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And, Not Or: The battle between Andrew Harrison & Wade Baldwin

As preseason mercifully comes to an end Wednesday, a roster “competition” rages on. Who will win the backup point guard battle in Memphis? Hopefully both of them.

NBA: Preseason-Philadelphia 76ers at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Preseason basketball isn’t good for much.

It is a great way to panic almost instantly when your best player hurts himself, as Grizzlies fans learned on Saturday night. It is also an awesome reminder that not all NBA teams have streaming options for games, so you have limited avenues for watching the team. While the Memphis Grizzlies are only playing six preseason games this time around (thank goodness), it also is a terrific opportunity for starters to show their skill for not playing defense as they do their best to survive these meaningless games.

Of course, the games are not meaningless for all involved. In the cases of Troy Williams and D.J. Stephens, they are scratching and clawing to make this roster...or any NBA roster, for that matter. JaMychal Green is trying to show he is capable of the larger role awaiting him when the regular season begins when he is introduced as a starter. And there are more often than not competitions for playing time, which on the surface seems to be the case between Andrew Harrison and Wade Baldwin.

Both figure to make the team. Both seem to have opportunities in front of them to show their capabilities. But which one will be the back-up behind Mike Conley? Who will see the majority of the time between the two at that spot? Or is it possible that, much like most of the preseason itself, the answer to the backup point guard question is potentially irrelevant?

More on that in a moment. First, let’s break down our combatants.

Andrew Harrison

NBA: Preseason-Memphis Grizzlies at Houston Rockets Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

HEIGHT- 6’6”

WEIGHT- 215 pounds


DRAFT PICK- 44th overall in 2015 by the Memphis Grizzlies

PRESEASON AVERAGES (five games)- 17.4 minutes per game, 40% shooting overall, 50% from three, 68.4% free throw percentage, 7.6 points per game, 2.6 assists per game, 2 rebounds per game, 1 turnover per game.

Harrison has had a much better showing this preseason than he did during summer league. Harrison’s shot seemed off, especially from range, while the Grizzlies were in Vegas, so seeing him convert five of ten attempts in the preseason is promising. Harrison is also protecting the ball well, averaging over two and a half assists for every turnover he is committing.

In fact, remove one poor performance (an 0-5 shooting night against Atlanta) and Harrison is shooting 50% overall in four games. His ability to handle the basketball at his size is extremely valuable- bigger point guards are all the rage nowadays, you know- and Harrison shows command of the offense beyond his experience at times.

Harrison is also getting to the free throw line at an impressive clip. Almost four times a game in 17 minutes of play is solid, and while he must improve on his percentage from the charity stripe it shows an ability to create off the dribble and attack the rim. Mario Chalmers did a tremendous job of that last season, so if Harrison was capable of filling that role of efficient point scoring opportunity creation to an extent, that would be extremely valuable.

It also doesn’t hurt that Harrison’s size makes him able to defend multiple positions on the wing. If he were able to take on the tougher defensive assignment alongside Mike Conley and allow for him to rest defensively, that could be a savvy way of saving Mike within the game itself in terms of exertion and health.

Perhaps Harrison isn’t an end of the bench player after all.

Wade Baldwin

NBA: Preseason-Philadelphia 76ers at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

HEIGHT: 6’4”

WEIGHT: 205 pounds


DRAFT PICK: 16th overall in 2016 by the Memphis Grizzlies

PRESEASON AVERAGES (five games): 22.6 minutes per game, 36% shooting overall, 20% from three, 65.3% free throw percentage, 7.2 points per game, 4 assists per game, 2.4 rebounds per game, 1.8 turnovers per game.

Wade Baldwin, meanwhile, has continued his struggles from summer league when it comes to making jump shots. Baldwin has just not been able to get in to a rhythm, although it isn’t for a lack of trying- Wade has taken over five shots per game this preseason. He, like Harrison, has shown an ability to get to the free throw line- over five attempts a game on average from the charity stripe- but he converts those shots at an even lower clip than Harrison.

However, like Harrison, the size and length of Baldwin makes him an attractive option for Memphis behind Conley. He has a great ability to handle the basketball and create in transition, like he did here-

Creating turnovers is another way that this Grizzlies team has scored when offensively challenged in the past, and Baldwin’s 6’11” wingspan allows for him to play passing lanes and his athleticism makes it look easy while he is dunking or sprinting past his opponents. His shooting issues are worthy of concern, but his talent and athletic gifts are worthy of investment.

Clearly his game has flaws. As a rookie, he is raw- green, inexperienced, etc. But Head Coach David Fizdale has shown both the interest and willingness to throw rookies to the fire and develop them through playing time through mistakes. This is important- Grizzlies fans must be willing to endure some errors, and the potential losses that come with them, when dealing with younger players getting significant minutes.

This will be the case for both Baldwin and Harrison. Baldwin perhaps has a higher ceiling than Harrison, and that may result in him winning the battle, despite his jump shot woes. But if Harrison shows the ability to score from range consistently throughout the early days of the season, will Baldwin be forced to the bench? Who has the upper hand in this battle?

Perhaps the better question is, does it even matter?

The Grizzlies bench on the wing (assuming Tony Allen starts, which is not a guarantee) consists of Vince Carter, James Ennis, and Troy Daniels. While Ennis seems locked in to some solid playing time and Vince Carter will have some set role in Fizdale’s rotation, there may be opportunity on the wing considering Troy Daniels may not be impressing the coaching staff so far.

NBA: Preseason-Philadelphia 76ers at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Daniels has only played in four of the five preseason games for 10.5 minutes per game. He hasn’t made a three point shot yet, which is troubling considering that is the main reason he was brought to Memphis. His defensive woes are well documented- he has a career defensive rating of 110- and he has attempted exactly zero free throws this preseason.

Zero. In 42 minutes of play.

So if you are going to be a one-dimensional scorer who isn’t scoring in that fashion at the moment and be a defensive liability, your minutes will likely be few and far between until that changes. So why should it be Harrison OR Baldwin? Why can’t it be Harrison AND Baldwin? Baldwin can be the traditional back-up point, as he has shown real potential as a creator, while Harrison plays off the ball a majority of the time? They can swap responsibilities on the fly as well, according to match-ups and game plans on a nightly basis.

The possibilities are endless. Two young combo guards getting consistent minutes, two players who can create for themselves and for teammates in a variety of ways, two long defenders who can play off or on the ball depending on the lineup. Think of the different looks a Baldwin/Mike Conley/Harrison/Chandler Parsons/Marc Gasol lineup can give on offense- multiple pick and roll combinations, multiple slashers at the rim, multiple three point shooting threats. They also would be capable of creating turnovers and taking on tougher defensive assignments, capable of switching with bigger wings and even stretch fours due to their length and size. Troy Daniels cannot.

If you assume a rotation of Mike Conley/Tony Allen/Chandler Parsons/JaMychal Green/Marc Gasol/James Ennis/Brandan Wright/Zach Randolph/Vince Carter, that leaves potentially one or two more positions in a regular season rotation. There will surely be nights off for Carter and other Grizzlies veterans as well. Assuming Baldwin or Harrison gets the true “back-up PG” role, the other could still make an impact if Daniels does not perform.

Baldwin AND Harrison. Not “or”. Fizdale would be wise to look beyond position, as it seems he already has done when it comes to Vince Carter, and get his best players on the floor. Troy Daniels has a tremendous specific skill, but the modern NBA offense cannot just be about launching from range. For both Harrison and Baldwin, their ability to attack in the paint and make opportunities for their teammates and themselves pairs nicely with their defensive potential.

The two Grizzlies draft picks figure to be potentially key pieces moving forward. Why not give them those minutes and allow for them to play off of each other, to feed off one another? Daniels has his place, but his game is far too one-dimensional. His game is skin deep, whereas Harrison and Baldwin could potentially have may layers to uncover with playing time.

So who will win this matchup for the back-up point guard position of the Memphis Grizzlies? Harrison? Baldwin?

It shouldn’t matter. When it comes to the battle between Baldwin and Harrison, we need to change our collective perspective. It should be “and”, not “or”.

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