The year was 2017. THEY were once again sleeping on the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Blazers ended up with 48 wins and the third seed in the brutal Western Conference, shutting down critics and keyboard warriors alike. Until…
Jrue Holiday happened.
The Blazers went on to drop the series in 0-4 fashion, but the bad news was just beginning. The offseason was just as bleh as the first round of the playoffs.
Now we’re just days away with more questions than answers as it pertains to the 2018-19 edition of Rip City Season. Jared Wright and Bryant Knox of Oregon Sports News are back with their in-depth Portland Trail Blazers 2018-19 Season Previews for each player.
Today, we take a look at a player in Wade Baldwin who’s looking to prove Portland was right to pick him up last season—and prove that the Memphis Grizzlies were misguided in cutting him just a single year into his NBA career.
Wade Baldwin (“The Fourth” for those keeping track at home) didn’t see much court action last season. That was by design with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum seeing staggered time during all meaningful minutes, as well as with Shabazz Napier turning into a legitimate backup point guard. Anything more than seven games at 11.4 minutes per contest would’ve signified something disastrous happening to a core member of the backcourt, so the Blazers are actually fortunate they didn’t have to break the glass in case of emergency.
When he did see the court, though, Baldwin became something of a fan favorite. His best game took place on April 5 against the Houston Rockets, a contest in which he played 32 minutes, scored 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting, knocked down two of his three attempts from distance and collected three assists and two steals in the process.
Baldwin was originally signed to a two-way deal on Oct. 19, 2017 and had his contract guaranteed through 2018-19 before the regular season came to a close. That was a welcomed message to receive for Baldwin and his camp, who had gone through the unfortunate and rare experience of being a first-round pick cut within a year into his playing days.
What He Brings To The Table
Baldwin isn’t known as a lights-out three-point shooter. His 80 percent from behind the arc a year ago looks unreal, but what seems too good to be true usually is. This situation is no different considering he took a total of five attempts from long range all last season.
That said, when he did shoot, he did it quickly and with confidence. That’s a minimum requirement to play in Portland’s system, and it’s something a player like Meyers Leonard should take notes on next time the 6’4”, 200-pound guard takes the court.
Efficient-yet-infrequent shooting aside, the Blazers’ reserve guard is better known for his defense. Specifically, he made a name for himself defending James Harden late last year.
Okay…maybe “made a name for himself” is hyperbolic since your casual hoops fan in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico has likely never heard of him. (Yes, that is a real city. If you’ve never heard of it, Google is the best geography teacher in the world.)
But Rip City noticed just how good Baldwin can be on the less-glamorous side of the court—and at least for one night, so did Clutch City:
What makes Baldwin special on defense, despite his ability to irritate one of the most potent offensive players of all time, is that he picks up guards full court. He uses his quick hands to deflect dribbles and intercept passes, he’s not afraid to get in someone’s grill and he’s certainly not shying away from contact at the chest.
Simply put, Baldwin is a complete nuisance to opposing guards without having to play dirty. And while he may not be 1ST TEAM ALL-DEFENSE Tony Allen, he’s the kind of player who can contribute to a game immediately off the bench without needing touches.
What To Expect In 2018-19
Remember how it would’ve taken the catastrophe of all catastrophes to get Baldwin into the regular rotation a year ago? Unfortunately for the Vanderbilt product, he enters 2018-19 with similar rotational hurdles ahead of him.
For the hungry prospect, though, that’s not a bad thing. Baldwin will be forced to polish his game if he wants to see the Moda Center hardwood. He’ll have to become a more reliable shooter. Earning minutes instead of being gifted them will keep that chip on his shoulder despite having a guaranteed deal through the 2018-19 season.
When Baldwin does get run (which will be more than seven times this season), energy might be his biggest asset. In true Tony Allen fashion, that will start on defense. A better offensive repertoire will help him officially make a name for himself, but if he’s smart, he’ll work on that behind the scenes and use every second of in-game experience he gets hounding the other team’s perimeter players.
Is Baldwin actually the next Tony Allen? As any fan who appreciates grit and grind can attest, that’s a huge ask. But becoming a player with a 1st Team All-Defense mentality is doable, and it’s doable this season.
Luckily for the kid, Rip City has offered him the chance Grind City didn’t.
Check out the other players in our Portland Trail Blazers Player Preview Series: