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Aron Baynes expects to come back for Suns against Mavericks

Aron Baynes #46 of the Phoenix Suns points during the second half of the NBA game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Talking Stick Resort Arena on November 04, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the 76ers 114-109. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns will likely be receiving a big boost on Friday night against the Dallas Mavericks with the expected return of starting center Aron Baynes from a right hip flexor strain that had him miss five games.

The 32-year-old, listed as probable on the injury report, said Friday he expects to come back. Baynes has arguably been Phoenix’s most well-rounded player.

His communication on defense, screen-setting, passing, rim protection, shooting and overall knowhow on the floor have all been notably missing.

In the 1-4 stretch without Baynes, it’s been the defense standing out, particularly because of going from a great defensive player in Baynes starting to a not so great one in Frank Kaminsky.

The Suns’ defensive rating in those five games is 117.9, the third-worst in the NBA over every team’s last five and over 13 points higher than their 104.4 defensive rating as a team in Baynes’ 12 games.

A repeated theme around Baynes is his ability to talk on defense, which head coach Monty Williams has compared to a middle linebacker in football.

“It gives you the confidence to be able to press up on somebody knowing you have really good rim protection behind you,” Devin Booker said of it at shootaround Friday.

Baynes has seen that gap in chatter while being ruled out and a general regression since the start of the season.

“I think we need to communicate a lot better and I think that’s what I’m gonna try and focus on a little bit and try and get us doing even better,” he said Friday. “It’s kind of dropped from where we were in (training camp at) Flagstaff and so we need to get back to everyone talking, everyone communicating.”

It’s a timely return of the defensive leader because the league’s No. 1 offense and a MVP candidate are in town.

“(Kristaps) Porzingis is a handful but (Luka) Doncic is like embarrassing the league right now,” Williams said at practice Thursday.

Doncic is averaging 30.1 points, 10.0 rebounds and 9.5 assists per game on a 62.5 TS%. That specific type of efficient production has never been seen before in the league, and even if Doncic’s numbers slightly go down, you wouldn’t need your second hand to count how many times a season like that has been done.

“He’s a good basketball player,” Tyler Johnson said with a grin after practice Thursday. “I’ve watched him from afar but I admire some of the things he can do with a basketball for sure.”

Doncic can score anywhere. He’s shooting an absurd 52% from the mid-range and an even more ridiculous, given the lack of vertical explosive athleticism, 72% around the rim. Those are both some of the best numbers around the league for a wing that help supplant an average 34% mark from three-point range.

“He can do everything on the court,” Booker said. “I don’t think there’s a real weakness. It’s just one of those things you have to make tough on him.”

And Doncic’s best skill is probably as a playmaker, with his passing ability, vision, size and basketball IQ combining into the NBA’s best provider outside of LeBron James.

“With his shooting ability and passing ability at the same time and his IQ for the game, he’s a tough guy to guard,” Booker said.

Dallas has been surging too. They have a plus-17.1 point differential the past two weeks, per Cleaning the Glass.

That makes it ideal that the Suns will be at nearly full strength with both Baynes and Ricky Rubio back for the first time in over two weeks.

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