SAN FRANCISCO -- Garbage time of games might seem meaningless in the grand scheme. Those minutes also are an opportunity for players to knock on the door and make an impression. Patrick Baldwin Jr. didn't just knock. He kicked and walked right through it Thursday night in the Warriors' 124-111 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.com Arena.
With the Warriors down by 20 points and 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, coach Steve Kerr waved his white flag on the first night of a back-to-back, putting Baldwin in for Kevon Looney and Moses Moody in for Jordan Poole. In the next 10 minutes, Baldwin displayed what could, and there's a strong argument that it should, earn him more playing time. Baldwin scored 11 points, going 4-for-6 from the field and 3-for-5 on 3-point attempts.
He was a plus-7 in plus/minus, meeting the eye test, and also grabbed two rebounds as the Warriors' youth showed more fight than their regulars. Baldwin's performance had him in Kerr's plans for the Warriors' game Friday night against the Houston Rockets. Then, when Draymond Green was ruled out during pregame to a right knee contusion, Kerr knew Baldwin was going to get his next opportunity.
"When Draymond was out, Baldwin was automatically elevated into the rotation," Kerr said.
For perhaps the last and final time, he took advantage of his chance. Not even 30 seconds into entering in the second quarter of the Warriors' eventual 116-101 win, Baldwin shot a rainbow behind the 3-point line from the right wing and sunk it for three points, extending the Warriors' lead to 13. He then hit his second three with 4:56 left in the second quarter to stop a 9-0 run from the Rockets.
Baldwin played 15 minutes off the bench, the most he has played in a game that wasn't a blowout in his rookie year. He scored 11 points, tied for his second most this season, giving him his third double-digit scoring night and second straight 11-point performance. The 20-year-old let it fly, finishing 4-for-8 overall and 3-for-5 from deep.
Kerr in his pregame press conference said he sees a "future rotation player" in Baldwin, and also compared his shot and defenders' difficulty to block him to Kevin Durant and Michael Porter Jr. The praise is high. And it's hard to argue.
"He was great," Kerr said after the win. "Patrick has been getting better and better. He spent a lot of time in the G League really working hard and getting a lot of good practice time. You can see the way he shoots the ball, but I was thrilled just to see the other areas of the game.
"He had a great verticality in the first half at the rim, which thwarted a layup for them. He just mixed it up a little bit and used his size and he's learning. He's a really good prospect."
The rookie added three rebounds -- two defensive and one offensive -- and one assist. Against the Lakers, he showcased a sweet up-and-under, and he finished strong at the rim vs. the Rockets after initially being blocked. Baldwin read the defense and cut to the basket at the perfect time, but he was swatted before he caught his missed dunk and immediately put it back up for a layup.
Donte DiVincenzo lauded Baldwin's confidence and mental strength, and Ty Jerome echoed his teammate.
"He's super mature for a guy his age," Jerome said. "Every time he's up here with us, he never knows if he's going to play. He comes in and you know what you're going to get from him. That's super impressive for a rookie, let alone what is he, 18 or 19? For a 20-year-old rookie, to know what you're going to get from him is super impressive to be reliable.
"He's shooting the crap out of the ball. I just know I don't have to tell him much."
Through 18 games, Baldwin now is averaging 5.7 points in 8.6 minutes. The young forward has made multiple threes in eight games and is shooting 47.5 percent as a 3-point shooter. Baldwin is a scoring threat unlike the rest of the roster.
Listed at 6-foot-9 but admittedly taller, he's every bit the Warriors' tallest player with James Wiseman traded. It's no surprise this team needs size, as seen again by the Rockets' 13 offensive rebounds Friday night. But Baldwin's shooting ability also allows him to be part of multiple lineups.
He can share the floor with Looney, the Warriors' only true center. Baldwin also pairs well with Draymond Green. Or even with both Looney and Green, bringing Golden State its longest lineups.
Plus, Baldwin doesn't play like a typical rookie. His feel takes over. Baldwin doesn't hesitate when he's ready to launch threes, and he makes the right play to get the ball out of his hands. He now has turned the ball over eight times this season, but never more than once in a game.
Fitting the Warriors' system takes time. The team's top pick from last year's draft is on the fast track.
"It's really exciting watching him play because the game kind of clicks when he's out there," Kerr said. "The ball moves and he has good feel for the game. His dad's a coach and he gets it. He understands it.
"But he's a young guy and he has a lot to learn, but he's on a great path because of the work that he's putting in every day."
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Baldwin's role is more important and needed when the Warriors don't have Green or Andrew Wiggins. Their additions also don't have to hurt him. Maybe it means leapfrogging Anthony Lamb or taking some time from JaMychal Green. Playing 20 or more minutes isn't a stipulation.
One way or another, though, Baldwin's skill set of stretching the floor as a smart big who keeps the flow going inside the offense is too tough to ignore. Kerr is sure Baldwin will be a key to the Warriors' future. Might Kerr concede it's time to accept the same can be said of the present?
Turning a blind eye looks harder and harder to do.