If nothing else, America expects a ton of grit, moxie, toughness and other adjectives that describe non-athletic folks dominating marvelous athletes by way of brute force, out of the Memphis Grizzlies. Rookie guard Wade Baldwin IV has been fitting in nicely with the franchise through the small sample size of two games just because of that — and a little bit more.
To put his fun start to his pro career in incredibly hyperbolic and misleading perspective: Baldwin became the first player in NBA HISTORY to grab five boards, have five assists, get three blocks and nab three steals in their debut.
A former Vanderbilt Commodores star, Baldwin’s NBA Draft profile read as though he was destined to become a member of the team he’s currently on. He was Memphis before Memphis put him on its roster.
He is far more athletic than a lot of the other more “traditional” Grizzlies, yet his best attributes were the length he used to defend multiple wing spots while at the collegiate level. It makes the fit with the team as obvious as the twists in M. Night Shyamalan movies:
There were other reasons to be high on him as well. He was becoming a better shooter, being rather effective from beyond the arc (43 percent from three) despite concerns surrounding his stroke being odd looking; being able to play either guard spot; and having a high defensive IQ.
Concerns were (and are) there as well. Baldwin struggles to score at the rim despite his size and athleticism, does a poor job performing in pick-and-roll situations on offense, and he has had this weird thing of picking up the ball well beyond the arc with no pressure being forced onto him.
Still, it was his freaking wingspan and elite-level lateral quickness that made his floor as appealing as his ceiling. After all, it appeared as though his worst-case scenario called for him to be an above-average defensive guard who might become a 3-and-D sort of guy.
Through two games, in somewhat limited time on the floor, we are not only already witnessing that, but even more.
Baldwin is averaging 23 minutes per game for Memphis. Despite not playing an insane amount of time, it is promising that Memphis trusts this rookie enough to not even bother with easing him into the rotation — not that the roster design gives David Fizdale a ton of other options:
Anyway, after trying to drop as many caveats in this as humanly possible, to get the counting numbers out of the way, the 6’4″ guard with a 6’11” wingspan is averaging 6.0 points, 4.5 assists , 3.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. That’s a box score that lends credence to the idea that he was going to be a “jack-of-all-trades” sort of talent (toots own horn).
More importantly, at least so far, his offensive efficiency numbers have translated to the NBA. Baldwin is currently shooting 42 percent from the floor, and a misleading (small sample size!) 67 percent from deep. The latter number will inevitably balance itself out, as it is only as impressive as it is now because he has only taken a total of three three-pointers.
All of that is hogwash, though. It sincerely is. Baldwin is not on Memphis to do much offensively at this point in his career.
This early in it, though, all of those offensive numbers — including an eFG% of 50 — are actually just bonuses for Memphis. It is like the franchise is winning the final showdown in the The Price Is Right, but instead of just getting the one prize with a trip to France in it, the Grizzlies are also getting the Winnebago prize because they guessed the prize within 100 bones…or however that game works, but who cares about semantics?
It is rather simple, honestly. Baldwin wasn’t selected to be an impact player on that side of the ball, especially not this early on, and the reasons to get irrationally excited about him is on the end of the floor casual fans do not care to pay attention to (unless it is to make fun of James Harden):
Memphis currently sits 1-1 on the season after defeating a much hyped Wolves team to start the season, then faltering to a Knicks squad who opened up the floodgates early on Saturday night, a game in which the Grizzlies nearly came back in near the close of the fourth quarter.
Expectations for the Grizzlies are all over the place, and how we view Baldwin’s rookie campaign when finished might have as much to do with how they over/under exceed what is expected out of them.
If the Grizzlies ever get healthy enough (Tony Allen, grit-monster savant, come back!) to be competitive in the Western Conference in earnest, Baldwin’s rookie star might begin to shine brighter — which will result in greater hyperbole, and more unrealistic expectations, for a very much work-in-progress 20-year-old.
Funny enough, I’m of the belief that as Baldwin gets more time on the hardwood, and if/when more eyes turn to Memphis games, not only will people begin to jump on his bandwagon, but he will be well-equipped to handle the extra load at that point.
So, yeah, have fun with your uneducated Malachi Richardson projections this season, or be best friends with Buddy Hield, or whatever other rookie NBA Twitter gets excited about because of offensive reasons…
Wade Baldwin IV for United States of America President, essentially.