynes on a short-term deal seemed to be a savvy move.

In just three years Baynes had turned from a player who rarely took 3-pointers into one of the NBA's best 3-point shooting big men. He was expected to bring some floor-spacing to Toronto and as Raptors coach Nick Nurse explained at the time, that can be a real difference-maker for an offence.

"Normally the [defensive] bigs are protecting the rim. So if there’s something happening at the rim, a hard drive or screen and roll, or back cut or something, a lot of times the big will migrate to the rim to protect it," Nurse said

"If the offensive big can pop behind the 3-[point line], it’s a long run back from the rim all the way out. ... So ideally, if the big can shoot, that’s good. It stretches the D and puts them in rotations."

Thanks to Andrew Patton, Ph.D., there's actually a metric that measures how much a player stretches a defence. It's called Gravity.

Last season with the Phoenix Sun, Baynes shot 35.1% from 3-point range and 36.8% above the break. More specifically, he shot 40.2% right at the top of the arc.

Aron Baynes' 3-point zone chart from 2019-20

Aron Baynes' 3-point zone chart from 2019-20

It meant opposing teams had to defend him out there, pulling the defence's big man out of the paint and creating space for everyone else.

Now let's take a look at how that worked in terms of his Gravity. Essentially Gravity is the pull an offensive player has on a defence and his defender. The better the shooter or scorer, the higher his gravitational pull. For example, if Steph Curry is standing behind the arc his defender is going to be glued to him because leaving Curry open for even a split second could result in a three-point swing for the Warriors. Conversely, if Bismack Biyombo is standing behind the 3-point line, he has no gravitational pull. If anything, defences are going to sag off of him, leaving him open and defending everyone else on the court.

The chart below shows Baynes' Gravity last season. The lower the dip the higher the gravitational pull. Therefore, imagine the defender is a marble. Wherever the dips are the defender is going to be pulled in that direction. Conversely, where the peaks are, the defender can sort of ignore that player. So when Baynes was standing at the top of the arc last season defences had to respect him. He was shooting 40.2% at the top of the arc and his Gravity at that point was -9.27, which is considered strong (Remember, negative numbers are better than positives here.)

Aron Baynes' gravity chart for 2019-20

Aron Baynes' gravity chart for 2019-20

This year, however, Baynes is shooting just 23.1% from 3-point range, 25% from above the break, and he's just 2-for-15 at the very top of the arc.

Aron Baynes' 3-point zone chart this season

Aron Baynes' 3-point zone chart this season

As you'd expect, he's lost almost all that gravitational pull. His Gravity has plummeted to just -0.83 at the top of the arc, almost zero which is league average.

Aron Baynes' gravity chart for 2020-21

Aron Baynes' gravity chart for 2020-21

Over Toronto's last four games Baynes has taken five above-the-break 3-pointers and shot 1-for-5 on them. For the most part, his defenders are leaving him wide open. Sometimes, as you'll see when the Raptors played the Grizzlies, they're not even trying to defend his shot. Take a look at those five 3-point attempts:

When Baynes is unable to pull his defender out of the paint, Toronto is essentially playing 4-on-5 on offence. His defender can stand inside and cut off driving lanes and double team in the post. It's why the Raptors' offence is 6.3 points per 100 possessions better when Baynes is off the court this season, according to Cleaning the Glass. That's the worst for any rotation player on the team.

When the Raptors signed Baynes in the Fall they had hoped they were adding another 3-point threat who could space the floor and open the offence up for everyone else. He had shown an ability to do that in the past. So far this year, they've received the opposite. Instead, he's lost his pull and his gravity is working against the Raptors.

Further Reading

Payton Prichard & Semi Ojeleye were too hot for the Raptors in the road trip finale

The next few weeks should provide the Raptors with clarity ahead of the March trade deadline

Just how good is the Raptors' historic offence?