Wade Baldwin is heading west on I-40, and if I've learned anything from watching him the last two years at Vanderbilt, he'll get there in three dribbles, two massive greyhound strides, and with one hurling, flying, fearless (if anxiety-inducing to fans) finish. However Baldwin ultimately lands in Memphis, the 17th pick in the Draft is sure to do it with a flourish.
Baldwin played two seasons at Vanderbilt for Kevin Stallings, who once threatened to kill his point guard, and who, in lieu of any Memorial Magic, tasked Baldwin with pulling rabbits out of his butt on offense. This simultaneous playing-for-his-life and status as Vandy's only offensive creator birthed a Baldwin that was thrilling, frustrating, determined, and dead-tired. Stallings, ironically, lived and died with Wade Baldwin.
The great news for Grizzlies fans is that Stallings did let Baldwin live, fully live, the Dores' heartbeat pumping arrhythmically with wild scavenger hunts into the lane, weird bowling ball passes flung underhandedly on the break, pull-up leaners and off-campus threes and, yes, turnovers tossed willy-nilly into the seats.
Baldwin's value to the Grizzlies is obvious: he can play solid, switchable defense on three different positions (with the wingspan potential to become an elite wing defender) and slot comfortably into a clearly-defined backup ballhandling role. But if Baldwin, in reduced, expectation-lessened minutes, can keep livin' on a prayer without Stallings barking down his neck, he really could become a kind of freaky, attacking, ball-sniping, rim-baptizing combo guard the rest of the league would die to have.
Probably three, four times in the last couple years, sitting in Memorial Gym's Section 2L, after one of Wade Baldwin's recklessly controlled rim runs, I leaned over and told my mom, my season-ticket-holder-in-crime, that Baldwin had a little Russell Westbrook in him. Even if it is just a little, I think we'll be glad we're alive to see it.