To the chagrin of the past generation of NBA stars, the point guard has become the most important position on the floor for a top level offense. Big men are still useful in their own right, but it is essential to have a point guard that can either morph into an upper echelon floor general, be an athletic freak, stampede to the rim at will, get absolute buckets or all of the above.
And with the talent level of point guards in today's NBA, impending draftees will be thrusted into unfriendly confines on a nightly basis. Rookie point guards will discover their fate rather quickly after dealing with the likes of Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Damian Lillard over a string of games. Hell, even our own Eric Bledsoe is quite a load to bestow upon a poor soul.
With this in mind, teams will be hypercritical of point guard prospects -- assessing not only their ability to be the extension of the coach on the floor, but also have the proper whit and athletic tools to at least get in the way of opponents that wish to slice and dice.
Possessing an array of different skills, Vanderbilt point guard Wade Baldwin will undoubtedly have many opinions on his merits from scouts and general managers.
Blessed with a 6'11.25" wingspan, Baldwin profiles as a defensive nuisance along the perimeter; a mirror image of one of those wacky inflatable tube men that set up camp in front of used car dealerships. Take a look at these shot contests on esteemed prospect Jamal Murray:
The first sequence is enough to make any defensive-minded coach giddy, as Baldwin displayed ample technique with the initial ball denial and controlled shuffles that ultimately crescendoed into a contest without fouling. Woof.
The second sequence is equally as impressive, with a screen to fight through before an accelerated leap just in the nick of time. A front office that elects to choose the Vanderbilt product is probably most intrigued by his defensive potential.
Length can not only be a resource on the defensive end, but also when things get hairy on excursions to the rim as well. Baldwin is not the most explosive athlete, so he needs to use his unique limbs to create funky angles that only he can scrap out. Finishing at the rim was not his forte, yet he did produce some good looks from time to time on the break:
Notice how Baldwin does not really "get up" there, instead relying on sheer length to give the appearance of an explosive finish. (Though the quick in and out move was indeed saucy.)
Again, do not suspect Baldwin to be making his money via explosive dribble drives. His role will be filled with taking on important defensive assignments and hitting the occasional open three when called upon. A career 42 percent three-point shooter at Vanderbilt, Baldwin can unleash his shot from anywhere on the court when his feet are set and squared towards the rim.
Things get dicey when he looks to rush his shot, but that could be said of any young player. It is difficult to imagine Baldwin becoming a knockdown shooter off the dribble given his sticky handle and need to have his feet set to keep his mechanics in line. Don't get me wrong, he could very likely improve over the next five years (the dude is still young), and become a lethal shooter off the bounce. The good thing is that he can at least make a defender pay for slipping under a screen, so he will not entirely disrupt the offensive flow a la Rajon Rondo or other bricky lead ball-handlers.
As for now, life as an off-ball guard with a defensive mindset may be the most suitable path of pursuit.
If you want to be a primary ball-handler in the NBA, the first rule of thumb is to have a tight handle capable of scurrying both through and around tight crevices. Defenses look to corral point guards with quick traps, show-and-go swipes and other tactics, leaving minimal room and time to make correct decisions. A dribbler may have pull off a barrage of moves just to sneak by the first line of defense before rifling an off-hand laser to the corner. This is just a normal day at the office for elite level guards.
My worry for Baldwin is that he will not be able to hang in a world where this is the expected norm.
He certainly is not an incapable passer, but he struggles with masking where he wishes his passes to go. Often times he choreographs his intentions, giving a defender an extra split second to make a break on the pass. Even when things go right it doesn't look organic and fluid:
In a vacuum, this would be considered a net positive. Baldwin showcases great anticipation and makes a compact bounce pass to an open shooter in the corner. However, I look at a play like this and immediately dismiss it working in the league.
His handle is too swingy, and he is a bit out of control as he makes his way towards the boundary. Good defenders -- no disrespect Dayton -- will gobble him up before he has the chance to make that pass to the corner. The pass also lacks the requisite juice to sneak by anyone other than that lead-footed Dayton big man.
Speaking of juice, Baldwin's handle leaves observers a little thirsty for more, no?
There are no bag of tricks to his game, and he struggles to turn the corner consistently against pedestrian defenders. It is difficult to see how the sophomore point guard will be able to penetrate and open the flood gates for his teammates on a consistent basis.
I may be nit-picking to a slight degree. Honestly, I hope Baldwin proves me wrong and flourishes as a creator. The size is certainly there for that to happen.
In reference to the aforementioned "rushing" of his shot, here is an instance where Baldwin is spooked by a big man after coming off of a screen:
Most good shooters have a tendency for missing short and long rather than left and right. It is concerning to see Baldwin miss in a similar fashion of a DeAndre Jordan free throw on what was seemingly a pretty routine shot. But again, it is only one play out of the thousands he had last season. Bet on his shot becoming more consistent once an NBA shooting coach doses the proper tutelage.
Conclusion and Fit for the Suns
With a litany of other guards already at the helm, a presumed hard look at Kris Dunn with the fourth pick and more lucrative options at the 13th spot, do not expect Baldwin to be sporting Suns colors come next fall. In a perfect world, he will go to a team in the late teens or early twenties that has a lead ball-handler in place and time to give for him to properly develop.
A wiry frame will cement Baldwin's place in the NBA, but his development into anything more than a defensive stopper will be reliant upon making the proper strides with his handle and potency while shooting off the bounce.