• Leading up to the Portland Trail Blazers’ season-opener against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers at Moda Center on October 18, HoopBall is profiling the team’s 15 players with guaranteed contracts, in reverse order of price.

    Prior entries: Anfernee SimonsCaleb SwaniganNik StauskasJake LaymanGary Trent, Jr.

    Player: Wade Baldwin IV

    2018-19 salary: $1,544,951

    Position: guard

    Age, experience: 22, third year

    Measureables: 6-foot-4, 202 pounds (6-foot-11 and 1/4 inch wingspan)

    Strengths: speed, quickness, defensive versatility, transition, penetrating, hands

    Weaknesses: jump shot, playing off-ball, free-throw shooting

    Swing factor: 3-point shooting

    Likely role: fourth guard, defensive stopper

    It’s still unclear why the Memphis Grizzlies so hastily gave up on Wade Baldwin, but what’s implicit by now is that long-time general manager Chris Wallace and company have surely come to regret that decision. Baldwin, just a year removed from being taken with the 17th pick in the draft, was waived two days before the Grizzlies’ 2017-18 regular-season opener to make room on the roster for veteran guard Mario Chalmers. The move wasn’t only shocking due to the inherent team-building benefits of retaining players on cheap long-term contracts, but also Memphis’ dire need for injections of youth and dynamism on the perimeter.

    Eleven months later, the Grizzlies’ trash has become the Portland Trail Blazers’ treasure, as Baldwin will be given the chance to play a consistent role for Terry Stotts in 2018-19. Anyone who watched the Vanderbilt product audition for Portland late last season in prolonged action against the Grizzlies, Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz would be unsurprised by that development. Baldwin proved a dogged, disruptive individual defender when he got on the floor for the Blazers, relishing the task of checking the opposition’s top perimeter player with the ardent aggression of a true stopper. One of the most memorable moments throughout all of last season was Baldwin ripping James Harden‘s dribble for a leak-out dunk, stealing the ensuing inbounds pass, then goading the eventual MVP into a shoulder-check that went uncalled.

    Baldwin won’t cause superstars’ frustration to boil over on a nightly basis. At Summer League, in fact, he was far less impactful defensively than he was with Portland, not just in terms of full-court pressure, but overall engagement and commitment. It was so jarring to watch Baldwin fall asleep off the ball or fail to fight through screens precisely because he was such an undeniable bright spot for the Blazers on that end of the floor as last season wound down.

    Fortunately, those relative struggles came under the burden of an offensive load Baldwin won’t be asked to shoulder playing on the same team as Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Serving as Portland’s primary ball handler in Las Vegas, he averaged an event-high 7.4 assists per game by relentlessly pushing the pace in transition and finding open shooters in the half court after creasing the paint. He shot 8-of-16 from beyond the arc, too, encouraging for a guard once billed as a non-shooter despite that relatively low number of attempts. If disaster strikes and Lillard goes down for an extended period, Summer League made it clear the Blazers should feel comfortable with Baldwin assuming some of those leftover ball-handling duties, basically, a realization that could hardly be assumed before July.

    Unfortunately for Baldwin, such confidence guarantees little in the way of a major role in Stotts’ rotation. Lillard, McCollum and Seth Curry will get the lion’s share of minutes at point guard and shooting guard, leaving Baldwin fourth in the pecking order among available ball handlers. His best route to consistent minutes, then, is forcing his way onto the floor next to those guys through individual defense and improved spot-up shooting. Baldwin is unlikely to beat out Evan Turner, and isn’t quite big enough to defend high-scoring threes despite his enviable wingspan, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be relegated to spot minutes. If Baldwin deserves nightly playing time and Stotts is so inclined, Portland could slide Moe Harkless, Jake Layman or even Turner to power forward when Al-Farouq Aminu is off the floor and commit to playing Zach Collins at center exclusively, paving the way for Baldwin to occupy the spot in the rotation vacated by Pat Connaughton.

    There are multiple avenues for Baldwin to be a regular contributor for the Blazers this season, but each of them comes with the caveat of his ability to knock down open jumpers. Baldwin, for instance, could find himself losing minutes to Nik Stauskas should he struggle from deep in training camp. The physical limitations of Lillard, McCollum and Curry make them imminently exploitable defensively, but it’s not like Stotts doesn’t have other options – Turner, Harkless and Aminu – to sick on the opposition’s most dangerous ball handler.

    Still, the best possible version of Portland in 2018-19 includes Baldwin playing a meaningful role off the bench, wreaking havoc on defense and igniting the fast-break attack of a team that ranked dead last in pace a season ago. Would that hope coming to fruition represent a successful outcome for a third-year player drafted just outside the lottery? Probably not, but considering Baldwin was on the fringes of the league this time last year, it would certainly be a significant step in the right direction for the trajectory of his career.

Fantasy News

  • Zach LaVine
    PG, Chicago Bulls

    Pacers GM Chad Buchanan declined to interview for the Bulls' top basketball operations position.

    Buchanan said he and his family are happy in Indianapolis and he is not interested in leaving. The Bulls are clearly moving fast with building their new front office after the announcement that GM Gar Forman and VP of Basketball Ops John Paxson are expected to move to different roles in the organization. A change in the front office and coaching staff could only be positive for fantasy purposes as the Bulls rank 29th in offensive rating this season. Hopefully a change would bring a more fantasy-friendly system with an emphasis on developing the younger talent on the roster.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    The NBA and ESPN are working together to televise a H-O-R-S-E competition with several high-profile players.

    Woj reported that the details of this competition are still being finalized, but it sounds like players will shoot in isolation, most likely in their home gyms. This would be a much needed source of entertainment for everyone who loves the NBA and, with bragging rights on the line, we would likely see some stellar performances from the NBA's best players.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Lauri Markkanen
    PF, Chicago Bulls

    According to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, Lauri Markkanen had been unhappy with the direction of the Bulls organization even before the league went on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    Markkanen was so displeased, in fact, that he went on to state that if the situation were to remain unchanged, he'd prefer to be elsewhere. The Bulls power forward was a fantasy mess in 2019-20 and some of that could be attributed to the coach and some of it, to his injuries. Still, his statements put the team in a rough spot. considering Markkanen has been widely regarded as a core piece of their future plans. The Bulls are already shaking things up though, making moves towards freshening things up in the front office. The Markkanen-Bulls relationship is a must-watch storyline, especially given his potential in fantasy hoops.

    Source: Chicago Sun-Times.

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Speaking on ESPN on Friday, Brian Windhorst said that there has been increasing pessimism about the NBA season resuming.

    Windhorst noted that the league has begun to discuss the financial ramifications of shutting the league down, and we've seen reports about the league looking for players to take paycuts as a result of the season's uncertain future. The fact that the CBA in China was set to resume and then delayed again is an ominous sign with NBA markets nowhere near the apex of COVID-19.

    Source: ESPN

  • Kobe Bryant
    SG, Los Angeles Lakers

    According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett will be inducted into the 2020 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

    Formal announcements will be made on Saturday, but it appears to be a done deal. The three aforementioned players helped define and then redefine the sport during their primes, making the 2020 class one of the most star-studded since Michael Jordan was inducted. Bryant, especially, who was often compared to his "Airness" will be a bittersweet entrant as the NBA and the world is still dealing with his sudden passing.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Zach LaVine
    PG, Chicago Bulls

    Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Bulls have begun their search for a top executive who will have full authority on basketball decisions.

    Interviews will begin next week, with Toronto GM Bobby Webster and Denver GM Arturas Karnisovas on Chicago's wish list. Ownership will have discussions with current GM Gar Forman about his place in the organization moving forward, whlie VP of Basketball Ops John Paxson is expected to move to an advisory role with the franchise. The Bulls have been lost in the wilderness for some time now, and it's mildly surprising that it's taken them this long to hunt for someone to take the power out of GarPax's collective hands.

    Source: ESPN

  • Michael Porter Jr.
    PF, Denver Nuggets

    Michael Porter Jr. said that his right ankle is now properly healed.

    Porter missed six games with a right ankle injury, and though he was able to play in nine of Denver's last 10 games (the absence was a DNP-CD) before the hiatus, he admitted that his ankle was still bothering him and he was playing through pain. MPJ flashed tremendous potential when given the appropriate minutes but it's going to be hard for him to hold fantasy value outside of deeper formats when the Nuggets are fully healthy — he topped 15 minutes just three times in those nine games. The silver lining of the league's suspension is that hurt and injured players are getting the chance to heal up, Porter included.

    Source: Denver Post

  • Kemba Walker
    PG, Boston Celtics

    Kemba Walker has been rehabbing his left knee while in quarantine, and says that it's "doing well."

    Walker actually played in the Celtics' last three games before the season was shut down but has missed a total of eight games this season (plus one in preseason) due to left knee soreness. It's clearly a chronic issue at this point, and fantasy GMs just have to hope that this lengthy layoff will help Walker get back to full strength if and when the season resumes.

    Source: MassLive.com

  • Meyers Leonard
    C, Miami Heat

    Meyers Leonard is still rehabbing his sprained left ankle and estimates that his recovery is at about 90%.

    Leonard shed his walking boot at the end of February but it's been slow going, as he's still not recovered despite getting hurt on February 3. The NBA hiatus might've saved Leonard's season, but even when healthy there won't be any fantasy appeal here despite some strong runs earlier in the campaign.

    Source: Anthony Chiang on Twitter

  • Nikola Jokic
    C, Denver Nuggets

    The Nuggets have announced that the person who tested positive for COVID-19 is now symptom-free.

    The team never said who tested positive, only that it was a member of the organization. The Nuggets have completed their 14-day quarantine, so hopefully all involved are able to remain healthy moving forward.

    Source: Mark Medina on Twitter