Baldwin single-handedly changes the Horizon League in 2022
Patrick Baldwin Jr. — 247 Sports’ fourth ranked recruit and top ranked small forward in the 2021 class — will play next season for the Milwaukee Panthers. Baldwin is the son of Milwaukee’s head coach Pat Baldwin. He chose the Panthers over Duke and Northwestern, among dozens of other offers. Baldwin was considered a heavy Duke lean for much of the recruiting process. The announcement was made via the SportsCenter Twitter page:
Baldwin projects as a combo-forward longterm, but in the Horizon League the 6-foot-10 standout might end up being someone who can comfortably play just about anywhere on the court. Scouts projecting him to play for the blue bloods and the NBA have noted his size, ballhandling and especially his shooting as strengths that make him such an intriguing prospect at higher levels. Those strengths will only be amplified in a league where 6-foot-7 forwards average double-doubles.
The highly skilled forward has drawn some comparisons to Jayson Tatum in terms of his playing style, but it seems like a stretch to expect him to be as good as Tatum was at Duke in terms of impact. Tatum averaged 16.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game on an NCAA Tournament 2-seed in 2017. Jalen Johnson — who was the go-to-guy on Baldwin’s AAU team Phenom University — averaged 11.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game on this year’s Duke team that failed to make NCAA Tournament at all. Johnson did deal with injuries with the Blue Devils, but the information we have makes comparing the guy who deferred to him in AAU to Tatum difficult. As it turns out, the best example of the type of impact Baldwin could have for the Panthers might be a little closer to home for Horizon League fans.
Gordon Hayward was a star from day one at Butler. He earned First Team All-League honors as a freshman in 2009 and a sophomore in 2010 while sharing the workload with Matt Howard — who won League Player of the Year in 2009 — and Shelvin Mack — a First Team All-League pick in 2010. Hayward won Horizon League Player of the year in 2010 and led the Bulldogs to the National Championship where he was just inches from winning the title on a shot so great they still replay the miss every March. From there, he was selected ninth in the 2010 NBA Draft (with Mack joining him a year later for the start of an eight year NBA career). Baldwin is currently being projected in a similar spot to where Hayward was picked, in the back half of the Top 10 in 2022.
Obviously adding Baldwin to the Horizon League is wildly unlikely to wind up with Milwaukee playing for a National Championship. The team Hayward joined featured another Horizon League Player of the Year, another eventual longtime NBA player, a very strong supporting cast, and an elite coach in Brad Stevens. Nonetheless, adding a player even remotely as good as Hayward was would change the league’s outlook dramatically.
A player as talented as Baldwin would’ve shaken up the Horizon League in 2010 when Hayward played there, but the league’s downward slide since then makes the impact that one superstar can have even greater. This season, Horizon League Regular Season co-Champion and Tournament Champion Cleveland State is ranked 169 on KenPom. In Hayward’s last year in the league, six teams ranked higher than that with Cleveland State itself finishing ranked 152 despite a sub-.500 overall record of 16-17 and a 10-8 record in league play.
Milwaukee finished this year ranked 215 on KenPom, beating both Regular Season co-Champions Cleveland State and Wright State. Adding a player projected to go in the lottery based on his skills rather than his upside to a team in a league that doesn’t currently have any surefire future NBA draft picks could easily make up the 48 spot difference between the Panthers and Cleveland State if Milwaukee’s go-to players return. An interesting situation could emerge there, with Baldwin turning around and “recruiting” the Panthers’ key seniors back for the extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted players this season. His willingness to get teammates involved could also entice current Panthers who have shown enough talent to transfer up a level to instead stay with the team next year. As of now, junior leading scorer DeAndre Gholston and senior third leading scorer Josh Thomas have not announced they’re leaving, while senior Third Team All-League pick Te’Jon Lucas is testing the NBA draft waters but keeping the option to return open for another season.
Catching 73rd ranked Wright State would be a much tougher task, but it becomes more manageable if two-time Horizon League Player of the Year Loudon Love decides not to use the additional eligibility. The Raiders used an incredibly short bench and it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to run out two elite big men next year if Love doesn’t return. Regardless of what happens with Wright State, it seems clear that a player with Baldwin’s talents has the potential to turn the Horizon League’s eighth place team in 2021 into a contender in 2022.
Baldwin is now the highest ranked recruit to commit to a Horizon League school out of high school, beating out Ray McCallum Jr. who was ranked 26 in the nation when he committed to play for his father at Detroit Mercy in 2010. McCallum missed out on a 5-star ranking by one spot, which also makes Baldwin the first 5-star recruit to commit to the Horizon League out of high school. If he lives up to his current draft projections, he’d also become Milwaukee’s first NBA player.
Even beyond Baldwin Jr. and McCallum Jr., the Horizon League is no stranger to coaches’ sons who arguably opt to play “down” a level in order to play for their fathers. 2021 First Team All-Horizon League pick Antoine Davis just completed his junior season at Detroit Mercy playing for Mike Davis despite having the opportunity to play for Houston out of high school, and Virginia Head Coach Tony Bennett was a star for his father at Green Bay when the league was still called the Midwestern Collegiate Conference.
With Baldwin Jr. in the fold the Panthers could fly up the standings, especially if Gholston returns while Lucas and Thomas opt to use the additional year of eligibility. A 6-foot-10 forward ranked fourth in his recruiting class based on skills rather than purely athletic upside is likely to be a serious difference maker in a league that finds itself ranked in the 20s according to formulas like the one used on KenPom. League voters are generally reluctant to put newcomers on the Preseason All-League teams, but if Baldwin lives up to the hype he’ll surely end his season on a postseason team.