Patrick Baldwin Jr. may be a name to monitor for UNC basketball. As Hubert Davis and his staff look to fill the empty scholarship slot left by Kerwin Walton, plenty of different players have emerged a potential options for the Tar Heels. Baldwin may be a long-shot, but he’s one of the most talented draft prospects in the country. Here’s a look at PBJ’s game, plus his potential fit in Chapel Hill.
Following a long, drawn-out recruiting process, Baldwin — a 5-star recruit in the 2021 class — committed last May to play for Wisconsin-Milwaukee over Duke. At the time, Baldwin’s father was the head coach of UWM. PBJ’s decision to play for Patrick Baldwin Sr. may have saved his dad’s job — for at least one more trip around the Sun. After a 10-22 season (8-14 Horizon League), though, Baldwin Sr. was fired.
In general, the 2021-22 season didn’t go so well for Baldwin. Baldwin dealt with ankle and calf injuries, which cost him time. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward played in only 11 games, averaging 12.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. Baldwin, one of the best long-range bombers in the 2021 class, struggled with his jumper; he connected on 26.6 percent of his 3-point attempts, while shooting 34.4 percent from the field.
With those struggles, fair or foul, Baldwin’s draft stock took a major hit. As with everything context is important; Baldwin dealt with injuries and never found reliable footing as a No. 1 option. However, within the span of a few months, Baldwin slipped from a projected Top 10/Lottery Pick to an end-of-round-one selection in the eyes of some evaluators.
Baldwin seems likely to stick in the Draft, which is justifiable. He’s still an impressive prospect, one that fits a role in the modern game — with a hint of upside. There aren’t too many 6-foot-9 prospects that can fluidly shoot off movement from NBA range, especially when those looks come vs. 7-foot-3 uber-prospect Victor Wembenyama.
Relocation shooting from Patrick Baldwin Jr. vs. France: shake action off the Mike Miles/Kenneth Lofton pick-and-roll + a 3 over the top of Wembanyama's closeout, then moving into a passing window for Lofton off the post double + another 3
64% 3PA rate for PBJ at the World Cup pic.twitter.com/LtaUndJglg
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) July 12, 2021
(He still gets a Top 25-30 grade, in my book.)
However, if Baldwin slips further, then a return to college wouldn’t be a bad idea. Instead of working as an offensive fulcrum, a healthy Baldwin could look for a scaled-down role within a more established program. North Carolina and Hubert Davis have the infrastructure in place to offer Baldwin an excellent get-right opportunity in Chapel Hill.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
Patrick Baldwin is just 19 years old. He’ll still be 19 when the 2022-23 basketball season starts. Even if he returns to college basketball, Baldwin will still be 20 when the 2024 NBA Draft takes place. The upshot: he’s young and he fits an important archetype — the proverbial Big Man Shooter.
In a small sample this season, the shooting percentages obviously weren’t pretty. With that said, there are some positive indicators.
To start: shot volume. Baldwin isn’t afraid to let it fly. As a member of Team USA at the 2021 U-19 FIBA World Cup, nearly 64 percent of Baldwin’s field goal attempts (32.1 3P%) were from beyond the arc.
During his 11 games of action with Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Baldwin launched 12.1 3-point attempts per 100 possessions.
Baldwin even showcased some impressive shot versatility, too. He generates looks in a variety of different contexts. While the gather for Baldwin’s jump shot is elongated, he still has the high release point to shoot over defenders.
This is a wonderful bit of touch on a floater from Baldwin — after getting downhill vs. a closeout.
21p/10r in Patrick Baldwin’s debut for UWM pic.twitter.com/fePP5U7tpo
— HoopsWill (@HoopsWill) November 10, 2021
Baldwin gets shots up from multiple levels of the floor, which gets back to his shot versatility: isolated step-backs, pull-ups, relocation 3-pointers, even pindown 3-point attempts.
There are but so many 6-foot-9 guys in college ball that will run off designed Floppy action, looking to shoot from deep. Of course, this is exactly one of the many actions UNC ran for the 6-foot-9 Brady Manek.
It’s important to note: Baldwin (74.3 FT% this season) has received these types of movement shooting reps for years now. Tall shooters, ones that know how to set up defenders and utilize screens, can be devastating for pretty much any defense.
6'8 2021 number one recruit Patrick Baldwin with a smooth three off of movement pic.twitter.com/WIlLQekx9D
— Ben Pfeifer (@bjpf_) July 27, 2019
North Carolina, of course, knows this firsthand. As both a shooter and a screener — playing off of his gravity — UNC unlocked all kinds of good half-court action with Manek.
Scalability / Role: Patrick Baldwin
Before the 2021-22 season, Baldwin’s run at UWM would seem to serve as an interesting test case, of sorts. Clearly, Baldwin has the frame, versatility and shooting acumen to work as a role player. He can spot-up and work as a second-side target. The question lurked, though: How would Baldwin function as a higher-usage, on-ball creator vs. college defenses, ones designed to take him out? Could he scale up his usage up and remain efficient? If so, it would alter his entire developmental arc.
Unfortunately, the results weren’t great, although Baldwin had good flashes. Baldwin isn’t super explosive, but he’s a solid athlete. There were times this year when he was able to separate 1-on-1 while creating his own shot. (I’m just not confident that’s totally in his bag at the moment.)
Plus, Baldwin can use his length to shoot over the top of one-on-one defenders or extend for finishes around the paint.
pat baldwin did a giannis, my lord pic.twitter.com/thdD19r9Xc
— Ben Pfeifer (@bjpf_) November 10, 2021
However, Baldwin isn’t a major rim-pressure guy, nor is he a player that can unlock a defense as a pick-and-roll ball handler. He doesn’t turn the corner like that can get downhill. In fact, at this point, he’s better served to work as the screener in that action. (The hope: as Baldwin improves, he won’t need to be a big-time separation player. Instead, with his size, he’ll just shoot over the top of his defender.)
To that end, the UWM approach was different than how things would’ve functioned at Duke. If Baldwin ends up in Durham, he plays with Paolo Banchero, 6-foot-10 playmaker with advanced feel and court-mapping skills. That setup creates a bevy of open catch-and-shoot 3s for Baldwin.
As opponents rolled coverages to Banchero, Baldwin could’ve floated around the arc, looking for spot-up 3s and closeouts to attack. This is role AJ Griffin flourished in this season.
Alas, that’s water under the bridge now. This is no knock of his decision-making process, either. He got to play Division I basketball for his dad, which is pretty cool. However, things didn’t go as planned.
If Baldwin lines up for UNC, though, it’s in a role that’ll be similar Manek’s this season, or what would’ve been at Duke. Fewer on-ball reps, more spot-ups, more screening actions and greater efficiency.
Nah…Patrick Baldwin Jr really did the Steph Curry and turned around and pointed at the opponent's bench before it went in!?! pic.twitter.com/xznyDuacYn
— Aram Cannuscio (@AC__Hoops) December 4, 2021
With Baldwin, UNC’s hypothetical starting lineup and go-to sets stay in place: one out, one in. Baldwin would allow UNC to play 4-out basketball, with multiple shooters on the floor at all times — along with guards RJ Davis and Caleb Love.
Same as this past season, this would open to floor for deep post-ups and spread pick-and-roll with Armando Bacot.
UNC Sets for Patrick Baldwin
One of the growing trends for offense in college basketball are the use of “Exit” screens. An exit screen is an off-ball screen set near the strong-side corner for a player running along the baseline. They occur, simultaneously, while a middle ball screen is set for the point guard. The primary goal of the screen is to tie-up back-line help defenders, thus opening the middle of the floor for a roll to the rim.
(For Baldwin’s purpose, envision him working these sets in the place of Manek.)
During this possession at Wake Forest, Dawson Garcia sets the ball screen for Love, while Justin McKoy sets the exit screen in the corner for Manek. Jake LaRavia (0), Manek’s defender, is an excellent help/team defender, but the exit action pushes him to one side of the lane; with Matthew Marsh in drop pick-and-roll coverage, Love is able to hit a rolling Garcia with a pocket pass for 2.
North Carolina ran a lot of exit action this season. Given the team’s personnel, this was an excellent call from Hubert Davis. It’s a good way to keep the floor spaced by using non/limited shooters, like Leaky Black, as off-ball screeners. Plus, with Manek — 11.7 3PA per 100 possessions, 40.3 3P% — opponents had to respect his shooting gravity. If they didn’t, well, Manek could make them pay with spot-up/relocation 3s in the corner.
On this possession, Baylor — as it tries to erase a big deficit — puts two defenders on the ball: Jeremy Sochan (1) and Adam Flager (10), the primary defender for Davis. As Bacot rolls, James Akinjo (11) sticks in the lane to tag the roller; this, however, has consequences. Now, Matthew Mayer — another UNC transfer candidate/option — is left to handle the exit screen. It’s 1-on-2 for Baylor’s defense, which results in another Manek 3.
From the jump this season, UNC established that it would run a heavy amount of Spain pick-and-roll. In fact, I wrote about it right after North Carolina used this pick-and-roll tactic to down Michigan in early December. Spain refers to a stack pick-and-roll look — with the second screener setting a back screen for the player who sets the initial ball-screen.
In this case, Bacot sets the ball screen for Love; as Bacot rolls, Manek sets a back screen on Bacot’s defender, Moussa Diabate (14), and pops out.
This concept is a great way to counter drop coverage. Teams all over the globe run this action, including in college basketball and seemingly every NBA team. Once again, Baldwin would be ideal for the back-screen-and-pop objective.
UNC also ran Spain pick-and-roll with an additional exit screen along the baseline for Manek. This time, the Spain back screen comes courtesy of Love, who glides in from the weak-side corner. Dallas Walton (13) drops in pick-and-roll coverage; Manek runs the baseline. LaRavia gets caught watching the ball-screen action for a half-second too long. Dontrez Styles effectively screens both LaRavia and Damari Monsanto (30), which leaves Manek open in the corner.
Another of the twists UNC adds to this set is called “Ram,” which is a screen-the-screener action.
Here vs. Duke: Before UNC gets into its stack setup, Manek sets an off-ball screen for Bacot on Mark Williams (15). This puts Duke’s center at a slight disadvantage as Bacot quickly lifts to run pick-and-roll with Love. Williams plays to the level and drops, while Trevor Keels (1) fights over. As Bacot rolls, though, Manek sets that Spain back screen and pops out for a 3.
Griffin (21) has low-man responsibilities for the roll, but Banchero (5), Manek’s defender, hangs low vs. Bacot’s rim dive and Love potentially turning the corner. It’s a blown coverage, as Williams also leaves his feet. Manek is open for the triple.
Under Davis, UNC also runs a lot of Chin pick-and-roll. For these purposes, let’s simply this concept to mean an off-ball back screen into a ball screen/pick-and-roll. Here vs. Loyola MD, Bacot sets the back screen for Love, then the ball screen for Black. Eventually the ball cycles back to Manek for another 3.
However, one of the counters that North Carolina runs out of Chin includes a slip and an inverted pindown — in lieu of the ball screen.
On this possession vs. Virginia Tech: North Carolina starts the same Chin action. This time, though, Manek doesn’t set the back screen for Black, then lift to screen for Davis. Instead, Manek slips and Black nails Justyn Mutts, another excellent help defender, pindown. Manek drains another 3.
Here’s that same set from the first matchup with Duke this season. Love doesn’t set a good pindown screen for Manek, though, which allows Banchero to closeout and eat up any airspace. Duke’s defense flattens the possession out and forces Love to take a terrible 1-on-1 attempt with 15 seconds left on the shot block.
One more high-post set North Carolina throws out involves Shuffle cut action. The possession starts with Bacot at the nail, with Manek free-throw line extended on the wing. Manek receieves the entry pass from Davis, who cuts down to the corner. As this happens, Love runs a shuffle cut, off Bacot’s screen. Manek rotates the ball to Bacot who swings to Black on the weak-side wing. While that happens, Love sets a slice screen for Manek, who cuts to the near block for a layup.
Here’s another extension of this action, which comes vs. UCLA. On this possession, however, the goal isn’t to hit Manek for a cut layup. Love doesn’t set the slice screen for Manek. Instead, it’s a counter designed to get Love a 3-pointer; Manek sets the pindown screen for Love, UCLA miscommunicates the switch and Love hits from deep.
No need to stretch the truth
With its offensive scheme and core four players, North Carolina has the pieces in place to showcase a stretch-4. The slot is open; UNC is loaded, but the Tar Heels could use another floor-spacer. Pair that player with a center like Bacot, who commands extra attention in the paint, and a decision-maker like RJ Davis, and they’ll get clean looks from distance all day.
According to Pivot Analysis, North Carolina played the Iron Five lineup for 625 minutes this season, the most of any lineup in the ACC this season. UNC outscored opponents by 268 points in those minutes: +26.1 points per 100 possessions. (This includes an offensive rating of 121.1 points per 100 possessions.)
That relationship is symbiotic, though. The success of Manek this season is proof positive: to fully optimize Bacot, Love, Davis and Black. That quartet played 158 minutes this season sans Manek. The Tar Heels were -9 in those minutes.
Digging further into the data, North Carolina’s offense slumped in a variety of statistical categories with Manek off the floor.
These numbers came courtesy of Hoop Explorer. With Manek on the floor this season, nearly 41 percent of UNC’s field goal attempts were 3-pointers. When Manek sat, that number dropped to 29.0 percent. With Manek on the floor, the Tar Heels made 36.9 percent of their 3-point attempts. In minutes with Manek on the bench, UNC connected on less than 32.0 percent of its 3-point attempts.
Moreover, North Carolina turned the ball over on 21.1 percent of its possessions with Manek off the floor, compared to 15.2 percent with him in the game. Remember: when UNC turns the ball over, that means Bacot (14.8 percent offensive rebound rate) doesn’t have a chance to do damage on the glass.
During minutes with Manek on the bench, Love’s turnover rate ballooned up to 27.4 percent, according to Hoop Explorer, while his usage rate also rose to 28.4 percent. Love posted a turnover rate of 15.2 percent with Manek on the court.
A tall movement shooter is what binds this group together. One way or the other, UNC will need to add some perimeter shooting, especially with Kerwin Walton in the portal, too. Before Walton entered the portal, I thought UNC could potentially offset the lose of Manek by playing some small-ball lineups — with Black, Johnson or Styles as the de facto 4 — and 3-guard setup of Love, Davis and Walton.
Those three played just 109 minutes together this season: UNC -13 in those minutes. However, a return to form for Walton, with the development of Davis and Love, seemed like an explosive lineup grouping. That’s obviously off the table now, although the departure of Walton is what provides North Carolina with this bit of roster flexibility in the portal.
Baldwin, a former top recruit with the skills to play in the NBA for a long time, is the best-case scenario of this archetype: the tall movement shooter. Mayer isn’t far off, though. He’s very good. So, too, is Northwestern transfer candidate Pete Nance (45.7 3P%), although he’s more of a frontcourt passer/connector type (22.2 percent assist rate).
UNC’s 2022-23 roster offers potential in-house solutions and depth: Puff Johnson, Dontrez Styles and incoming freshman Tyler Nickel, a 4-star 6-foot-8 wing forward. Johnson showed real verve on defense this season, especially over the final two months. If Johnson makes a leap as a shooter, then UNC is in business — regardless of how the transfer portal process plays out.
On the other side of the floor, it’d be another clean fit for Baldwin and North Carolina. In fact, Baldwin would offer up greater team-wide versatility. With his size and range, Baldwin can switch out and defend a variety of position types.
Here’s Baldwin at the 2021 U-19 World Cup. Baldwin switches the high ball screen with his teammate, Kennedy Chandler, and is now tasked with guarding Biwali Bayles from Austrailia. Bayles is a 6-foot-2 guard, yet Baldwin is able to flatten him out and contest a deep, challenging off-dribble jumper.
Hypothetically: with a host of big wing — Black, Johnson, Baldwin, Styles — UNC could switch on a variety of exchanges, while continuing to work as a no-middle defense by Icing side ball screens. There’d be some scheme versatility to tap into, if UNC wanted.
Baldwin can help clean the defensive glass, too. During the 2021-22 season with UWM, Baldwin posted a strong defensive rebound rate of 17.8 percent.
Sophomores in the Lottery
As the One-And-Done era evolved, there seemed to be a stigma associated with prospects who elected to return for their sophomore seasons — in lieu of going to the draft. In essence, “Something must be wrong with this player for them to return for another year of college ball.”
There’s some validity to this notion. Age is important from a development standpoint: How good a player is at a certain age matters. It’s a big piece of the equation, but it’s not the only the factor. Now in the age of NIL, there could be a paradigm shift of sorts, too.
Take a glance at the projected 2022 lottery picks. This range is filled with sophomores, including Jaden Ivey, Bennedict Mathurin, Keegan Murray Johnny Davis and Tari Eason. Duke center Mark Williams may even land in the backend of the lottery, too. Guys like Mathurin, Murray and Ivey, especially, could’ve entered the 2021 NBA Draft as possible first-round selections.
Only 5 high-major freshman this season with 60 2P% on close 2PA (50+2PA) and 7.5 3PA per 100 possessions
Of that group, Ivey had the highest % of his rim FGM unassisted (81%), but Thomas + Cade are right there
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) July 19, 2021
However, that trio returned and dominated as three of the Main Characters in college basketball. Now, the three All-Americans will likely land in the Top 14 of the draft.
There’s also a lesson here for NBA franchises, in particular ones with late first round picks: make a commitment to a prospect a year in advance. This “pre-draft” concept, popularized by PD Webb of Cerebro Sports, is a bet on upside development. Essentially, instead of seeing a player that a franchise evaluates and likes return to school, draft that player, now. In doing so, a player enters a team’s development system — a setting they control — on a cheaper rookie contract.
Ivey is a Top-5 talent in 2022. Hypothetically, though, an NBA team could’ve drafted him with a late first-round pick in 2021. That’s a lot of value left on the table.
It’ll be interesting to see what Baldwin does — along with other prospects, like Terquavion Smith and John Butler.