There was a real buzz over the recruiting of Patrick Baldwin Jr.
The 6-foot-9 forward was ranked the eighth-best prospect in the class of 2021. He seemed to have it all.
He was a gifted scorer, able to rise above smaller players and score. He could finish at the rim. He had the defensive length NBA teams covet.
It was hard not to get excited over his potential. And with the schools Baldwin was openly considering, it felt like a lot of teams had the chance to get rich quick for his one-and-done year and showcase his skills at a starring level.
There were traditional powers chasing him like Duke and Florida, but also some untraditional powers like hometown schools in DePaul and Northwestern and where he ultimately went to play for his father at UW-Milwaukee.
It is hard to capture today the legitimate excitement for this mobile, versatile wing during the recruiting process. Because nothing could have gone more wrong during his lone season at UW-Milwaukee.
Baldwin went from one of the most intriguing prospects in this draft class — a surefire Lottery pick and a likely top-10 pick — to someone fighting to stay in the first round. The aftermath of his disastrous season — which included injuries and a bout with COVID on top of his struggles — included UW-Milwaukee firing his father as head coach and Baldwin entering the transfer portal.
Patrick Baldwin Jr. struggled in his lone season in college and fell from a surefire Lottery pick to perhaps slipping out of the first round of the NBA Draft. The pieces are there, but they never came together.
Baldwin will stay in the NBA Draft, so he is not going back to college. That would suggest he has gotten good feedback from pro scouts. But then again, his Combine was not exactly a glowing recommendation for him to join the league either.
Like with so many prospects, it is easy to see whatever you want to see. The potential is all there from Baldwin. He is not too far removed from being that high-level prospect.
But the tape from the college level just is not there to back that up either.
What is anyone to do with these two competing narratives?
Baldwin averaged 12.1 points per game and shot 34.4-percent from the floor and 26.6-percent from beyond the arc. He averaged only 5.8 rebounds per game in the 11 games he played for the Panthers this season.
It should be noted how much injuries slowed him down. He played his first seven games from Nov. 9 to Dec. 13 and averaged 15.0 points per game and shot 36.8-percent from the floor and 32.6-percent from beyond the arc.
That early-season run included a 26-point, 9-for-14 shooting effort against Robert Morris, but also a 13-point, 6-for-15 shooting performance against Florida.
That may not be fantastic numbers or provide a ton of confidence. But that is better than his full-season numbers. And he played sporadically the rest of the season.
It is hard to find any consistent narrative.
Everything about him just shows that promise and that frustration.
Watch the tape above. When Baldwin goes up for a shot, he has the size and fluidity to shoot over anyone. And when his shot goes in, it looks really good.
His shot motion stays the same regardless of whether he is coming off screens or shooting spot-up threes. It looks repeatable and he has the athleticism to move around screens and find open spaces to get his shot off.
Then again, there feels like an unnecessary long wind-up and a seeming hitch that may change his release point and timing. It also looks like he brings the ball in front of his face and so he loses sight of the target as he goes up for his shot (this was a problem Anthony Davis had early in his career).
That might be why his percentages are so low.
There is nothing wrong with a weird-looking shot. What NBA people will care about though is whether he can get his shot up quick enough to beat defenses, whether he can get separation to get into his shot motion with ease and whether the shot goes in. On the latter point, Baldwin seems to be falling behind and will have a lot to prove.
Athletically, Baldwin has pretty solid handles. He can drive into open space and get to the basket. Baldwin too has shown some flashes as a passer, able to quickly feed teammates as the defense collapses around him.
But he does not have the speed to blow by defenders nor did he show the ability to get separation against defenses. He struggled to create for himself, which was the role he ultimately played for his team.
Baldwin is not particularly fast and regularly gets beat by recovering players. He has to use his craftiness and smarts to try to finish effectively around the basket. Doing that at college is one thing, the NBA is a different story.
The same goes for defense. Baldwin simply did not make a big impact on the defensive side of the floor despite his length and physical tools. It is not a part of his game at this point. That only made his offensive shortcomings seem bigger.
Here, the athletic measurements are a point of concern.
On one hand, Baldwin measured at 6-foot-10.25 in shoes at the NBA Draft Combine with a 7-foot-1.75 wingspan. That was the third-longest wingspan for a player the NBA Draft Combine labeled as a small forward or guard.
Check that box.
But, Baldwin also measured with the shortest max vertical leap (26.5 inches) and second-shortest standing vertical leap at 23.5 inches.
This is a long-limbed wing who does not have a lot of natural athleticism. That will inevitably limit what he can do when he gets to the NBA. It is another example of how it is hard to pin down what to make of him as a prospect.
The potential is all still there. And no one should deny that or hide from it. Baldwin could be a big swing that hits.
But the reality is that Baldwin is likely to settle in as a 3-point shooting specialist and something of a heater. He has good size to be a good defender and the confidence to be a great shooter. There are other parts of his game — he has a really nice floater — that he can continue developing.
Those poor shooting numbers are still the biggest concern. Because when he gets to the league that is the skill teams are going to rely on him most to contribute. That means he will have to get his shot figured out one way or another.
All the tools are there.
He has the length and he has the ability to be that kind of player. The talent that made him one of the top high school recruits did not go away. There is a clear path for him to get there too. Baldwin at his best looks like a really good NBA player.
But Baldwin has not reached those highs long enough to inspire confidence.
Someone will have that confidence though. Someone will take that chance on him — likely in the second round but certainly still possible in the first round. Some team will put the work in to try to reclaim this player.
And nobody will know which way his career will turn.