TUALATIN – There is quite obviously a dogfight going on in Trail Blazer training camp for positioning among the guards scrapping for playing time behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
There are the veterans – Seth Curry, Nik Stauskas and Wade Baldwin. And the rookies – Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons.
For sure, the vets have an edge. But there are still four exhibition games to be played and a lot more practices. Anything can happen.
But if there’s a bulldog in that dogfight, I think we can agree it’s Baldwin. And he knows he’s not yet where he wants to be on the Portland depth chart.
“It’s been tough,” Baldwin said Wednesday after practice. “You want to get in and you want to be in that second group. And right now I’m not.”
That’s a confession a lot of players wouldn’t make.
“You’ve got to keep fighting,” he said. “I’m not in that second group – not through the practices and not through what’s gone on so far.
“But it’s a long season, New things come about. I just have to do what I do.”
And as Trail Blazer fans know by now, what Baldwin does is play defense. HARD.
“He’s a good defender,” Lillard said. “He’s quick, he’s strong. He’s just present.
And with a smile, Lillard added, “He fouls a lot, too. He fouls on every play. But that’s how Memphis was. They foul so much the refs can’t call it on every play.
“He fouls but doesn’t think he fouls when we’re playing but every time you touch him, it’s a foul.”
Baldwin’s approach to defense is hard-nosed and he doesn’t back down to anyone.
“Defense is just effort,” he said “… understanding coverages and going out there and playing hard.
“For the most part, a lot of it is just pride. Defense is a “want.’ You have to want to get to a spot. You have to want to fight over a screen. That’s the effort I put forth that I think other players in the league don’t compare to me.
“That’s valued at a high level.”
Last season in his limited duty with the Trail Blazers and even during his summer-league stint, he was involved in a few scrums with opponents as a result of his physical play.
“I try to get in people’s head by just playing really hard, getting ‘handsy’ a lot, playing good defense,” he said.
“I’m in no position in the league right now to open my mouth and talk to anybody. I’ve proven absolutely nothing. I have no leverage over any guy like that.
“My mindset is keep your mouth shut, play hard that’s it.”
Coach Terry Stotts says Baldwin is having a good training camp.
“He’s doing well.,” Stotts said. “I think he understands his role on the team. What he can bring is defensive intensity, his athleticism. I think he understands his role on the team as far as being a backup point guard, the responsibility he has of running the offense.
“He came into camp very confident after a very good summer league.”
The rap on Baldwin has always been his shooting and he says he’s solved a problem by reconstructing his shooting form from his college days.
“The changes I made my rookie year, I had an entirely new shooting form that was kind of built into me forcefully,” Baldwin said. “I think now I’m bringing my own swagger and my own confidence back into my jump shot.
“When I got with Memphis they hired a shooting coach and I was a guy in college who was a top five three-point shooter in my league and shot 43 percent in college and got to the NBA and they changed my entire form for the entire year.
“When I got out of that situation in Memphis I got back to the way I shot. I think I showed that in summer league and last year and into this year.”
Baldwin is not shy about making a case for himself as Lillard’s backup.
“Obviously we have a superstar point guard in Damian Lillard right there so backing him up, I think I’m the best candidate for that,” he said. “I think I get everybody involved, know how to make players better and I can guard 1 through possibly 4, the way the NBA is going.
“Defense is my calling card but I don’t want to put a limit and a box to my game. I’ve always been an all-around player.”
And training camp is certainly the time to prove it.