Why bother, right?
Why bother with the pipe dream that Patrick Baldwin Jr. — the son of two Northwestern student-athletes and a consensus top-three prospect in the 2021 men’s basketball recruiting class — would even consider becoming a Wildcat over joining a perennial powerhouse like Duke before heading to the NBA? What purpose would that dream serve other than to hurt one’s own psyche as a Northwestern fan?
I have a reason why, but I feel that Andy from Shawshank Redemption puts in a much more eloquent way than I ever could.
“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
Northwestern men’s basketball is a sad recluse in the population of college basketball fanatics — the Power 5 school that missed out on the NCAA tournament for the entire 20th century and has suffered nothing but disappointment and humiliation since making the Big Dance in 2017. There’s not a lot of light littered throughout the darkness of this basketball program’s history.
So no, Baldwin likely won’t be wearing purple and walking down Sheridan Road in the winter of 2022.
But could you imagine if he actually did?
It would be a time of pure, unadulterated joy in Evanston. During the crap shoot of a year that is 2020, we could all use a little more of that good thing called hope. And this is what that hope for Pat Baldwin Jr. (PBJ for short) might look like.
The first thing that comes to mind with any prospect who’s over 6-foot-10, can dribble and can shoot a basketball at least a little is to compare him to Kevin Durant.
PBJ is not going to be Kevin Durant. No one ever is going to be like Kevin Durant. Durant is one at the very least one of the 20 greatest basketball players to ever walk the face of this earth, and closer to top 15 or top 10 in all honesty. No one will ever have that same degree of a deadly, high release shot with the same level of lateral, fluid movement ever again at that height. It’s just not happening.
A much more apt comparison is Michael Porter Jr., the former number one overall high school prospect who missed nearly the entirety of his freshman season at Missouri and sat out his entire first year in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets. Porter has broken out as a pleasant addition in Denver in the 2019-20 season despite playing less than 1000 minutes in the regular season, as the 6-foot-11, 44.2 percent three-point shooter adds a bit of pop and burst to a team sometimes lacking in those areas.
Just by raw percentages there’s a case that while PBJ is a very good shooter, he’s not an elite, knockdown type of guy just yet. I was able to find seven accurate box scores from his AAU/non-high school games in the last two years, and I combined that with stats given from 25 games he played for Sussex Hamilton this past year to find as close to a consistent stat line for PBJ as I could (Note: Stats for high school basketball games are infamous for their inaccuracy. I couldn’t even get any number on two-point field goals attempted by PBJ. Wisconsin apparently feels inclined to only keep track of total field goals made and total threes made in terms of shot attempts. Curse this wretched world).
Pat Baldwin Jr Stats
|Level||PPG||RPG||APG||SPG||BPG||TOV||FGMFGA||FG%||3PT-3PA||3PT %||FTMFTA||FT%||HS 2 FGM|
|Level||PPG||RPG||APG||SPG||BPG||TOV||FGMFGA||FG%||3PT-3PA||3PT %||FTMFTA||FT%||HS 2 FGM|
|Non-HS||13||4.1||1.1||1.1||0.3||1.9||34 M 90 A||0.378||12 M 47 A||0.255||11 M 14 A||0.786||22|
|HS||24.3||10.8||4.2||0.1||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||67 M 155 3PA||0.432||83 M 95 A||0.874||162|
|Ovr.||21.8||9.3||3.5||0.3||0.3||1.9||34 M 90 A||0.378||0.391||94 M 109 FTA||0.862||184|
As you can see he shot drastically better from deep in the high school setting compared to AAU games. One possible explanation for this is that national AAU settings like EYBL are filled with five and four-star prospects who possess around the same talent level as PBJ, whereas Wisconsin’s public and private schools don’t just have silky smooth 6-foot-11 guys on the regular. It could boil down to the simple reason that PBJ was about six months older in high school games than he was in the summer of 2019, and he used that break to greatly improve.
I lean toward the latter explanation, as the difficulty of PBJ’s shot profile increased in his high school games. His AAU team (Phenom University) already had load-bearing stars, most notably Duke freshman Jalen Johnson, who often had the ball in their hands and relegated PBJ to a spot-up, Klay Thompson-esque role (Baldwin Jr is number 23 in both his AAU and high school games).
Compare those clips to these ones compiled by The Stepien’s Ross Homan, and it looks like you’re watching a completely different kind of player.
Ultimately, I feel like Baldwin’s jumper is going to be more than fine. Even if his percentages don’t reflect that of an elite sniper in the non-high school environment, he was respected by opposing defenses as a player that was dangerous spacing the floor.
Check here how him simply standing in the corner vs the 2-3 zone forces the defense to surrender a driving lane to his teammate, and following several drive-and-kicks, creates an open three.
My only long-term concerns with Baldwin’s shot are form and aesthetic nitpicks. Flexing one’s wrist to the side and not in a straight line is not good thing to do while shooting. In these two clips below, you’ll see when the video pauses that PBJ’s right hand goes horizontal to the right after releasing the ball, and on top of that, his feet turn completely horizontal facing toward the left baseline, neither of which are recommended.
To be fair, Steph Curry also lands with his feet completely horizontal sometimes, so it’s not some kind of death mark on his shot. Then again, he’s Steph Curry, and no shot form or style is ever going to be comparable to him seeing as he’s the greatest shooter ever. PBJ would be wise to clean that up and try and land more on balance and straight forward, while also holding keeping that right hand from drifting right at the point of release.
Baldwin also has a tendency on catch-and-shoots to turn it into a two motion shot and start the process by putting the ball below his waist, as he does in this miss below.
You’re 6-foot-11, dude. No need to bring the ball that low on your shot.
The second part key to being the heliocentric engine of an offense after your own scoring is how you create scoring opportunities for others. We’ve already seen how PBJ simply spacing the floor moves the defense, so you can only imagine how opponents fluctuate once he has the ball in his hands.
While he’s not some master manipulator destined to dominate NBA defenses, Baldwin is smart about how to use the floor, more than willing to make the right pass and leverages his height to create angles and find teammates.
(Again, huge shoutout to Ross Homan for compiling almost all of those clips and for being cool enough to grant me permission to use them in this article. You should all go follow him on Twitter if you want more awesome basketball content)
It’s hard to project creation skills simply from the high school level, as the further you jump up in completion level, the smaller the windows get, not to mention opportunity to have the ball in one’s hand often decreases.
Should Baldwin make the historic and nearly unfathomable decision to become a Northwestern Wildcat, he needs to be given the ball and allowed to run the show. Self-creation and ball handling are the things he’ll want to improve the most in order to have a successful career in the NBA, so to send them into the post and treat him like a run of the mill big would be an absolute travesty. Not to mention, while PBJ has some skillful post moves and can hit the occasional turnaround, he typically struggles near the rim when presented with contact due to his slender frame.
Seriously. Landing PBJ and subsequently trying to turn him into a run of the mill big man would be like taking ‘95 Pat Fitzgerald and playing him in pass coverage on 85% of his snaps. You adjust your scheme to fit your stars, not the other way around.
Defensively, there’s not a ton to analyze, as his AAU team ran an overaggressive trapping style that screamed “I know this is bad for my players’ defense long term but I want to win games right now” from his coach. All I can say is that Baldwin was engaged and busting his butt on every play. I’m willing to bet on an energetic and mobile 6-foot-11 prospect turning into a plus defender.
Maybe you read all of that and thought, “Whatever, it’s not going to matter anyways.” You might be right. Heck, you’re most definitely going to be proved correct.
Baldwin likely isn’t coming, but that doesn’t mean we can’t dream. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy this awesome, potentially once in a generation prospect that took interest in little ol’ Northwestern, even if he already had pretty strong connections.
Patrick Baldwin Jr. is a great prospect, and I don’t blame anybody out there who hasn’t given up on the dream.