Like most drafts, 2022’s crop of NBA talent has a cadre of prospects whose selection projections vary drastically across the league. Depending on whom you talk to, some one-and-done guys have ranges as high as the 20s and as low as the 50s. One player, specifically, has maintained a reputation over the past two-plus months as the enigma of this year’s class. He’s a polarizing figure on big boards — because some teams can’t determine if he’s a future All-Star or someone not worth using a pick on until deep into the second round.
Patrick Baldwin Jr.
Any hardcore college basketball follower knows that name. Baldwin was at one point the No. 1-ranked player in his high school class, prior to the pandemic, back when he was noticeably more physically developed than most players his age.
“He was modern-day basketball,” one NBA scout told CBS Sports. “He was what you look for: (6-foot-10), can move, dribble, shoot, really good kid, son of a coach. There were no holes except maybe the toughness thing. You assume he was so talented and had that much potential as a shot-maker, you’re like, ‘Screw it, man. There’s no bust factor there at all.”http://www.cbssports.com/”
Fast-forward a couple of years and there are some who believe Baldwin has already busted.
“I don’t think he has that much upside,” one NBA exec said. “I think he can be a nice role player if he can get healthy. The most interesting or hard-to-read prospects are typically the nice one-and-one guys who had a just-OK season.”
There are other players in this conversation, like Caleb Houstan, Max Christie and Peyton Watson, all underwhelming in their one and only college seasons. Baldwin’s a different calculation altogether. Unlike the others, he didn’t play a full season. Baldwin would be a no-brainer lottery pick, likely even top-10, had his freshman campaign not been a catastrophe. After debating going to Duke, Baldwin — who, following a season-ending left ankle injury at the start of his senior year of high school, finished as the No. 8 player in the Class of 2021 — became the rare example of an elite prospect to pick a mid-major program. He played at Milwaukee. The reason: his father was the coach.
“I just can’t put it into words how much of a life-changing experience it is to play for your father,” Baldwin told CBS Sports. “There’s no greater feeling than seeing your Pops on the sideline, who’s a man that’s been supporting you for 18 years at that point.”
Baldwin’s ankle never fully recovered during his time at Milwaukee, though.
“When he started back playing in the fall he wasn’t completely healed,” Pat Baldwin Sr. said. “The true problem with all this stopping and starting is he never got in great condition. I don’t care what level you play at, you need to be in great condition to play at a high level. Unfortunately, the injuries and him wanting to play is different than being ready to play. Some of that is on me. If he tells me, ‘Dad, I want to play, I want to get out there,’ I’m going to believe him on that and trust him that he’s ready. At the same time, I should have been even more disciplined, stringent on him. No, no, get in shape.”
It wound up costing him approximately 20 games worth of experience. Between the ankle and Baldwin Jr. saying he had a “relatively severe” encounter with COVID, he appeared in just 11 games. The team went 10-22 and Baldwin Sr. was fired at the end of the season.
Milwaukee was a mistake to many, but not to Baldwin Jr.
“Milwaukee might have been the worst spot for him,” one NBA evaluator said. “He should never be Batman. He’s Robin. We didn’t think about that as much as far as the personality involved. His role his freshman/sophomore year, playing next to Jalen Johnson in AAU, was the perfect role for him and it’s the one he wanted. At Milwaukee he was asked to do way too much. I don’t think he was ready for it, nor did he want it.”
The Milwaukee experiment unquestionably damaged Baldwin’s stock. Baldwin’s only contests against viable opponents came vs. Florida and Colorado. He averaged 12.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and was 9-of-28 shooting, including 2 for 13 from 3-point range in those two games. On the season, he was a mediocre 34.4% shooter, a stat that has plagued his pre-draft process.
For as undeniably smooth as Baldwin’s shot looks, one scout surmised that the numbers have never outright supported the idea that he was a natural/high-end shooter. The reason being: he missed his senior season of high school. Prior to that, the pandemic eradicated a lot of competition opportunities.
“Maybe he never was a good shooter. Maybe it was a lazy evaluation,” the scout said. “Even in FIBA basketball he wasn’t a good shooter. Maybe it looked good but never went in. From a form and mechanical standpoint, it looks like the prettiest shot on earth, which makes me believe he can be a 15-point-per-game scorer. But he does take a lot of bad shots and he’s never going to be a great finisher, either. The only way he’s going to be a great scorer is if he plays next to a capable playmaker.”
CBS Sports spoke with a half-dozen NBA sources for this story. Baldwin’s highest conceivable draft slot from any of those sources: 18th. The lowest was 45th. That’s a swath few other players in this draft can claim. Baldwin will enter draft night having no true idea of where he’ll be taken or how long he’ll have to wait. (CBS Sports’ Kyle Boone projects Baldwin Jr. at No. 20 in his latest mock draft)
“He’s the ultimate wild card,” one league source said.
“It’s all over the place,” said another. “Would I be surprised if he goes right after the lottery? No.”
“If you made me put expected ranges on all the guys in the first round conversation, he would probably have the widest range in the draft,” another source said.
Some sources said that Baldwin’s basic selling point — being a well-built 6-10 scorer who can effortlessly shoot from long range — is the type of thing that can stay with him for years to come. At his size, with his mechanics in line, NBA tutelage should put him in place to succeed. After all, the number of people walking the planet who are as big as Baldwin and can shoot a basketball like he can? Most of them are either playing in the NBA or have retired from the NBA.
There was once a time when he looked the part in just about every game he played in throughout his first three years of high school. Then the ankle injury happened in December 2020 and things haven’t been the same since.
“He doesn’t make excuses for anything,” said Mark Bartelstein, Baldwin’s agent. “It’s pretty cool. (He) takes ownership of everything.”
Baldwin has been asked by every team he’s met with if he regrets any parts of his decision to play at Milwaukee. The answer never waivers: No. Not a thing.
“At the time, I think it was the right decision,” he said. “And in the same breath, I can say I could never predict that I was going to go through what I went through this year with all the various injuries and different factors. But yeah, I think back. I made the right decision.”
There was also the private battle the family was going through: Shawn Baldwin, Patrick’s mother, was diagnosed with breast cancer in the spring of 2021. The family seldom, if ever, talked about this publicly. The Baldwins withheld the news from their son until the summer, when he was through competing for Team USA in international competition. Baldwin Sr. said the family is at peace with this part of their story being out, because it’s a significant part of his son’s journey and growing up in the past year.
“She’s as tough as they come, and he really tried to block all that stuff out, but there were times it was heavy on him,” Baldwin Sr. said.
Shawn Baldwin is said to be doing well as she recovers from chemotherapy. She has one more separate treatment phase to go through later this summer.
“It’s very easy to see where Patrick gets his resiliency and toughness from,” Bartelstein said. “She’s amazing. Been a fighter and an amazing example for her children. He went through such a difficult year. As a freshman in college, you couldn’t have more pressure than he had on him. His mother was battling cancer, which was a complete shock to him as he’s entering college. He’s feeling a responsibility to help his dad keep his job there, fighting for his job. He’s hurt, so he’s trying to do all this, trying to play at a really high level to help his family and he’s doing it hurt, with an ankle that had not completely recovered.”
The ankle injury that still has some GMs taking pause
By over-relying on his right leg to compensate for the left ankle injury, Baldwin induced tendinitis, making his situation worse while at Milwaukee. After scoring eight points in 30 minutes on Feb. 9 against Northern Kentucky, Baldwin had days thereafter where he couldn’t put any significant pressure on his left foot or ankle.
“I couldn’t walk,” he said of the days after his final college game. “After that, the training staff and my father decided to shut me down. … It was like for three weeks where I couldn’t run or do anything. I could walk OK. But running just did nothing to help it.”
Baldwin had understandable doubts about his journey as he sat on the bench, unable to play, watching his teammates try and fail, the season slipping away. He took some of that on his own shoulders. The highest-rated recruit in Horizon League history, Baldwin in effect was tasked with carrying a program. Because of injury, that failed. His father still pushes back on the concerns from league evaluators who want to know how much Baldwin runs from vs. embraces competition and challenges.
“He did try to play [later in the season] when he was injured and I said, ‘You’re not playing if you’re not completely healthy,”http://www.cbssports.com/” Baldwin Sr. said. “That’s on me, not on him. I did not want him to play if he wasn’t completely healthy. He wanted to play and I didn’t let him.”
“I never felt too much pity on myself throughout the season,” said Baldwin Jr., “there’s always that internal finger you always point at yourself and it’s like, ‘OK, what could I have done more?’ and at some point you really can just chalk it up as there was nothing you could do. It was just kind of a freak season. Coming to terms with the realization of where my injury was and how it occurred throughout the year definitely gave me some relief … to definitely just take this next step forward and with ultimate confidence in myself.”
While future lottery picks Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith and other one-and-done stars were receiving loads of media and NBA attention, Baldwin was essentially a non-entity in college basketball. His team was one of the worst in the sport and he had only one truly outstanding game. Had he been healthy, this would be a different story. But he wasn’t. Baldwin Jr. doesn’t run from this or try to spin it. There was a case to be made he could have transferred, picked almost any school he wanted, stepped up in his sophomore season and catapulted his stock.
Or it could have been another rocky season and he’d be in an even more difficult situation a year later.
“I always felt it was a viable choice, I just felt a little disappointed in college,” he said. “And not like disappointed in college and the whole, like, ‘I want to just go away from it.’ I just felt like I had a lot left to give to college basketball. But it did come to a point where I talked with my parents, talked with my dad. I thought it was time to take that next step. And my body’s holding up great. So I think I’m physically and mentally ready to take that next step.”
Because of his promise and dominance as a high school prospect, Baldwin will likely be positioned somewhere in the top 50 of every NBA team‘s big board. But there are most certainly sellers. One NBA front office executive told CBS Sports he doesn’t expect Baldwin to be taken in the first round due to the lingering concerns over his ankle, in addition to his questions over whether Baldwin truly loves the game. Another source disagreed with that assessment.
“I do think he loves it,” the other source said. “I can understand where [that executive was] coming from. I think it comes from not playing through the injuries and where he comes from as a personality. He’s not demonstrative. I do think he loves the game but doesn’t show it as much as others.”
Said Pat Baldwin Sr.: “The person saying that doesn’t know my son. He wouldn’t think that if he talked to him.”
Few players have had to change minds in the past three months like Baldwin. Pretty much every NBA team expected him to stay in the draft, but that doesn’t mean all of them see a future in their organization.
“I’m starting to think I’d be more surprised if he went high than if he went low,” one NBA executive said.
The NBA Draft Combine didn’t boost Baldwin’s stock the way it did other players. Jumping off two feet instead of one, Baldwin’s standing vertical was a head-scratching 23.5 inches. His max vertical jump at the combine was 26.5 inches. So low as to be red-flagged. Curiosity bubbled up if Baldwin’s ankle was still affecting his lift capability.
“When he did the vertical jump, he had a little bit of a brain cramp,” Bartelstein said. “He jumped off two feet instead of one. He’s been at 36 inches everywhere he’s gone since.”
Baldwin’s body measurements are encouraging. He’s 6-10.25 in shoes, has a near-7-2 wingspan and a 9-2.5 standing reach. At approximately 230 pounds, he has a frame that many NBA players wish they had. What’s made this harder on Baldwin is the fact that his combine results look all the worse when you consider his physique.
“I was I was a little bit stunned when I saw the numbers, but quite honestly, they’ve been running the same tests at the individual workouts and they’ve all been substantially better,” Baldwin Jr. said. “I know that’s what the public sees but I know I’m a substantial and solid athlete at this point and there’s only higher heights I can reach as an athlete. I don’t put too much stock into it, but I know it’s something I have to work on.”
Michael Porter Jr. 2.0?
He has the stroke. The size. The ability. Is he waiting to be unlocked again as a pro? Baldwin’s considered a high-character player, a smart teammate and someone who’s more than just a scorer with size. He has good passing instincts as well. If there’s hope, it’s in the form of another recent draft pick who went from former No. 1-ranked high school player to injury-induced flameout one-and-done college season: Michael Porter Jr. Bartelstein, one of the more respected agents in the NBA, also represents Porter.
As two NBA sources said, Baldwin doesn’t have the persona curiosities/concerns like Porter did heading into his draft, but there are a lot of other parallels (though Porter’s slide to 14th to the Nuggets is still higher than anyone expects Baldwin to go).
Through four seasons, Porter has played 125 out of a possible 328 regular-season games and also was a key player for the Nuggets in the 2020 and 2021 playoffs. His career averages: 14.1 points, 6.1 rebounds on 51.8% shooting, including 41.9% from 3-point range. Baldwin’s not the same player, but he’s not drastically different. Will teams repeat the mistake of passing on Porter? Concerns linger for some about his ankle, but Baldwin said he feels no discomfort.
“There isn’t anything structurally wrong with my ankle, it’s just when you come back after having those prolonged periods being off and you just get thrown to the action, your ankle needs a proper ramp-up period,” Baldwin Jr. said. “I can’t sit here and tell you it’s 100%, but it’s holding up and doing pretty much what it needs to, so there’s maybe a couple more months. There’s gonna be a couple of things just to kind of work through, but it’s nothing that — and teams have expressed this a ton with the training staff that I’ve talked to — it’s nothing that isn’t fixable. There’s nothing that should be worried about long-term.”
One source who did have Baldwin in for a workout said the lateral movement and change-of-direction testing still left a little to be desired at this stage.
There’s a wide range of opinions on him because there’s a lot of teams that haven’t seen him. Close to 20 teams will not get him in their building before next Thursday. One NBA front office person who will not work out Baldwin told CBS Sports that it would be a non-starter to draft him if they didn’t get him in for a personal workout. There’s just no getting around that there are going to be some teams that look at him, see bad college tape, not enough games and pass. Others will see someone who is quite obviously built to be an NBA player, and potentially a sweet addition to any offense.
“If he’s completely healthy, they’ll have the steal of the draft,” Baldwin Sr. said. “That’s not my opinion as a dad, that’s my opinion as a coach.”
To this point, he’s worked out for Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Minnesota, San Antonio, New Orleans, Memphis and Cleveland. As buzz has generated from those workouts, a squall of teams are trying to meet with Baldwin this weekend and in the days before the draft.
No one’s quite sure if this is mere diligence or if any of these undisclosed teams are now showing their hand and seriously considering Baldwin with a first-round selection.
The feedback he’s been getting in the past two weeks revolves around two primary takeaways: 1) His competitiveness is irrepressible. This was questioned after his season at Milwaukee, but Baldwin has assuaged the concerns of some since the combine. And 2) The ease in which the game comes to him. Decision-making, feel, being a coach’s son has helped his stock — as much as it can be in these settings.
“Who he is today vs. who he was two months ago when he walked in the door here, he’s like a different guy,” Bartelstein said. “His swagger and confidence are back. I’m so proud of the way he’s approached this entire process.”
His name taunts all 30 war-room franchise draft boards across the country.
“I don’t particularly care where or what pick I’m picked at,” Baldwin Jr. said. “Because I know at this point the team that does pick me is really, really committed to my talents and really understands the player that I am. So, in that sense, it has helped me a little bit early on in my career, because I know a team that takes me really believes in me. And that’s and that’s really important, especially as a younger player. But to the same degree, I think last season also prepared me for what a team calls a rookie wall or a failure as a rookie. You may have had some guys that have been top prospects their whole life and they go to college and they’re destroying everything and everything’s running smooth, and then they hit that wall. And that’s the first time they’ve really felt failure. I know everybody’s story is different, but I think if there’s one thing I could take from the season, it’s learning how to bounce back from what was in many ways a failure of the season.”
In hearing him lay out his journey, it’s clear that where and when he goes is of little matter to Baldwin now. His natural talents and size will be enough to get him drafted. As far as his family is concerned, that makes him one of the lucky ones. Combine that with what he went through over the past two years of his life? Maybe that’s what’s going to ensure that he’ll grow into one of the best picks of 2022. Nobody can tell. There are just as many reasons to take him as to not take him.
What’s inarguable is that whatever team picks Baldwin will be taking a major chance with a potential major payoff. Choose to draft or not draft him at your own risk.