If things played out a bit differently, Wade Baldwin may not have landed with the Memphis Grizzlies. But he sure is happy he did.
“During the process, I thought I was going to Sacramento,” Baldwin told Basketball Insiders. “Coach [Dave] Joerger really liked me. And then the night before [the draft], I really thought I was going to Chicago.”
Of course, the Bulls would have made a lot of sense. The day before the draft, Derrick Rose was traded to the New York Knicks and, suddenly, Chicago seemed to have a vacancy in the backcourt.
The Bulls instead selected Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, and Baldwin immediately began hoping to fall to the Memphis Grizzlies.
“Come pick 15 or so, I got the idea I was going to Memphis and I was happy as hell,” Baldwin said.
Citing the group of veterans he’s found himself surrounded by, Baldwin believes he will be better for it in the long run.
“To be honest, I feel bad for the league, because in four years, five years from now, I could be the most polished young guy out,” Baldwin said after paying compliments to Mike Conley, Vince Carter, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
Calm and collected and with a ranginess not usually seen in NBA guards, any doubt that existed as to how Baldwin would translate into an NBA player was quickly erased after the draft. Baldwin sees the game well and already has developed an ability to play the game at different speeds. He is deceptively quick and has a high IQ and motor.
That was apparent to Conley from the beginning.
“I’m impressed with him,” Conley told Basketball Insiders. “He’s got all the tools, he wants to get better, so he’s always asking questions. He’s always trying to learn and I like that.”
This past summer, Conley made headlines for signing the richest contract in NBA history—five years, $153 million. Before that, though, he was regarded by many as the most underrated point guard in the league. An astute floor general, Conley takes care of the basketball, orchestrates his team’s offense, shoots well and plays plus-defense.
In other words, he is an excellent model for someone like Baldwin, his new understudy.
“He has the same kind of drive I did coming into the league,” Conley said of Baldwin. “I’m just fortunate enough to be able to have a guy like that behind me that I know I can kind of groom in the right direction so that when he’s ready, he’ll be ready to go.”
Evidenced by head coach David Fizdale’s utilization of Baldwin—he joins Vince Carter and Zach Randolph as key members of the team’s bench rotation—he may already be ready.
“Their resume speaks for themselves,” Baldwin said. “Playing with such intelligent guys that are worth every penny they make, it just makes it easier.”
Had things played out differently, Baldwin may have found himself on teams with lower expectations. Some rookies would welcome a leisurely introduction into the league, but on a team whose championship window isn’t getting any wider, the Grizzlies still have a sense or urgency. This group wants to win now.
The prevailing sentiment as it relates to Coach Fizdale’s team is that with a lack of youth, they may be looking up at quite a few teams out West once the playoffs roll around. With Baldwin and three other rookies around, though, the Grizzlies have other ideas.
“I feel like myself, Andrew [Harrison], Deyonta [Davis], Troy [Williams], we can impact the game,” Baldwin said. “Andrew’s a great defender. I play on both sides of the ball, push the pace. Deyonta’s a fantastic shot blocker. And anytime these guys are in need for a sub or they’re tired, we’re ready to go.”
With an aging core augmented by a few youngsters who seem ready to contribute, the Grizzlies are hoping to make a seventh-straight playoff appearance.
“They definitely balance us out in the sense of the lack of athleticism we have with our older guys,” Conley said with a chuckle. “They’re guys that really get after it defensively and they still got a long way to go, they have a lot to learn, but with some guys down right now in Chandler [Parsons], Tony [Allen] and Brandan [Wright], we’re going to rely on those young guys so they’re going to learn a lot early.”
For Baldwin, it appears that the crash course is paying dividends.
Had he ended up in Sacramento or Chicago, things certainly would have been different. But in Memphis, a bright future lies ahead for Wade Baldwin.
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