Kamar Baldwin Is Pretty Good At Basketball
A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about Chris Clarke. After watching Duke play Virginia Tech, I couldn’t help but be compelled to investigate. Who is this guy? Why is no one talking about him? A question we should still be asking, considering he’s arguably only gotten better since then. At 6’5″ or 6’6″, with legit NBA athleticism, legitimate defensive potential at both PG and Wing, no fear attacking the paint and some real potential to initiate.
These are Clarke’s last ten games:
You know who has ten game stretches against that? Not only does it not make much sense to consider Josh Jackson an upper order first round prospect without considering Fox the same. It doesn’t make sense to consider Josh Jackson such a prospect without considering Chris Clarke as highly draftable.
So that’s what’s happened with Clarke before and after I noticed him vs. Duke. But he’s not the only unheralded guy I’ve been excited by recently. Indeed, I recently had the same experience watching Butler. First, against Villanova. Then Creighton and Xavier. And most recently, Marquette and DePaul. One game after the other, I came away thinking, “Who is Kamar Baldwin? Why is no one talking about him?”
So this is the next in perhaps a group of pieces that will be dedicated to unheralded players. The first of these featured Mikal Bridges. The next, Chris Clarke. Future pieces might include players from this group:
- Markus Howard (what if Ish Smith was a little slower, but could actually shoot?)
- De’Anthony Melton (Wait for Part 2, Kamar Baldwin and the Patrick Beverley All-Stars)
- Andrew Jones (ditto)
- Bruce Brown (double ditto)
- Nigel Williams-Goss (triple ditto)
- Kadeem Allen and Kobi Simmons (okay, you get the drill)
- Shake Milton (really, come on, okay, fuck it)
- Jemerrio Jones (JC Transfer at NMSU. Does pretty much everything but shoot. Really . . .)
- South Carolina Players (PJ Dozier, Sindarius Thornwell)
- Cincy Players (Jacob Evans, Gary Clark, Kevin Johnson, Jarron Cumberland)
- Combo Forwards (Juwan Morgan, Reggie Upshaw, Nigel Hayes, Ish Wainwright, Dedric Lawson)
- Khris Middleton/Danny Green/Hollis Thompson All-Stars (Sterling Brown, Jeremy Morgan)
- Undermentioned PG (Bryant Crawford, Aaron Holiday, Joel Berry, Monte Morris, Frank Mason, Devonte Graham)
Maybe some others as well, but first things first. Kamar Baldwin. Why he’s an awesome college player. Why he might one day be an awesome pro. And yes, why you should probably be watching Butler.
Just Who The Hell Is Kamar Baldwin?
Well, first off, for some reason, he was considered a somewhat marginal recruit, despite setting County scoring records, and averaging very near 30 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists per game as a senior. He also averaged close to 3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game for his high school career. Good shit.
You’d guess he was a pretty good athlete. Indeed, he is:
40″ vertical, or close to it. But he’s definitely more fast and quick on the ground than he is vertically explosive.
Now let’s consider frame and weight. Height is listed anywhere between 6’0″ and 6’2″. Wingspan, 6’7″ wingspan. Weight, 170 lbs. Numbers basically identical to Patrick Beverley’s in college. Or really any recent defense-forward guard of similar height, with the possible exceptions of Kemba Walker and Chris Paul, whose wingspans are more ordinary.
Now we have the basics, the foundation. Nothing exceptional so far, but solid enough.
Just How Good is Kamar Baldwin?
I’m going to say something now. It might be hyperbolic, but I’m pretty sure it’s not. If Kamar Baldwin is 6’4 or 6’5″ and not closer to 6’0″ tall, he’s almost certainly a Top 3 prospect in this draft class.
Unfortunately, Baldwin lacks height. What does Baldwin have to make up for it? Well, for one thing, this: Along with Markelle Fultz, who has higher volume, Baldwin has the best overall scoring profile in this draft class.
Let’s get the obvious caveat out of the way. Small sample sizes. Especially in the case of Kamar Baldwin. Also, we must consider the fact that Fultz is his team’s Primary Point Guard, whereas Baldwin started the year off-ball and only now is starting to take more of a Combo Guard role. (These kinds of things do affect percentages.)
Now, let’s look at the numbers, with Markelle Fultz being really impressive across all three levels, especially when it comes to the volume of makes, and just how many of his three-pointers are unassisted. Over half of them, which is an incredible number. Indeed, Fultz unassisted success across all three levels does a lot to assuage the doubts his mediocre FT% (less than 70) may bring.
Where Kamar Baldwin wins is basically everywhere else. eFG%, TS%, the percentage of his field goal attempts that end in unassisted makes at the rim (an elite 1 in 6), and his percentages at the rim, from three, and from the free throw line. Indeed, his free throw percentage (almost 90%) is so good at such a young age (turned 19 in September) that the only aspect of his profile that causes doubt as to if Kamar Baldwin will shoot at the next level is indeed his height.
If you watch, this information co-aligns with what you’ll see. Baldwin has a variety of moves to get space in the mid-range and is comfortable pulling up in the mid-range. He also has great touch around the rim, able to angle the ball high off the glass and still find the goal.
But Just How Good is Kamar Baldwin Against Competition?
I know what you’re saying, I’ve never heard of this Kamar Baldwin. He goes to Butler. He’s been good so far, but it’s probably because of his competition. Some riff on that. The thing is, Baldwin’s pretty much only gotten minutes vs. solid competition and been almost as good against it.
Thanks to Sports-Reference.com, here’s Baldwin’s season game log.
We get any number of ace defenses on this list. Arizona, Villanova, Cincinatti, Utah the best of them. Against those three teams, Baldwin only shoots 12-32 (37.5%). Not nearly as good as the total body of work, even after you throw in going 1 of 2 from three and 9 of 11 from the free throw line. But that’s something you could say just as well for Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball or Dennis Smith, Jr. Pretty much any prospect there is. Especially as Freshman.
(Utah was arguably the only truly poor game among these, and the fact that Butler won all of them should suggest that Baldwin does other things on the court besides just score.)
What we do see is any number of other great results vs. good athletic competition, especially recently. Indeed, Baldwin’s conference numbers are basically as good, or better, as his season data on the whole. That’s a trend we don’t usually see, especially when a player’s conference includes multiple ranked teams.
Here are Kamar Baldwin’s advanced stats on the season:
Now, Kamar Baldwin’s advanced stats in conference play:
Here we see. Better eFG%, True Shooting Percentage, FTr, Rebounding, Passing, and lower turnovers despite slightly higher Usage and greater run of play against consistently good competition. The ancillary defensive numbers are down a little, but the Steal and Block rates are still excellent.
Nothing definitive, since we’re dealing with small samples. However, I think Kamar Baldwin might be getting better, more comfortable, taking a bigger role within the offense.
Yesterday’s game at DePaul as evidence. Not just the 14 shot attempts (one of which was a three point attempt from 25 feet at the half-time buzzer with his off-hand), but the fact that he created numerous opportunities for his teammates to score off passes. Only two of these were converted, but most of the chances created were at the three-point line, which are typically high variance, and his teammates did not have good shooting games.
What’s The Best Thing About Kamar Baldwin?
He’s left-handed! No, he’s ambidextrous! He can use both hands! No, he tries hard and plays defense.
Start watching at around 1:05 of this clip. There’s four Baldwin plays in short succession, all impressive in their own right.
- Steal. Gets into the passing lane. Takes the ball coast to coast for a dunk.
- Drive from left to right. Easily gets an angle on Edmond Sumner, who has to navigate through traffic, and lays it up high off the glass over Sumner’s contest.
- Moves his feet, completely stacks up Edmond Sumner, cutting off his drive at the free throw line and getting Sumner off balance. (Not always hard to do.) But Sumner recovers after Baldwin lunges for Ball and manages to score at rim.
- Comes out of nowhere to clinch game with a steal at half court.
If there was a pull-up jumper from the mid-range and an off-catch three-point jump shot, you’d basically have a full summation of the Kamar Baldwin experience. Including the steal to clinch the game. I believe it’s the 3rd time Baldwin has made such a play this season, including games against Arizona and Villanova. Both of which have more than solid guard play.
Starting around 0:40, there’s five Baldwin highlights here, the first four coming in relatively quick succession. Two drives to the lane, a pull-up mid-range jumper, a shallow drive to the free throw line which results in a kick for a three, and at around 2:30, the aforementioned steal. Picks Josh Hart and takes the ball the other way for a lay-up.
Kamar Baldwin’s still prone to make mistakes on the defensive end. But the foundation is there. Effort. Awareness. Foot quickness. Length. Which makes him somewhat unique, outside of perhaps De’Aaron Fox and Andrew Jones, of this year’s Freshman Point Guard prospects. Plus potential at the point of attack.
The problem with Baldwin and Jones, there are questions about their passing ability. With Jones, I think it comes due to the fact that he doesn’t wholly understand half-court offense. With Baldwin, I think it has much more to do with his role in Butler’s offense, as he’s been there best and most consistent finisher in recent games.
An Aside on the Aforementioned Andrew Jones
Regardless of what I said about Jones’ understanding of half-court basketball, I like both Baldwin and Jones a lot. Andrew Jones is basically the Point Guard/Shooting Guard version of Justice Winslow. A much better version of Derrick Jones, Jr., who I had quite high last year.
The NBA either doesn’t believe in its ability to teach the game, or it’s pretty cynical. How are we not going to bet on a 19 or 20 year old Derrick Jones Jr? Look at this shit. Every game. He’s not nearly as good as Vince Carter, but we’re talking that kind of in game dunking potential. Luckily, he’s under contract with the Phoenix Suns. This much is true. If the NBA doesn’t put Derrick Jones, Jr. in the dunk contest this year vs. LaVine and Aaron Gordon, they messed up.
Derrick Jones, Jr. had me at hello. Andrew Jones took me slightly longer. Though Jones currently has much more reliable scoring numbers than either Derrick Jones, Jr. or Justise Winslow. (Look past 3P% to mid-range success, unassisted percentages, free throw percentage.) Of course, it’s a long season. It could change.
Right now we’re on an up-trend in shooting numbers. That makes Jones look very much worth a gamble, especially for a team that can put him in a Patrick Beverley role. A role where he plays Point-of-Attack on defense and off-ball on offense. At least to begin. Allow him to learn the easier position and potentially progress to a more primary role. It’s interesting, but Lonzo Ball and Andrew Jones/Kamar Baldwin cover up a lot of each other’s weaknesses, especially if you believe that Jones has projectable shooting. It looks like he might.
Kamar Baldwin Comparison Book
You might be wondering, if Kamar Baldwin keeps this up, who we should compare him to. As a lefty, with more combo guard than natural point making skills, the first thought that came up was Nick Van Exel. As a smallish guard, whose defense is a prominent feature of the way he brings value on the court, I could not help but think of Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley and early Devin Harris.
Here are those players and some others placed against Kamar Baldwin.
1) I picked players who are diminutive either in height or overall stature. And who are generally athletic, but not explosive in the way a Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook is. I also didn’t include guys who could fly in the way Mike Conley could, nor guys like Chris Paul, who were much, much better at passing at the same age and stage.
2) Another guy I didn’t include was Steph Curry, though there are superficial and non-superficial resemblances between Curry and Baldwin’s Freshman seasons.
Non-superficial resemblances: Under-recruited slight of body Combo Guards that can shoot the hell out of the ball. Fast hands. Foot quickness. Decent, but not great explosiveness. Both forced into mostly off-ball roles despite on-ball skill, due to composition of team.
What makes the comparison not hold up is Usage. Baldwin’s probably going to finish this season in the low to mid-20s. Whereas Curry was near 30%.
Also, and most importantly, how good Steph Curry got as a passer from where he started as a Freshman is simply atypical growth. Something that could happen, but not something on which we should bet. I’ve included a couple of players like that, Steve Nash and Kyle Lowry, but neither of them were flying around making shot after shot off movement and off the catch as freshman. Their seasons were much more typical of the kind of season we are seeing from Kamar Baldwin, even if Baldwin’s Freshman season is more than a bit better than either of theirs.
3) Now onto this table. Teal numbers are where Kamar Baldwin would feature at the very top of the table (or close) if so arranged. Purple is where he features at or near the bottom. Notice, a lot of teal and a decent amount of purple.
At a young age, he’s the best shooter of all these players. That’s true in all major categories. Impressive, not only because we have several all-stars on this list. But because we have Kyle Lowry and Steve Nash.
The fact that Baldwin is more advanced in pretty much every area of his game at the same age and stage shouldn’t necessarily mean we should expect a similar trajectory from Baldwin. But it also means, we legitimately shouldn’t place it off the table. Especially if he stays another year or two and progresses with his Point Guard skills.
4) Baldwin’s also among the best in most defensive/athletic proxy categories. Rebounds, blocks, steals. Notice the only season with any gap in rebounding is sophomore Patrick Beverley. If I included only Freshman seasons, that’s another category where, at least compared to this group of players, Baldwin grades out among the top.
5) Of course, that leaves the downside, which has mainly to do with Baldwin’s passing. Against this group, he’s definitely near the bottom. Right there, with Patrick Beverley as a sophomore, and Devin Harris and Avery Bradley as Freshman. That kind of sets up several reasonable downside scenarios if Baldwin doesn’t continue to progress.
One, like Avery Bradley he becomes a good ball mover but nothing spectacular besides. Two, like Harris, he becomes good enough to be an all-star, but nothing spectacular for a Point Guard. Three, like Beverley, he becomes one of the games preeminent secondary play-makers.
Judging from what I’ve seen with Baldwin’s passing and dribbling, the result should be at least decent. The question is just where on the scale of decent to good he falls.
6) We shouldn’t forget how Baldwin’s current role factors into this, as he’s somewhat low on Butler’s totem pole in terms of Point Guard responsibilities. And it’s reasonable to guess, his assist numbers would be quite a bit better, if in a more primary role. Impossible to know for sure, but reasonable to guess. Which is why I suggested Van Exel as a prompt to consider.
7) Regardless, Kamar Baldwin is a player we are considering much too lightly. His ability to find space for himself and go up for his shot on balance is something we don’t often see from young players. Nor do we see hardly anyone who makes such difficult shots at these rates. Mid-40s percentages, even with small samples, I doubt we see regress much.
Then, add to that the fact that Baldwin’s a likely two-way player. In addition, add some sneaky offensive upside if he improves as a passer. Not necessarily likely, but possible given his skills and the possibility that his role might hide some of his ability. To me, that makes Baldwin seem like a no-brainer first round pick. At least if he continues on this path. And I’d be much more excited to have him in my program than a number of more highly regarded prospects.
Still, it’s a long season. We’ll see Baldwin play Villanova again, at least once. We’ll see likely see Baldwin in the NCAA tournament. At the end of the year, we’ll know better who, as a basketball player, Kamar Baldwin really is. I’m guessing it’s a guy greatly resembling the player we’ve already seen.
Next up, Part 2. College Basketball’s Patrick Beverley All-Stars: Kamar Baldwin compared to college basketball’s many other Combo Guard prospects with questionable Point Guard skills but some potential at the Point of Attack on defense. (Well, mostly. Nigel Williams-Goss has legit PG skills, but I want to talk about him a little. Bruce Brown is a slightly different kind of player. Etc . . .)
- All stats thanks to Sports-Reference.com and DraftExpress.com.