On Sept. 21, 2021, a five-star freshman for the Milwaukee Panthers men’s basketball team threw a ceremonial first pitch at a Brewers game.
Pretty much everything about that sentence is supremely odd, but Patrick Baldwin Jr. wanted to normalize this event as much as he could. He confirmed the distance from the pitching rubber to the plate – 60 feet, six inches – and reckoned it was about the same as a volleyball line to the baseline on his team’s practice court. So Baldwin started rehearsals there with his father and head coach, Pat Sr. The pair then found a mound for some more dry runs. An exhaustive and exhausting process, it was not. Probably less than an hour of work, total.
But it was about as thorough as can be for someone who was going to be on the American Family Field dirt for a minute or two. “It’s something I know me and my Dad put a lot of time into,” Baldwin recalled a few weeks later, during a conversation in an academic center study room. “Because if you haven’t noticed, we’re perfectionists. ”
At the risk of being overly and cruelly glib, this was one of the few parts of Patrick Baldwin’s Milwaukee experience that proceeded according to plan. He played in 11 games. He made 45 shots, total, all year. His father lost his job after a 22-loss season. Baldwin essentially went from being the fascinating 6-10 prospect with the immaculate shooting stroke and lottery pedigree to maybe the most enigmatic entity in the 2022 NBA Draft pool. Is the upside still the upside? Has something gone irrevocably awry during his last two injury-plagued basketball seasons in high school and college? Is the potential payoff of Patrick Baldwin Jr. still worth the bet?
Well, the NBA champion Golden State Warriors have decided to find out. They took Baldwin off the board with the 28th pick, in what’s not as much an all-in move as a calculated gamble. It’s worth remembering that Baldwin was the consensus top 10 recruit nationally as a high school senior, that programs such as Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina all pursued his services at one point or another – and none of those programs need to reach for talent . He was the kid who stood closer to mid-court than the 3-point line before a Milwaukee practice last fall and cashed jumper after jumper after jumper. There is something there.
How much is to be determined.
Ideally? Baldwin is a sort of Michael Porter Jr. redux, without the continued injury issues: a seemingly can’t-miss kid who all but vanished from the face of the planet in college, but who evolved into a productive pro when health wasn’t a problem. (Which, of course, it still is for Porter. But the best-case scenario is Baldwin heals up and puts it behind him.) In this context, there’s really nothing to gain by analyzing the numbers of his lone college season: 12.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, 34.4 percent shooting overall, 26.6 percent accuracy from 3-point range. The generous appraisal is that Baldwin was banged up, and when he wasn’t, he was taking difficult shots on a bad team without many other reliable options; he took 43 jumpers all year, and only seven of them were unguarded looks, per Synergy Sports.
The risk, on the other hand, is plain. The risk is 2021-22 was more harbinger than aberration. “As a GM, I just don’t know if there’s enough there to get excited about,” said one college coach who scouted Baldwin at Milwaukee and who was granted anonymity for an honest appraisal of what he saw. “It’s like, ‘OK, I can see it there… but I don’t see it there.’ But (the NBA) is a different game and a different league, obviously. The issues I saw on film were the consistent jump shot and then lateral movement on defense. Those are the things that jumped out. But good kid. He works hard. And just hampered with some bad-luck injuries. ”
As he talked through the thought process that brought him to Milwaukee last fall, Baldwin stuffed all of it – playing for his father, playing near home, helping the program reach heights it hadn’t reached in decades – into one concept. “It’s about opportunity,” he said then.
Here’s the one undeniable thing about Patrick Baldwin Jr .: All of that weirdness and disappointment is behind him. His time with the Warriors is maybe not precisely the opportunity he craved… but it’s an opportunity for a fresh start nonetheless. What he does with it will be fascinating to watch.
(Photo: Alan Youngblood / Associated Press)