LAS VEGAS – Earlier this week, Wade Baldwin promised he would play “full throttle” in this Las Vegas Summer League in order to prove he deserves the final roster spot on the Trail Blazers.
In Saturday’s opener, he showed just what full throttle looks like: 20 points, five assists and 9-for-13 shooting while spearheading the offensive and defensive attack that produced a 93-78 win over the Utah Jazz.
“That’s what I’m trying to bring for this team, for the Blazers,’’ Baldwin said. “You can count on me for that.’’
Baldwin and 7-foot-1 center Georgios Papagiannis are both playing with contracts that won’t become guaranteed unless they are not waived on or before July 18.
After the Blazers signed free agent Jusuf Nurkic on Friday, Porltand has 14 guaranteed roster spots, one below the league limit.
Baldwin, who was signed to a two-way contract by the Blazers last October, then brought on full-time in March, made a late-season impact with stellar defense against the likes of James Harden, Chris Paul and Manu Ginobili.
His defensive spark was impressive enough that he saw postseason play, and while the Blazers’ financial standing will probably play a big role in his future, so too will his Summer league play.
And on Saturday, his play looked like an NBA rotation player.
“No matter what the competition is – MVP of the league, rookie, undrafted guy … it doesn’t matter,’’ Baldwin said. “I’m coming full throttle for everybody.’’
That type of intensity led to one of the few blemishes of his opener: an ejection with 1:41 left in the game for a “hostile act” against Utah first-round pick Grayson Allen. Baldwin got tangled with Allen and threw a forearm across the rookie’s face.
“Two hot competitors, wanting to play at a high level,’’ Baldwin explained. “He is notoriously known for trying to trip guys, trying to throw elbows, and there were little things throughout the game – little pushes and stuff … got tangled up and we reacted.’’
Aside from the late-game flare up Baldwin was in control and calculated. He initiated the offense and tried to get teammates involved early before becoming aggressive with drives late in the game. He said that approach was learned from watching Blazers’ all-star Damian Lillard.
“It’s important to get guys going … it gets a rhythm going,’’ Baldwin said. “I’m watching Damian Lillard play all season: he’s relaxing, he’s relaxing, he’s being patient, getting CJ involved, he’s getting Nurk involved … I have the best point guard in the league to model after, and I think I did a good job of that today.’’
Summer League coach Jim Moran said Baldwin’s performance was “great” but added that it went beyond the statistics.
“We all know he can play the point. But having him be able to kind of dictate, control, get guys where they need to be, slow down and talk to guys … more of a leadership role is what we’ve been looking for,’’ Moran said. “And I thought he did a great job today, not just verbally, but with how hard he played, picking up defensively and just setting the tone for us.’’
In the process, Baldwin just might have set the tone for his contract becoming guaranteed.
“I want to show (the Blazers) my entire game – assists, rebounding, pushing (the ball), defense … everything to guarantee my spot on the team,’’ Baldwin said. “There’s nothing more than I want than to be a part of an NBA team. I want to collect years in this league. That’s the hardest thing to do. So, that’s what I’m aiming for.’’