As the season approaches, let’s take a look at the Memphis Grizzlies roster. Could last year’s first-round pick Wade Baldwin survive roster cuts?
Life is hard if you’re a hardcore Chandler Parsons supporter. If you’re a Memphis Grizzlies fan and a big believer in Wade Baldwin, you may not have many fellow fans back you up. Now, imagine supporting and defending those two players harder than any Grizzly. That’s me right now.
Enough about my struggles as a Grizz fan. Let’s talk about one of the biggest fan frustrations, Wade Baldwin.
Coming out of college, Wade Baldwin received an unnecessary player comparison: Russell Westbrook. Talk about lofty. When asked about the two players’ similarities, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said this of Baldwin:
“One of my assistant coaches said he seems to follow Russell Westbrook‘s game,” Marshall said. “You see guys follow or emulate certain NBA players. And he’s got some of that. And so obviously he’s ultra-talented, long, can get to the rim, can shoot it deep, has a nice stroke.”
Sure, the games sound similar but comparing someone to one of the league’s biggest superstars is hard to place on a guy who fell past the lottery.
The Memphis Grizzlies selected Baldwin with the 17th overall pick, passing on sure-fire college “veterans” (see: Brogdon, Malcolm) and other high-ceiling prospects (see: Murray, Dejounte; Labissiere, Skal). With Mike Conley’s impending free agency and Mario Chalmers’ injury, a young point guard who could be a backup now and a potential starter down the road was necessary at the time. Baldwin had an enticing scouting report, so the Grizzlies banked on his potential.
It looked promising. Zach Randolph and other veterans called him “Little Westbrook.” Baldwin had a stellar debut, showing he can do a bit of everything — seven points, six rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocks. There was a sense that the Grizzlies could finally capitalize and reap the benefits of potential. It’s so easy to think all these things when he pulls out a stunt like this:
So far, it’s not looking like a pretty investment. His “nice stroke” in college (career 3-point percentage of 42.2) hasn’t translated at all in the NBA (3-of-22, 13.6 percent last season ). He doesn’t look nearly as athletic as advertised. He looks disengaged and lost on defense, and out of control on offense. Now, the fans think he’s not worthy of a roster spot.
As the preseason reaches its end, can Wade Baldwin survive the roster cuts? What are his main flaws? Are they correctable?
Those Flaws … Are they Fixable?
I can easily sum this up and say “everything,” but let’s actually dive into this.
For starters, his jumper is nonexistent. His man can be in the stands, and the chances of Baldwin making a jump-shot aren’t super high. He has nice shot mechanics, but there’s nothing to pinpoint. Maybe, as a point guard, he’s not getting enough opportunities to actually spot up and shoot. In college, he was better at spotting up (42 percent, yielding 1.246 points per shot) than shooting off the dribble (yielding only 0.829 points per shot). If he were to make a team, they should look to utilize him more in off-ball sets to see if he can rekindle his 3-point touch from college.
As “athletic” and physically-gifted as he is, Baldwin can’t finish at the rim. It’s kind of baffling too. He has the build where he shouldn’t struggle mightily at the basket. What’s the problem? Is he worrying too much about getting blocked? Or does he just naturally struggle close to the basket? If those problems continue, he should try to balance out this weakness with a strong in-between game. Refining a nice mid-range jumper or floater could help him generate more points in the half-court.
If he focused on becoming a solid perimeter defender, he would be guaranteed a roster spot and could be in the running for the starting shooting guard spot. He has the physical tools (6’4″ with a 6’10” wingspan, 202 pounds) to guard positions 1-3. However, his defense is disappointing. He looks like a mix of lost and disengaged. To preserve his NBA career, he must revamp his defense. He has the tools to be one of the league’s best defenders, but he needs to develop that killer mindset — the one that made Tony Allen so special defensively. If he start doing it now, he’ll find his niche in the league, and his offense could continue developing.
Lastly, his playmaking is inconsistent — like Memphis weather. Some games, he can facilitate the basketball with composure and poise. Most games though, he plays out of control, looking like he doesn’t belong in the NBA. What’s the problem with it? Is it his maturity — a reason why he was sent to the D-League last year? Or was it just a rough adjustment? If kept on the team, he might benefit from not being in the playmaking spotlight and playing next to a ball-dominant guard. He can also utilize his strong rebounding abilities to get the offense rolling and to find easier transition opportunities.
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Right now, the Memphis Grizzlies have four point guards: Conley, Mario Chalmers, Andrew Harrison and Baldwin. Obviously, Conley is a given. Chalmers should be kept for his veteran presence — and he’s actually a capable backup point guard. This leaves the Grizzlies with Andrew Harrison and Wade Baldwin. Keeping four point guards is absolutely foolish, and with Tyreke Evans capable of running point, having three point guards might not be necessary.
When it comes down to it though, Harrison or Baldwin won’t be on the roster on opening night. Both have somewhat similar skill-sets. They’re both big point guards who can guard and play multiple positions. They both also might benefit from playing next to a primary playmaker.
It’s going to be tough. Harrison received the big minutes last year, but the Grizzlies used a first-round pick on Baldwin a year ago. Do you give up on potential after a single season? Or do you go with the player with a lower ceiling who can contribute now?
For the past year, Wade Baldwin has received all this praise. Scouts raved about him before the draft. This teammates gave him the nickname, “Little Westbrook.” Dave Fizdale and Mike Conley have recently praised him. The hype is there. Will we see results? Is it too late to save his time with the Grizzlies?
Only time will tell.