Wade Baldwin IV is a man of many positive traits but a master of nothing on the court — at least not yet. Rather than imposing his will in a singular fashion, the sophomore point guard for the Vanderbilt Commodores adds value by doing a little bit of everything for his squad.
In most contests this season, with few exceptions, Baldwin has served as floor general, lockdown perimeter defender, and a much-needed steadying force. He adds value to every part of the game in which he plays a significant role, and his contributions are a primary reason the Commodores are making a late push for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.
Versatility is highly valuable in the modern NBA, and role players are now being called on to do more than one thing well. This favors Baldwin, a guy who does much more right than wrong in a big way.
Baldwin favors a throwback approach to running the point. He rarely looks for his own shot first, and he possesses passing chops that enable him to pick apart a defense when presented with even the smallest passing lane. His passes are oft-crisp, and he places passes in the shooter’s pocket with ease. Baldwin’s passing ability makes it look effortless for sharpshooters Matthew Fisher-Davis (46.5 percent), Riley LaChance (37.9 percent), and Jeff Roberson (48.3 percent) to feast on catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Perhaps Baldwin’s most impressive offensive attribute is his poise. He rarely allows himself to be involuntarily sped up with the ball in his hands, and his turnover percentage has improved (19.5 to 18.2) despite a significant jump in usage from his freshman season (18.7 to 25.5).
Like many young point guards, Baldwin needs to learn to distinguish between necessary and unnecessary risks. Sometimes a simple swing pass to the strong side corner is a better option than making a difficult skip pass to a teammate in the opposite corner. Baldwin plays well for the most part against man-to-man defenses, but in the NBA he will be faced with more complicated man schemes that he never sees at the college level. He will need to be able to digest information quickly and make the smart pass to keep the offense flowing.
When Baldwin flips into attack mode, he becomes a physical force who warrants significant defensive attention, particularly in transition. Vandy’s halfcourt offense has been anemic at times this season, and Baldwin understands that is not where his team’s advantage lies. When Baldwin pushes the ball up the court, it gives an already above-average passer more open passing lanes as the defense attempts to recover and gain its shape. But for as good a passer as Baldwin is in transition, he’s even more lethal when he puts his shoulder down and takes the ball to the rack.
When he races up the court at his uniquely frenetic pace, he’s difficult to stop without fouling. Many defenders simply move out of his way to avoid embarrassment in the form of being bulldozed to the ground while still allowing Baldwin to score. He is shooting 62.3 percent at the rim in transition. This ridiculous coast to coast dunk by Baldwin against Florida is exactly why he is so scary to face head on in the open court.
In halfcourt sets, Baldwin has proven to be a solid penetrator when he asserts himself. Teams fear his passing ability on drives, and driving is a simple task for Baldwin given that a simple fan of the ball toward a teammate on the wing can often open up necessary space. Baldwin is driving more and shooting less 3-pointers this season (43.2 percent of attempts are drives as opposed to 31.2 percent as a freshman), and that added aggressiveness has resulted in even more free throws — his free throw rate has jumped substantially from 46.7 percent to 63.8 percent. He doesn’t finish particularly well at the rim against set defenses (a meager 38.3 percent) but his free throw rate makes it advantageous for him to drive often.
Given the heavy pick-and-roll nature of the NBA, Baldwin must learn to maneuver better in that situation. He does some things that don’t make a lot of sense as the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll, namely picking up his dribble for no reason without making a decision about what to do with the ball. He needs to demonstrate more decisiveness with the ball in his hands. It’s also a bit unsettling how little he uses his physicality to turn the corner hard and head directly to the rim with some gumption after utilizing a pick.
One of the more surprising aspects of Baldwin’s game is his ability to knock down 3s at a high rate given his flawed mechanics. He has an inconsistent release and pushes the ball to the rim from around his chest too often when he’s rising up to fire off the dribble in particular. His release doesn’t lend itself to a tremendous amount of arc or backspin, either.
The team that drafts him will definitely have a shooting coach work with him to heighten the point of release on his shot to make things easier for him when he is facing notably longer defenders at the highest level. However, it is tough to argue with Baldwin’s results on his jumper since he’s shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc on a significant three attempts per game.
While Baldwin and his team are best served with him playing on the ball, his ability to knock down catch-and-shoot jumpers gives him more versatility while allowing him to play off the ball. 73 percent of Baldwin’s 3-point makes have been assisted. Even when the ball is not in his hands, Baldwin has shown an ability to lead. He directs teammates within the offense and keeps movement from stagnating the best he can. That’s some impressive control in big situations for a 19-year-old.
For all of Baldwin’s offensive talents, defense is where Baldwin flashes the greatest potential. Standing at 6-3 and 180 pounds with a 6-10 wingspan, Baldwin is able to couple his sturdy frame with ridiculous length to overwhelm ball-handlers. He possesses excellent lateral quickness, and he has absurd recovery speed when beaten off the dribble which is a rare occurrence.
Additionally, Baldwin has demonstrated the ability to think a step ahead of the play. He often recognizes ball screens before they are upon him, and he does the early positioning work necessary to keep himself from getting screened out of the play.
Baldwin can defend all three wing positions. His wingspan makes it tough for perimeter players of all sizes to see over his outstretched arms to either get a clean shot off or deliver an easy pass. He’s not a guy who creates a ton of steals, but his active hands and crazy length give him the tools necessary to improve in that area.
It’s tough to project where Baldwin will be drafted in the upcoming NBA Draft, but it will be tough on teams with a late first round pick to pass on a guy with the ability to affect a game in so many ways. There’s always a chance Baldwin doesn’t develop an elite skill and become great at anything. But at the very least, he should be able to sure up a team’s roster depth by serving as a change of pace ball-handler and a good defender who gives his coach a great deal of lineup flexibility.
Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference and Hoop-Math.