Patrick Baldwin Jr. was a team-leading plus-23 during the Golden State Warriors’ 104-95 win over the Washington Wizards, in what was the second of their two preseason games in Japan.
Of course, individual plus-minus is often incorrectly used. In and of itself, it falls short of providing the complete picture, and must therefore be flavored with additional context that seeks to explain why a team excelled or suffered whenever a particular player was on the floor. Such context can constitute a multitude of factors — from being able to provide excellent shot creation (or the opposite) or being able to affect the defensive end of the floor in a significantly positive (or negative) manner, among other things.
In Baldwin Jr.’s case, the eye-catching value he was able to provide against the Wizards on the offensive end of the floor consisted mostly of his spot-up/movement shooting chops — a trait that was expected to be there in the pro ranks but was mostly absent during his collegiate career.
Per the Baldwin Jr. article I wrote in late June:
His 26.6% shooting from beyond the arc came on nearly 6 attempts per game. Based purely on his shot mechanics, it seems like he should’ve shot exponentially better. The release is fairly quick, with virtually no wasted motion. His ability to square up and set his feet properly prior to release is a hallmark of a fundamentally sound shooter.
Despite the solid shooting base, Baldwin Jr. extremely underachieved in terms of raw shooting percentage — part of which may have been due to being miscast as a primary option, a role necessitated by a mid-major environment, with a substantial gap between his talent level and that of his teammates.
Suffice to say that Baldwin Jr. won’t have that problem in Golden State. As a rookie whose role in the depth chart won’t exponentially increase anytime soon, his contributions — if given the minutes — will be of a simple nature: make yourself available on the perimeter and shoot if you have space.
The more salivating thought of his potential usage within the system is as an off-ball screener. The Warriors are fond of running wide pindowns and staggered screens for their shooters; their 10.7 off-ball-screens per 100 possessions led all teams during the 2021-2022 regular season, per Synergy.
Screeners are typically bigs who provide little-to-no spacing value — all they can do after screening for shooters is roll to the rim and hope to be open for pocket passes or lobs. At 6’10”, Baldwin Jr. isn’t your typical “big” — when he screens for ball-handlers, he can pop out beyond the arc and make himself available for a jumper, especially whenever the ball handler attracts two bodies around the screen.
"Get" action into a Ryan Rollins-Patrick Baldwin Jr PnP. PBJ with the smoooth stroke. That shot looks wet. pic.twitter.com/UJJA3eskZX— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) September 30, 2022
This also extends to downscreens/pindowns. Whenever a mover comes off a Baldwin Jr. downscreen, defenders often sell out to deny a potential pass; since typical screeners aren’t expected to be perimeter threats, the screener’s man also commits to the curl, leaving a huge gap between the screener and the rim. Oftentimes, this gap is dead space — but in Baldwin Jr.’s case, it’s valuable real estate.
When situated as one of two screeners in a staggered-downscreens setup — formally known as “Motion Strong” — the confusion that it often creates can give Baldwin Jr. plenty of opportunities to drift toward the corner and make himself available for a high-efficiency shot.
Motion Strong has several options: 1) the corner man being screened for can make full use of the screens to get himself open; 2) the corner man can curl around the first screen (“Twirl” option), after which the first screener himself receives a downscreen from the second screener; 3) the corner man can outright reject the first screen and cut along the baseline (“Reject” option).
The Warriors like to use a healthy balance of “Twirl” and “Reject” whenever they run Motion Strong; “Reject” is the one they favor whenever Andrew Wiggins is the corner recipient:
“Reject” against the Wizards involved Jonathan Kuminga as the corner man rejecting and cutting along the baseline, with Baldwin Jr. setting the downscreen for Trevion Williams. Mac McClung’s ability to explode at the point of attack, get two feet into the paint, and bait help from the strong-side corner allows Baldwin Jr. — drifting back toward the corner — to go up for the corner three.
While having shooters be the screeners in Motion Strong isn’t a novel concept, having a 6’10” tower who can screen and shoot out of “Reject” (and theoretically “Twirl”) expands the possibilities for an otherwise common concept.
Another common concept is “Shake” action, or a lift from the corner by a shooter during pick-and-roll situations. This aims to counter the defensive concept of “tagging,” or the weak-side low man helping off the corner to cover the roller — which momentarily leaves the corner spacer open.
To place additional stress on the tagger, lifting from the corner while the tag itself is happening lengthens the close-out distance, giving the shooter more room and time to set his feet and execute a proper release. Baldwin Jr.’s height gives him additional leeway as the corner spacer; even in the face of a timely close-out and good contest, being lengthy and tall gives him advantages in “Shake” action that not a lot of shooters are gifted with:
Concerning the other end of the floor, here’s what I previously said about Baldwin Jr.:
Despite the lack of classical athleticism and footspeed, Baldwin Jr. does have a workable base in terms of having the length factor and a basic understanding of fundamentals. When he’s locked in and focused, he can be a neutral defender who will at least make an effort to keep his man in front, help on drives as the low man, and close out in a controlled manner.
Upon drafting Baldwin Jr., the Warriors banked on his ankle problems as the culprit behind his unremarkable defense in college. The film projected him to be a liability on that end; what the film may not have indicated is that Baldwin Jr.’s injury-induced immobility may have prevented him from showing his full potential on that end.
Make no mistake: Baldwin Jr. most likely won’t be a career above-average defender, let alone flirt with the All-Defense tier of stoppers. But being a neutral defender at the very least — with flashes of competency as an individual defender at the point of attack/in the post as well as a team defender — is all the Warriors expect from him at this point.
The point-of-attack flashes were there:
While his 7’1” wingspan was used to full effect as a huge and lengthy passing-lane obstacle in the Warriors’ patented 1-2-2 matchup zone:
I’m curious to see if this performance translates against better competition. Do take into consideration that this is, after all, the preseason, where a rookie such as Baldwin Jr. faces lineup platoons much like his own: rookies, developing players, and fringe NBA-level players who are actively fighting for roster consideration.
That’s where his plus-23 in 17 minutes will be most asterisked — but there are valid reasons why the Warriors, who were trailing for most of the game, outscored the Wizards by 23 points and ultimately came back to win during Baldwin Jr.’s time on the floor. Ultimately, the hope is that those reasons don’t turn out to be red herrings.