Mobile Feel: Patrick Baldwin Jr. may turn out to be more than just a project

Patrick Baldwin Jr. was a plus-23 team leader in the Golden State Warriors’ 104-95 win over the Washington Wizards in the second of their two preseason games in Japan.

Of course, the single plus-minus is often used incorrectly. In and of itself, it is not enough to provide the full picture and must therefore be enriched with additional context that attempts to explain why a team excelled or suffered when a particular player was on the floor. Such context can represent a variety of factors – from the ability to facilitate excellent shot generation (or the opposite) or affect the defensive end of the ground in a significantly positive (or negative) way, among others.

In the case of Baldwin Jr., the noticeable value he was able to offer against the Wizards on the offensive end of the floor was mostly his spot-up/movement shooting chops – a trait that was expected to be there is pro ranks but was mostly absent during his collegiate career.

Per Baldwin Jr.’s article, I wrote in late June:

His 26.6% shots from beyond the arc came in at nearly 6 attempts per game. Judging by his shooting mechanics, it seems like he should have shot exponentially better. Release is fairly quick, with virtually no wasted movement. His ability to line up and get his feet up properly before letting go is a hallmark of a fundamentally solid shooter.

Despite the solid shooting base, Baldwin Jr. was extremely underachieved in terms of raw shooting percentage – part of that could be due to miscasting as the primary option, a role necessitated by a medium-sized environment with a significant gap between his talent level and that of his teammates.

Suffice to say, Baldwin Jr. won’t have that problem at Golden State. As a newcomer whose role in the depth map isn’t going to grow exponentially any time soon, his contributions – given the minutes – will be of a simple nature: make yourself available on the edge and shoot when you have the space.

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The more drooling thought of its potential use within the system is as an off-ball screener. The Warriors love to use wide pindowns and staggered screens for their shooters. Their 10.7 offball screens per 100 possessions led all teams in the 2021-2022 regular season, according to Synergy.

Screeners tend to be bigs who offer little to no distance value – all they can do after looking for shooters is roll to the rim and hope to be open to pocket passes or lobs . At 6’10, Baldwin Jr. isn’t your typical “big guy” — when scouting for ball handlers, he can leap over the arc and make himself available for a jumper, especially if the ball handler is attracting two bodies to the screen.

This also applies to downscreens/pindowns. Whenever a mover comes off a Baldwin Jr. downscreen, defenders often sell to deny a possible pass. Because typical screeners are not expected to pose perimeter threats, the screener’s man also commits to the curl, leaving a large gap between the screener and the perimeter. Often that gap is dead space — but in the case of Baldwin Jr., it’s valuable real estate.

As one of two screeners in a staggered screen setup – formerly known as “Motion Strong” – the confusion it often creates can give Baldwin Jr. plenty of opportunities to drift into the corner and make himself available for high efficiency put shot.

Motion Strong has several options: 1) the corner man being searched for can take full advantage of the screens to open up; 2) the cornerman can roll around the first screen (“Twirl” option), after which the first screen itself gets a downscreen from the second screen; 3) The corner man can directly reject the first screen and cut along the baseline (“Reject” option).

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The Warriors like to use a healthy balance of Twirl and Reject when performing Motion Strong; “Reject” is the option they prefer when Andrew Wiggins is the corner recipient:

“Reject” against the Wizards featured Jonathan Kuminga as the cornerman, rejecting and cutting down the baseline while Baldwin Jr. set the downscreen for Trevion Williams. Mac McClung’s ability to explode on attack, get two feet in the paint and bait help from the strong side corner allows Baldwin Jr. – who drifts back to the corner – to advance into turn three.

While shooters are the screeners in Motion Strong, this isn’t a new concept, but a 6’10” turret that can filter and shoot from “Reject” (and theoretically, “Twirl”) expands the possibilities for an otherwise common concept .

Another common concept is the “shake” action, or a corner lift by a shooter in pick and roll situations. This aims to counter the defensive concept of “tagging” or the weak side low man helping out from the corner to cover the reel – temporarily leaving the corner spacer open.

To put additional stress on the tagger, lifting from the corner while the tag itself is occurring increases the close-out distance, giving the shooter more room and time to plant their feet and execute a proper release. Baldwin Jr.’s height gives him extra leeway as a corner spacer; Even with a timely finish and a good fight, its length and size give it advantages in shake action that not many shooters are gifted with:

Regarding the other end of the floor, here’s what I said about Baldwin Jr.:

Despite the lack of classic athleticism and walking pace, Baldwin Jr. has a workable base in terms of the length factor and a basic understanding of the fundamentals. When locked in and focused he can be a neutral defender, at least making an effort to keep his man up front as low man assists with drives and finishes in a controlled manner.

When Baldwin Jr. was called up, the Warriors blamed his ankle problems for his unremarkable college defense. The film projected him as a liability at that ending; What the film may not have hinted at is that Baldwin Jr.’s immobility due to injury may have prevented him from showing his full potential by this ending.

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Make no mistake: Baldwin Jr. most likely won’t be an above-average defender, let alone flirt with the Stoppers’ all-defense level. But being at least a neutral defender – with flashed proficiency as a lone defender at attack/post as well as a team defender – is all the Warriors expect of him at this point.

The attack bolts were there:

While its 7ft 1in wingspan was fully utilized as a huge and long obstacle in the fast lane in the Warriors’ patented 1-2-2 matchup zone:

I’m curious to see if this performance translates against better competition. Keep in mind that this is, after all, the preseason where a rookie like Baldwin Jr. will be faced with lineups very similar to his own: rookies, developing players, and NBA-level fringe players actively competing for roster consideration battle.

That’s where his 23-plus in 17 minutes gets the most asterisk – but there’s valid reason why the Warriors, who trailed most of the game, outscored the Wizards by 23 points and eventually came back to win during Baldwin Jr gain time on the floor. Ultimately, there is hope that these reasons will not prove to be red herrings.