How Patrick Baldwin Jr. impressed Steve Kerr despite defensive mistake

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How defensive mistake shows why Warriors like PBJ so much originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO — Early in the second quarter of the Warriors’ eventual 115-101 loss to the Orlando Magic on Saturday night at Chase Center, rookie Patrick Baldwin Jr. guarded Magic forward Franz Wagner at the top of the 3-point line. In an instant, Wagner went by Baldwin, took two right-handed dribbles and finished an easy finger roll for two points to give Orlando a 32-31 lead.

Less than a minute later, Steve Kerr called timeout. As players walked to the bench, Kerr zeroed in on Baldwin, the Warriors’ top pick from the 2022 NBA Draft.

“Patrick, you know what you did wrong?” Kerr asked Baldwin.

No hints, no hesitation. Baldwin knew his mistake and Kerr was sure the youngster could correct it on the fly.

That’s a major reason why the Warriors took Baldwin with the No. 28 pick in the draft, despite an extremely disappointing freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His potential is off the charts. Skill-wise, there’s a handful of reasons why Baldwin once was the top high school prospect in the nation before a dislocated ankle wiped out his senior year and hurt him mightily during his one year in college.

Baldwin’s basketball brain might be as intriguing as his buttery shot. He now has played in three straight Warriors games, and nine of their last 13, earning more and more trust.

“That’s perfect,” Kerr said Monday after Warriors practice. “It’s OK to make the mistake, as long as you recognize what it was and you learn from it. Now you got to do that … however many players are in the league, you’ve got to know everybody. And that’s a big part of being a rookie. As you come into this league and you don’t know tendencies, it all has to go into the Rolodex.

“He’s learning but I think he’s got a really bright future. He’s skilled, he’s smart, he’s aware and he works at it.”

Sitting at the podium, Baldwin took complete accountability for Wagner’s layup. Well before Kerr came up to him, he already had the answer to his coach’s pop quiz and would have said something himself if Kerr didn’t beat him to it.

And the error didn’t happen again as Baldwin played 15 minutes off the bench.

“You know, it’s just a make a mistake, don’t make it twice league,” Baldwin said. “I learned that kind of the hard way with Wagner two nights ago. But had a good conversation about that and definitely was a point of emphasis in practice today.”

It hasn’t even been two months since Baldwin went from being a teenager to a 20-year-old. He talks with poise and conviction, and carries himself like a seasoned pro. Fans already want to see more of him as a 3-point weapon, and understandably so.

Since Dec. 13, Baldwin is shooting 47.2 percent from beyond the arc while going 17-for-36. Being an eventual marksman from long distance never was a real question regarding Baldwin’s place in the NBA and his future success. Defense is what will take him there, and he knows it.

Within the Warriors’ locker room, Baldwin has plenty of all-time great defenders to lean on. His eyes and ears are locked in on a mixture of things Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala do, and even center Kevon Looney.

“We’ve got a locker room of vets who love being vets and love sharing information,” Baldwin said. “Anytime I’ve got a question for Draymond or I’ve got a question for Andre, they’re all ears and they’ll give you everything they’ve got.”

Kerr views Baldwin as a power forward, but the rookie’s ability to shoot the ball gives Kerr more flexibility to play him as a small forward who can share the floor with other big men. Basketball-Reference’s position estimate tool has Baldwin playing 70 percent as a power forward in his 13 NBA games, 21 percent at small forward, and three percent as a shooting guard. The final seven percent is as a center.

Looney has played 151 consecutive regular-season games and his 23.3 minutes per game is a new career high. Green has played 36 of the Warriors’ 40 games and has averaged over 34 minutes per game on the Warriors’ current homestand, including more than 44 in their double-overtime win over the Atlanta Hawks. Those two have carried a major load on the Warriors’ frontcourt. They’re not about to get more help Tuesday against the Phoenix Suns, too.

James Wiseman (left ankle sprain), Jonathan Kuminga (right foot sprain) and JaMychal Green (right leg infection) all weren’t part of Monday’s practice, and each already has been ruled out vs. the Suns. Kerr on Monday shared his concern for the minutes Looney and Green have racked up. Might Baldwin be a solution?

Listed at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, Baldwin says he’s actually a bit taller and weighs a bit more than that. He also sounds up to another new challenge if that’s what Kerr asks of him.

“I’ve never been a five at any level of my life,” Baldwin said. “But at the end of the day I’m 6-foot-10 and 230, 235 at this point. So I mean if we need it, I feel comfortable doing it.

“Offensively I feel very comfortable. Defensively, I’m very comfortable as well.”

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The combination of Baldwin’s size and how he can stretch the floor already make him a scoring weapon off the bench at 20 years old. That’s only one part of the equation. The other, Kerr and the rest of the coaching staff saw during that timeout Saturday night.

Learning on the fly is the name of the game. Doing so defensively is an added bonus that could be the cherry on top of Baldwin falling to the back end of the first round. Buckets will come, and his chances to showcase his shot are going to increase.

Now imagine if he can play multiple positions on offense while simultaneously being equally as versatile defensively. Sooner rather than later, Baldwin will be a problem solver for the Warriors in a handful of ways.

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