NBA Draft 2022: Patrick Baldwin Jr. could be worth Warriors gamble

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Drafting Baldwin could be worth the gamble for Warriors originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO -- For a team that had championship aspirations going into the NBA draft last year, the Warriors chose potential over perceived immediate production with their first pick when they took Jonathan Kuminga No. 7 overall. One year later, the Warriors are in a much different position after winning yet another title and this time owning the No. 28 overall pick, as well as two second-round picks at No. 51 and No. 55.

When they're first on the clock, they very well could look to add future talent as opposed to a win-now player. If that's the case, Patrick Baldwin Jr. fits the bill.

"I think we'll go best player is usually what we fall back on," Warriors general manager Bob Myers said Wednesday to reporters. "But I think the league is pretty wing heavy, and we've seen that position have a lot of value."

Baldwin at 19 years old -- he turns 20 in November -- has ideal NBA size at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, and he already is seen as an elite ballhandler. He was the top high school recruit in the country at one time and finished as the fifth-ranked prospect in the ESPN 100 for the class of 2021. Kuminga was No. 4 on ESPN's list of the top-ranked prospects in 2020.

Though he didn't dominate and shoot the lights out in the G League after skipping college, Kuminga still showcased his limitless potential and the fact that he could hold his own with grown men at 18 years old before landing in the laps of the Warriors. Baldwin originally committed to Duke before joining his dad at Milwaukee.

Everything went wrong for him at the mid-major.

He averaged 24.3 points and 10.8 rebounds per game as a junior in high school. But in the second game of his senior year, Baldwin went down to a season-ending ankle injury that continued to give him problems during his one season of college. Instead of playing under Mike Krzyzewski and competing for a title, Baldwin's season playing for his father was cut short to only 11 games. They went 10-22 overall -- 3-8 in games Baldwin played -- and the elder family member was fired after the season.

Baldwin averaged 12.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and only 1.5 assists per game against inferior competition. He shot a frustrating 34.4 percent from the field and 26.6 percent from 3-point range. Baldwin also made 74.4 percent of his free throws, and his shooting stroke suggests those numbers should be much better in the right place with the right development opportunities.

His best performance consisted of 26 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Baldwin made all six of his 3-pointers in that game and went 9-for-14 from the field. It also was against Robert Morris University, a team that went 8-24 last season.

Not to be forgotten, though, Baldwin gave his best Steph Curry impression in that game with his own no-look three.

Over his 11 games played, Baldwin went against a ranked opponent once. It was his third game played in college, and he finished with 13 points on 6-for-15 from the field and 0-for-3 from deep vs. No. 24-ranked Florida in a 36-point loss. Baldwin also had two blocks and two steals, but he turned to ball over three times while tallying one assist.

The natural talent is there for Baldwin. That's what makes him perhaps the most interesting man in the draft this year. A skill set like that isn't supposed to have a disaster season like that. Nobody wants to be the one that lets the steal of the draft get away, though.

And perhaps no other team is better equipped to roll the dice on a prospect like Baldwin than the Warriors.

"You know, having to build out an infrastructure to work with 19-year-olds is something that we just assumed would happen before, 19-, 20-year-olds, but we do a much better job now of surrounding some of these players with help, with guidance that we should have done a better job of back then," Myers said.

"Coaching obviously has gotten a lot better as far as how we integrate those guys."

Throughout the playoffs, the Warriors had as many as 10 coaches on the floor at practice. They're much better prepared for development of players in all aspects now. Whether it's a veteran coach in Kenny Atkinson, a rising assistant in Jama Mahlalela, big man specialist Dejan Milojević or player-mentor coach Leandro Barbosa, the Warriors are making sure young players like Kuminga, James Wiseman and Moses Moody are receiving the attention that's required.

Kuminga averaged 16.9 minutes per game last season. Moody, the No. 14 pick in the draft last year, averaged 11.7. Both of those averages should be going up next season. Wiseman missed all of last season to complications with a knee injury, but all indicators point to him playing in summer league and being a part of the Warriors' rotation. Jordan Poole's role will increase, too, which doesn't leave much room for a rookie.

Myers said he doesn't expect who the Warriors pick, if they do use their top selection on adding a player, to see 15 or 20 minutes per night as a rookie. He also emphasized how tough cracking the Warriors' lineup and roster will be next season. A main theme of Myers and Steve Kerr speaking with media members Wednesday was how much they appreciate their Santa Cruz G League affiliate.

The Warriors of San Francisco and the Warriors of Santa Cruz run an identical system. They're fully aligned and in sync to have players ready to contribute once they reach the NBA. That sounds like an ideal scenario for Baldwin, a player full of talent who needs structure, time and development.

RELATED: Why Warriors' G League usage brings confidence drafting late

Add in the fact that the Warriors have the ultimate winning culture with people like Myers and Kerr, plus a roster that will feature veteran leaders in Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney -- and possibly even Andre Iguodala again -- it's clear the Warriors are the perfect destination for potential to one day pay off in production.

"Steph and Draymond and Klay, Andre, Loon, these guys are so good with our younger guys," Kerr said. "The expression it takes a village, it really does. I think we've built a really strong organization that has figured out a much better way to develop our young guys."

Maybe it's with the No. 28 pick. Maybe he falls to No. 51. Maybe the Warriors trade up in the first round, or the second, to get him.

Whatever the path is, Baldwin is worth taking a long look at.

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