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VOL. 132 | NO. 107 | Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Grizz Rookie Wade Baldwin Learned He Had Much to Learn

By Don Wade

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In his first NBA preseason game, 2016 first-round draft pick Wade Baldwin wowed his Grizzlies teammates. Everything he shot went in the basket (15 points on 5-for-5 shooting) and he played with force and athleticism that, in retrospect, led to some true hoops hyperbole.

In his rookie season, Memphis Grizzlies guard Wade Baldwin showed flashes of potential while discovering he also has much to learn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

“He’s got some Westbrook, a lot of it,” Zach Randolph said, referring to Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook.

Randolph wasn’t alone in this assessment. Other teammates made the comparison. The media seized on it and repeated it on sports talk radio.

Baldwin’s early flash, however, was not sustained. It didn’t take long for coach David Fizdale to decide on Andrew Harrison as the more reliable backup to Mike Conley at point guard. Harrison had spent the previous season in the NBA Development League. And that’s where Baldwin would spend most of the 2016-17 season.

It wasn’t what he had expected. Baldwin, who played for Vanderbilt, spoke openly about playing with an edge, adding, “Every great player, in any sport, they have an edge to them.”

His confidence was bold. But he proved to be out of control on the court too often. Harrison made mistakes, too, but by comparison was the far more dependable option.

Baldwin averaged 3.2 points and 1.8 assists in 33 games with the Grizzlies, logging just 12.3 minutes per game. Meantime, in 33 games with the Iowa Energy he averaged 12.9 points, 5.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds in 28.2 minutes per game.

“It was like a coming-of-age year for me, mostly mentally,” Baldwin said. “That’s how I kinda took this year. And this summer is a big focus on off-court, getting better, being able to contribute next year.

“I said this before I got here, I just want to get better at everything. They’ll probably dissect little things that I need to get better at. And whatever is said is something I’m willing to do.”

Conley had been impressed by Baldwin’s potential, too, and remarked about his high ceiling. But once the real games came, Fizdale couldn’t afford to wait for Baldwin to figure things out.

“Wade, we didn’t see much of him because of the D-League,” Conley said. “But from that experience he learned a lot about himself. And when he came back to us, he was a different guy. You can tell by the way he’s working now. He was always one of the first guys in the gym.”

In fact, after the Grizzlies were eliminated from the playoffs by San Antonio, Baldwin was ready to start work on next season.

“He came up to me, `When can I come to Columbus and work out with you?’” Conley recalled him saying. “I told him give me a few weeks, at least, but we’ll get to it.”

The 17th overall pick in the draft last season, Baldwin might have played a lot more if he had been drafted by a younger, rebuilding team. Now, after a year of experience he had not imagined, he doesn’t necessarily buy the idea that playing a lot right away in the NBA would have been only positive.

“There’s pros and cons to it,” he said. “I learned different things.”

Some of those things he learned from Conley, who will continue to serve as an example.

“He’s never in a rush,” said Baldwin, who in his most erratic moments always seemed to be. “He’s never rattled. You see a lot of other guards lose their head. Mike is always comfortable in any tight situation. And that’s something I need to get in my game – always being poised in those situations.

“Obviously, you want to contribute to a team and play,” Baldwin said, looking ahead. “But there’s levels to it. You have to understand that your time will come some other time, possibly. That’s just motivation for the off-season.”

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