The Memphis Grizzlies’ Wade Baldwin conundrum

Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images /

Wade Baldwin has failed to live up to expectations with the Memphis Grizzlies. Now he finds himself towards the bottom of a roster in need of trimming.

When the Memphis Grizzlies drafted Wade Baldwin a year ago, they hoped to be adding a dynamic combo guard, a player capable of manning a bench role in the present, and growing into a more meaningful contributor in the future. Taken with the 17th overall pick, Baldwin was far from a sure thing, but his draft stock was sufficient enough among experts to suggest that he was likely to develop into at least a useful rotation piece.

That hasn’t been the case to date. Baldwin has struggled mightily with the Grizzlies, posting .313/.136/.838 shooting splits in his rookie year, and looking extremely unimpressive as a ball-handler and defender.

We can, and gladly will, ring the “young player in a small sample size” alarm bells here. First-year players very rarely contribute in meaningful ways, and the 33 games that Baldwin played in aren’t nearly enough to make any sort of concrete determinations about who he is, or could eventually become, as an NBA player.

Good players typically don’t struggle quite as enormously as Baldwin did last year though, and his performance certainly gives reason for pause.

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Things don’t appear to have gotten any better this preseason, where Baldwin has been outplayed by every single guard to see floor time, including significantly less heralded prospects like Andrew Harrison, Kobi Simmons and Rade Zagorac, none of whom are setting a particularly high bar (though each has had at least one truly impressive game).

This could all mean nothing. It’s possible that Baldwin will finish Memphis’ preseason in top form and remain securely on the roster, but should he continue to struggle, one would have to imagine the Grizzlies might consider him for a final cut. That’s not an entirely fair situation to put him in. One year isn’t enough time for a player to show the full breadth of his potential, but the only two other players likely to be on the chopping block, Harrison and Jarell Martin, have played just one and two seasons in their own rights, respectively.

If the argument that more time is required extends to Baldwin, it seems it should apply to his peers in the same way. Baldwin holds the distinction of having been drafted the highest of the trio (Martin was taken with the 25th overall pick and Harrison 44th). The Grizzlies may be hesitant to walk away from a player that they invested so much draft capital into acquiring. That’s a dangerous perspective.

Memphis needs to view their draft picks as sunk costs, and make any final personnel decisions based on who they think will be most impactful in the long run. Baldwin may still be their man. They clearly saw something in him when they chose to draft him, and now they simply must make a choice about whether or not they still believe he can reach that potential.

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If the Grizzlies feel that Baldwin’s ceiling lies beyond that of those he is competing for a roster spot with, then they should hold onto him, regardless of any discrepancies in present-day productivity. Unfortunately, Baldwin isn’t making it easy to think that would be the case.