Why Auburn is playing its best ball with Chad Baker-Mazara on the floor
The Auburn small forward has already been a Sixth Man of the Year. He could win another, this time as the Tigers' leader in plus/minus.
SF Chad Baker-Mazara (Jamie Holt/Auburn Tigers)
When the ball swung to Chad Baker-Mazara, you just knew something good was going to happen for Auburn.
Sized up against Allen Flanigan — the man he replaced on Auburn’s roster this offseason — Baker-Mazara got the ball in a triple threat position. Dylan Cardwell was coming up to his right to set a screen, but Baker-Mazara felt like he could get a step on Flanigan if he went to his favored left side.
Baker-Mazara took two hard dribbles and got inside the arc, slicing right down the left wing. As he prepared for takeoff, two Ole Miss defenders crashed to the inside to help Flanigan, and one more tried to rip the ball away from him.
That’s right: Baker-Mazara had four Ole Miss players trying to stop him. Somebody — multiple somebodies, in fact — were going to be wide-open thanks to the gravity created by the 6-foot-7 wing from the Dominican Republic.
As Baker-Mazara went up for a potential shot, the two crashing defenders went up to block his shot. No problem. Using all of his impressive wingspan, Baker-Mazara wrapped around the 7-foot-5 Jamarion Sharp and dumped the ball off to a cutting Chaney Johnson for an ultra-easy dunk.
On the next possession, Baker-Mazara was switched onto Sharp and still reeled in a defensive rebound on him. He immediately kicked the ball to point guard Tre Donaldson to attack in transition.
As Donaldson kicked a pass to K.D. Johnson in the corner and the ball went inside to a posting-up Dylan Cardwell, Baker-Mazara threw both of his hands up in the air, trying to get his teammates’ attention out of the corner of their eyes. He was going to be wide-open as a trailing shooter.
Cardwell fired the ball out to Baker-Mazara, who quickly rose up for a 3-pointer. The ball rattled in, and Auburn was now up by more than 20.
Two possessions later, when Ole Miss tried to dump the ball down low to Sharp, Baker-Mazara jumped in to pick off the pass in mid-air. On the other end of the floor, Baker-Mazara used a screen to draw multiple defenders again, flipping the ball back to Johnson for an easy assist to Cardwell.
Auburn was on a 10-0 run, and it would stretch out to 14-0 before Baker-Mazara subbed back out of the game.
Baker-Mazara made another brief appearance toward the end, but his insistence to the coaching staff on leaving Lior Berman in the game during the first half meant that he would only finish with 14 minutes — the fewest he had in a single outing since his Auburn debut against Baylor in South Dakota.
It didn’t matter. Baker-Mazara still led Auburn in plus/minus at +20.
“Chad Baker, he’s my best 3-man,” Pearl said after Auburn’s 82-59 win over Ole Miss. “Chris (Moore) and Lior will tell you that. He’s coming off the bench.”
And, even though Baker-Mazara is coming off the bench, few players in the entire SEC are impacting winning as much as him.