After taking over the starting point guard spot for Vanderbilt midway through his freshman season, Wade Baldwin was in prime position to make a massive jump forward for Kevin Stallings and the Vanderbilt Commodores as a sophomore.
In many respects, Baldwin's sophomore campaign was a success. He finished the year averaging 14.1 points, 5.2 assists, and 1.2 steals per game, helping the Commodores bounce back from a disappointing mid-season stretch to finish with a 19-12 regular season record and an NCAA tournament appearance, where they lost in the play-in game to Wichita State.
Baldwin's excellent physical profile, which has him standing 6'3 in height, with a ridiculous 6'10 wingspan and a well-built frame, creates quite a bit of intrigue around him as a prospect, especially on the defensive end, where his size and lateral mobility give him the potential to defend two positions down the line, versatility that decision makers are always craving.
Offensively, the first thing that jumps out on Baldwin, both on his stat sheet and when watching film, is his perimeter shooting, as he's made 40.6% of his 199 three-point attempts during his two seasons in college. He's most prolific as a shooter off the catch, where he shot 42% on the season and over 43% when left unguarded, both numbers which, when accounting for the fact that the vast majority of those attempts were from three-point range, were well above average, yielding 1.246 and 1.267 points per shot, respectively, according to Synergy Sports Technology.
Baldwin was much less comfortable as a shooter off the dribble, despite yielding 0.829 points per shot on such attempts, a better-than-average figure. When watching him in game situations, the results off the dribble were pretty inconsistent, with pronounced hot and cold spells which made it a tough facet of his game to rely on. Baldwin doesn't get a lot of elevation on his jump shots and has a low release point that's almost out in front of his body, which makes his shot a little bit easier to contest, and thus requires more time and space to get it off, factors which could impact his effectiveness pulling up off the dribble, and creating shots overall for himself and others, at the next level.
The other main problem with Baldwin in a half court setting is his struggles both getting to, and finishing, in the paint, struggles which exist for a multitude of reasons. Baldwin is fast when he has built up a head of steam, something which becomes evident in transition, but he lacks the elite burst to turn the corner on a defender in the half court, and struggles to get into the paint because of it. He doesn't offset this with an overly advanced dribble, either, and doesn't change speeds, or direction, quite as well as you would want in a primary ball handler. Finally, when Baldwin gets into the paint he has only average explosiveness around the hoop, and his lack of a consistent in-between game --- both in the form of pull-up jump shot or a floater in the lane makes game planning against him relatively easy for a defense.
Baldwin does have a strong, developed upper body, and he uses that to initiate contact and get to the free throw line at a rate of 7.7 times per 40 minutes, pace adjusted, an incredible rate for somebody of his relatively low usage. This helps offset some of his struggles at the rim, but shooting just 38% on half court shots around the basket, as Synergy has logged for Baldwin, is something he's going to have to improve upon significantly at the next level.
Baldwin's struggles to really turn the corner and get into the paint with regularity also limit him somewhat as a shot creator for others. He is a willing, and able, passer, who has some creativity, both out of pick and roll situations and on drive and kicks, but he can force the issue at times driving to the hoop, leading to both offensive foul calls and getting himself in dangerous situations without having a plan on how to pass out of them. He can also get sloppy with a handle that all too frequently is high and off balance, which both limits his ability to turn the corner, but also makes him prone to being stripped of the ball more often he ideally would, and overall his 3.6 turnovers per 40 minutes, pace adjusted, is the second worst mark among point guards in our top-100 rankings, are a clear area in need of improvement.
Defensively, Baldwin's size, with his elite 6'10 wingspan and developed upper body, gives him a considerable amount of potential to defend either guard position. When engaged, Baldwin is close to realizing that potential, as he has the lateral mobility to stay in front of his man, the length to close out and contest shots, and the strength to fight through screens. The problem is Baldwin is too frequently not engaged, and can be prone to being caught sleeping off the ball, especially ball watching looking for passing lanes to jump. Still, he has enormous potential on this side of the court, the effort is mostly there, and it's easy to envision him becoming a plus defender in the NBA.
The foundation that Wade Baldwin possess ability to hit an open shot, willingness to set up his teammates, size to be a force defensively is a very attractive combination for NBA teams in need of guard depth, and should make him a relatively safe bet to be a contributor at the next level. Still, there's a lack of refinement in his ball handling, in his ability to shoot off the dribble, in his lack of understanding of the nuances of creating space with misdirection and changing speed that suggests he's far from a finished product, which creates a player with considerable room for growth, but also one who could ultimately become frustrating if he never reaches his full potential. Baldwin's propensity for accepting coaching, being a positive teammate, and overall mental makeup will play a major role in his ability to reach his ceiling.
From an NBA scouting perspective, one of the most intriguing games Vanderbilt will play all season came against Kentucky this past weekend at Rupp Arena in Lexington. Baldwin put some of his strengths, but primarily his weaknesses on full display there, scoring 7 points (1/8 2P, 0/1 3P) to go along with 1 rebound, 2 assists and 5 turnovers in 32 minutes.
Via Mike Schmitz, here's a seven minute video breakdown of some of the more notable things NBA scouts were able to see from Baldwin in that game, both good and bad, on either end of the floor.
A completely unheralded high school recruit, not ranked as a top-100 prospect by any of the major recruiting services, Wade Baldwin exceeded all expectations by emerging as one of the top freshmen in the SEC, earning him a spot on the league's All-Rookie team.
Now returning as a sophomore, with a deep and talented roster that will likely compete for an NCAA Tournament berth, Baldwin looks poised to take the next step in his development and emerge as a more well-known player in college basketball circles, and among NBA scouts.
Baldwin has excellent physical tools for an NBA point guard, standing 6-3, with an outstanding frame that should fill out nicely in time, big hands and a gigantic wingspan, measured unofficially at 6-10. Although he doesn't show exceptional athleticism at this stage, he is a very smooth and fluid player who may still have room to improve his quickness and explosiveness as his body matures and his skill-level evolves.
While not known as a great shooter in high school, Baldwin emerged as a very effective threat from the perimeter as a freshman, making 44% of his 3-point attempts. This didn't come on an especially high volume of attempts (2.9 per game), but his quick, confident and consistent release, combined with the fact that he converted 81% of his free throw attempts, leaves a lot of room for optimism regarding his development as a shooter. Baldwin has a fairly low release point on his jumper, making it difficult for him to get off when heavily guarded at times, particularly off the bounce, but he still did a nice job of making shots both with his feet set (46%, 1.39 PPP), and even off the dribble (38%, .88 PPP) in small doses as a freshman.
For a player often listed as a combo or shooting guard coming into Vanderbilt, Baldwin did a very nice job making plays for teammates in his first season of college basketball, averaging 6.3 assists per-40 while posting a 3.88 pure point rating, both of which trailed only Tyler Ulis and Tyus Jones among freshmen prospects.
Baldwin shows both a strong feel for the game and excellent creativity, moving the ball crisply and unselfishly, and often looking very instinctive with the way he sees plays developing and passing right into the space where his teammates are going to end up. Most freshmen don't usually show such an advanced understanding of utilizing both sides of the court with skip passes, and feeding his big men with post-entry looks. His strong size and gigantic hands give him a big advantage here, as he can palm the ball with ease and make passes over the top of the defense using angles that simply aren't available to most guards.
For a player who was as efficient as Baldwin was as a freshman (59% TS%, sparkling PPR), he surprisingly ranked just fifth among Vanderbilt players in Usage rate last season. The reason for that likely revolves around his average ball-handling and shot-creation ability, which rendered him somewhat passive at times as a freshman. Defenses consistently pushed him to his weaker off-hand in-conference play, and he doesn't yet show the type of crafty ability to get low, and change speeds and directions that many non-freakishly athletic guards develop with age, forcing him to settle for a lot of tough pull-ups in late-clock situations, which he doesn't excel at with his low release point.
When he did get by defenders, Baldwin struggled badly to finish around the basket as a freshman, converting just 21 of 47 (45%) inside the paint attempts in the half-court, while not drawing that many free throws. He lacks a degree of strength and toughness with his finishes, but also is not particularly explosive, only hitting 44% of his field goal attempts in transition as well, which is extremely poor.
It will be very interesting to see how Baldwin progresses in this area as a sophomore, as Vanderbilt will certainly rely heavily on him as their primary shot-creator, especially with 20 minute per game guard Shelton Mitchell transferring to Clemson this offseason. Baldwin showed a great deal of promise on a handful of possessions last season, executing some very impressive moves that could be developed into real weapons with added experience and polish. As mentioned, he's likely not finished developing physically, and is operating on a different development curve than most prospects, so making major improvement in this area down the road wouldn't be shocking.
One area where Baldwin shows a great deal of potential in is as a defender. His combination of excellent size, length, frame and big hands should allow him to guard either backcourt spot at the NBA level. He moves his feet very well, and covers ground fluidly and instinctively, making some very impressive closeouts at times for example. Vanderbilt utilized a lot of zone last season, and even some full-court press, and Baldwin showed the ability to absolutely wreak havoc at times with his impressive length and solid anticipation skills, averaging 2 steals per-40 minutes pace adjusted overall, and 5.9 rebounds.
With that said, Vanderbilt was not a great defensive team last year, and Baldwin certainly played a role in that. He looks a little too nonchalant here at times, standing completely straight up with his hands by his side, losing his focus, and letting opposing guards drive right past him. When he's dialed in and fully engaged, he can be quite a handful, but he's still figuring out how to bring the same level of intensity to every defensive possession.
All in all, Baldwin did an excellent job of emerging from obscurity as a freshman and giving Vanderbilt fans plenty of be excited about heading into next season, saving his best play for the end of the year, where he had some terrific moments. The Commodores have some very nice pieces surrounding him, and he has an ideal platform to showcase himself on a team ranked in the top-25 in most preseason polls.