Did we, as fans and media, put too much pressure on Wade Baldwin IV in his rookie season?
I thought of this question while researching this post and haven’t been able to convince myself fully that we didn’t. Much has changed approaching year two for the Vanderbilt product.
This time last year, it was a distinct, if not likely possibility that Baldwin would be the primary backup for point guard Mike Conley. His first round status and the lack of depth at the position primed people to think that, yes, he should be the rightful potential long-term heir to Conley’s throne.
A year later, it’s not certain that Baldwin will make the original 17-man roster for his sophomore season. A sudden overpopulation of ball handlers coupled with his shaky-to-head-scratching 2016-17 performance may force him out of the team entirely.
It may very well be that we don’t value Baldwin enough this season, and he in turn surprises. But based on what we’ve seen thus far, I don’t anticipate that happening.
2016-17 Season in Review
The most important thing to bring up about Baldwin’s 2016-17 season revolves around the fact that Memphis sent him down and recalled him from then-D League affiliate Iowa Energy five times. In contrast, the Grizzlies allowed fellow sophomore guard Andrew Harrison an entire year in the minor leagues before bringing him up to the big club.
Without any type of stability, Baldwin had to go night-to-night not knowing if he’d be riding the bench without any promise of playing time or if he’d start and run an entire offense for 30+ minutes a night, albeit against sub-par opponents.
With this in mind, let’s look at his production in the NBA last season.
At 12.3 minutes per game in 33 games, it’s hardly worth putting any stock in his 3.2 points, 1.4 rebounds, or 1.8 assists per game. His shooting percentages, though from small sample sizes as well, were dreadful. He shot only 31.3 percent from the field and 13.6 percent from distance, going three of 22 from downtown.
Extrapolated to per 100 possessions, his overall numbers were worrisome with some bright spots.
At 13.6 points per 100 possessions, he was second worst on the team in that category, and his offensive rating of 83 was, unsurprisingly, worst. Yet, we knew coming in that Baldwin’s strengths would not be immediate seen on the offensive end, but rather on defense and on the boards where his bulky body and long arms gave him an advantage.
He secured almost six rebounds per 100, a good number for a point guard, and was second on the team with 7.8 assists per 100. His defensive rating of 107 was middle of the pack - in fact, it was better than Mike Conley.
What’s most worrisome, though, is that he ranked last or second to last in all of the advanced statistics provided by basketball reference, even recording a negative win shares per 48 mark. That’s extra bad, for those unfamiliar.
What’s worse is that he didn’t seem to improve at all during the Grizzlies Summer League. He was mostly reckless, unable to generate any type of positive consistency on the court when playing against much inferior competition. It was a listless and disappointing affair to watch.
If Baldwin makes the Grizzlies roster, he’ll likely be the fourth or fifth primary ball handling option. He didn’t show that he could handle the duties last year when he had a chance—that hurt his stock even more when the Grizzlies brought in Mario Chalmers and Tyreke Evans.
Harrison will also look to fill one of those spots, and at least showed some positives while milking 20 minutes per contest in the playoffs. But, as head coach David Fizdale said at media day on Monday:
"I'm going to roll the ball out and see which bulldog wants it," -Fizdale on Tyreke Evans and Wade Baldwin competition.— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) September 25, 2017
Best Case Scenario
I think there’s two very different best case scenarios for Baldwin, though he may object to one of them.
The first: he emerges from training camp as a bona fide NBA player who can hold his own when called upon to substitute for Conley, Chalmers, Harrison, or Evans. He leverages his length and passing ability to become a better pairing for Conley when the veteran plays off-the-ball. He can initiate offense and plays more than just the final minutes of the first quarter and in blowouts (such as he does at 1:23 in the video below).
The second: he spends an entire, uninterrupted year in the G League. He gains tons of experience by getting to play and start every night and can be called upon if an injury or two opens a spot.
Worst Case Scenario
I suppose him spending an entire year in the G League could also be construed as a worst case scenario. But I think riding the bench in Memphis would be worse. If he’s in Southaven at least he gets to do things that should help him improve.
Overall Expectations for 2017-18
The expectations are uninspiring this year for Baldwin. He set a low bar for himself last year in the little time we did see him, and without the opening at backup point guard there for him possibly to slide into, there’s not much reason to think he’ll get much playing time.
It’s possible Fizdale takes him under his wing and gifts him real responsibilities on the court for this team. But I don’t think we’ve seen anything from Baldwin yet that makes me think he should.