Wade Baldwin makes case for roster spot as Portland Trail Blazers beat Utah Jazz in NBA Summer League

Jul 08, 2018 | by Joe Freeman, The Oregonian

LAS VEGAS -- There were encouraging rookie debuts, double-doubles, a plethora of fourth-quarter highlights and heated exchanges.

But more than anything, as the Portland Trail Blazers opened NBA Summer League with a convincing 93-78 victory over the Utah Jazz, there was a whole lot of Wade Baldwin.

The player who entered the tournament saying he needed to go "full throttle" to cement a spot on the Blazers' regular season roster delivered in his summer league debut, recording a team-high 20 points and five assists. With a lethal mix of slashing layups, pull-up jumpers and powerful dunks, Baldwin often looked like the best player on the floor as the Blazers won with relative ease Saturday afternoon at Cox Pavilion.

"Wade was a dominant force," Gary Trent Jr., the Blazers' rookie guard, said. "I knew he was good, but I didn't know he was that good. He played phenomenal."

With Damian Lillard watching courtside, Baldwin made a strong first case that he not only deserves a roster spot, but perhaps even a rotation spot behind the Blazers' All-Star. Baldwin jumpstarted an early double-digit lead for the Blazers by handing out two assists and converting all three of his shot attempts in the game's opening minutes. The third shot, a pretty step-back jumper out of a pick-and-roll, gave the Blazers a 19-8 lead and offered a taste of things to come.

By the fourth quarter, Baldwin and the Blazers were rolling. During one memorable stretch, Baldwin hammered down a nasty two-handed dunk and swished a three-pointer to all but ice the game. The sequence started with the dunk, during which Baldwin breezed past Grayson Allen on the left wing and charged toward the hoop along the baseline, elevating for a powerful two-handed finish over 6-foot-10 center Tony Bradley. On the Blazers' next possession, Baldwin's no-doubt-about-it three pushed the Blazers' lead to 81-67.

By the end of the game, Baldwin had made 9 of 13 shots, including 1 of 3 three-pointers, logged a plus/minus of plus-22 and committed just two turnovers in 26 minutes.

"Wade was great," Blazers coach Jim Moran said. "We all know he can play the point. But just having him be able to kind of dictate, control, get guys where they need to be, slow down and talk to guys. I think more of a leadership role is what we've been looking for (from him) and I thought he did a great job today. Not just verbally, but with how hard he played, picking up defensively, just kind of setting the tone for us."

For Baldwin, it was the latest positive step in a career that started with promise but encountered an unexpected roadblock after just one season. He, of course, was drafted No. 17 overall by the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2016 NBA Draft and then surprisingly waived after just one season. The Blazers scooped him up and signed him to a two-way contract last summer. When he was finally added to the NBA roster late in the season, Baldwin earned a brief stint in the Blazers' rotation, in part because of his tenacious on-ball defense.

Even so, he entered summer league fighting for his NBA life. His contract with the Blazers only becomes guaranteed for the 2018-19 season if he is not waived on or before July 18, so he views summer league as a 10-day audition for a permanent job.

"Like I said, I'm full throttle," Baldwin said "I want to show them my entire game --assists, rebounding, pushing (the pace), defense, everything -- to guarantee my spot on the team. There's nothing more I want than to be part of an NBA team. I'm trying to collect years in this league. That's the hardest thing to do. That's what I'm in it for."

It was only one game at summer league. But it was another encouraging performance for a player inspired to land a spot in the NBA.

"My motivation is to play 82 games in an NBA season," Baldwin said. "I've yet to do that. I've been in the G League, (been) up and down, (been a) two-way guy. I want a complete season of 82 games, plus the playoffs, with an NBA team. That's my motivation."

Joe Freeman | jfreeman@oregonian.com | 503-294-5183 | @BlazerFreeman

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