Patrick Baldwin Jr. — drafted 28th by the Golden State Warriors — never lived up to the billing of being a five-star recruit out of high school. But a huge part of that wasn’t his fault.
Ankle injuries at such a young age can be debilitating and frustrating — ask Stephen Curry, who himself infamously suffered torturous ankle episodes before becoming the transcendent superstar that he is today. Investing patience and faith that his ankles would stabilize paid off to the highest degree.
Perhaps the Warriors looked at how they approached Curry’s early career predicament and is seeking to replicate such an approach with Baldwin Jr., who was considered a lottery prospect — let alone a top-10 prospect — before his series of unfortunate events. There’s no need for Baldwin Jr. to develop into a Curry-like talent; if he becomes a serviceable rotation piece who is playable and fits within the Warriors’ two-way ethos, their investment in him will have already been worth it.
Baldwin Jr.’s upside resides in what his raw profile can turn into. A 6’10” power wing with a 7’1” wingspan and a 9-foot standing reach is what the modern NBA demands; add to that a shooting stroke that screams balance and high-release, and the Warriors have a potentially promising project on their hands.
That is what makes this pick a textbook case of a low-risk, high-reward endeavor.
What gives some pause, however, is how Baldwin Jr.’s shooting splits belie his fundamentals. His college sample size is incredibly small; due to his injuries, only 11 games of footage exist. In those 11 games, Baldwin Jr. put up a concerning 34/27/74 split.
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.
His height advantage over a majority of defenders massively helps, turning his shot into one that is difficult to affect, let alone block:
A majority of his play types consisted of looks such as the ones above. Per InStat, around 16.2% of his possessions were of the catch-and-shoot variety, where he scored a decent 1.05 points per possession (PPP).
Most of the shots he was able to get off were against much shorter close-out defenders in a conference that, quite frankly, wasn’t inundated with top tier Division I talent, let alone prospective NBA talent. It remains to be seen whether his mechanics can stay consistent and repeatable when quicker and lengthier defenders are the ones closing in on his space — but he certainly has a solid fundamental base to become a stationary shooting threat.
Force him to be less stationary and more of an off-ball movement shooter around pin-downs, staggered screens, “Zipper” cuts, and “Wide” action screens, however, and his success rate on jumpers noticeably dips.
Off the dribble, Baldwin Jr. has shown promising flashes of developing into an above-average pull-up shooter. His preference when pulling up tends to be stepping back to his left, although he can be equally effective when dribbling to his right. His handle isn’t particularly flashy or aesthetically pleasing, but it’s practical enough to garner him separation and room for his pull ups.
Baldwin Jr.’s role in college — that of a primary creator — garnered him some reps as a ball-handler in the pick-and-roll, which requires astute usage of ball screens, knowledge of various types of coverages, and above-average floor mapping skills.
By far the most talented offensive player on his college team, Baldwin Jr. as a primary creator forced him into somewhat of a square-peg-in-a-round-hole situation. He had flashes of being able to create his own shots, but certain factors limited him from turning into an effective first option.
His lumbering foot speed was glaring, while his lack of explosion at the point of attack made it difficult to turn corners and blow by his defender, forcing him to settle for off-balance mid-range jumpers and awkward floaters with defenders crowding his space. The handle — while effective enough in small doses — was too limited in terms of helping him garner productive paint touches. The dearth of vertical pop made finishing at the rim quite an adventure.
All of the above combined resulted in Baldwin Jr. putting up a mediocre 41.8% mark on two-point shots.
Other than his shooting, the other promising aspect of Baldwin Jr.’s offensive skill set is his playmaking and passing potential. His role within the Warriors offense may not necessitate him developing and honing his individual creation skills, but it would greatly benefit the Warriors if he were to fine tune his passing and vision to the point of becoming a valuable play connector.
As we all know, the Warriors thrive on play connection — and Baldwin Jr. has already shown flashes:
If offense was the side of the floor that Baldwin Jr. had workable promise, defense is where there is lots of room for growth and improvement. Arguably the biggest reason that several draft pundits hesitated to place Baldwin Jr. higher on up on mock drafts — aside from health and durability concerns — is his shortcomings as a defender.
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.
But his motor is inconsistent, especially as a help defender. He can be slow to get to the correct spots, occasionally not even making an effort to get up for a contest.
In a scheme that requires a varying degree of switchability, Baldwin Jr. may be out of his depth when trying to defend down the positional spectrum. Hip flexibility in terms of shifting from one side to the other in an effort to keep up laterally was inconsistent, while there were instances of Baldwin Jr. leading too far out with his foot, allowing ball handlers to attack and pounce on such moments of imbalance.
An exceptional developmental staff — coupled with veterans who will share their expertise, defensive pedigree, and culture of accountability — will give him arguably the best environment with which he can eliminate bad habits and perhaps grow into a plus defender, or at the very least prevent him from becoming a liability.
A liability that often stood out in space against shifty perimeter operators:
It would be unfair to attribute Baldwin Jr.’s shortcomings on both ends solely to lack of ability. Ankle injuries may have played a part in his problems with mobility, while being miscast as a primary creator may have had something to do with the fact that he was a big fish in an extremely small pond.
That small pond involved his team shooting 32% from beyond the arc as a collective. Opponents shrank the floor, packed the paint, and practically focused all of their defensive efforts upon trying to limit Baldwin Jr.’s offensive output, which may have also contributed to his occasional lack of motor and effort on defense.
Baldwin Jr. will never encounter that problem in Golden State. He won’t be expected to create, but rather be a beneficiary of shot creation as a spot-up shooter as well as a perpetuator of shot creation as a play connector.
Baldwin Jr. as the 28th pick may have been something out of left field, even for someone previously considered a blue-chip prospect out of high school. But the Warriors have a history of turning left field prospects into home runs.
They have earned that trust — and a bit of breathing room provided by their recent championship success — to take a piece of raw material in Baldwin Jr. and shape it into something practical, coherent, and exquisite.