MEMPHIS– The harsh truth was delivered by 19-year veteran Vince Carter early in the second quarter after Grizzlies rookie guard Wade Baldwin IV tossed a careless pass that resulted in a turnover.
At the next break in action, Carter wrapped his arm around Baldwin’s shoulders and leaned into his ear.
“Different league, different speed,” Carter told Baldwin at a pivotal point during the Grizzlies’ 102-97 victory over the Orlando Magic at FedExForum in Monday’s preseason opener. “You can’t get away with that stuff up here. It’s the NBA. Calm down, play the game and be smart. You’re too good.”
The biggest lesson Baldwin insists he’s learned through training camp as he prepared for his first NBA action was simple: To listen. After that moment of constructive criticism from Carter, Baldwin settled in for an encouraging debut in his quest to solidify the backup point guard job behind Mike Conley.
Baldwin made all five of his shots from the field for 15 points, dished four assists – and listened. He showed flashes of the aggressive playmaking, defensive tenacity and overall athleticism that convinced the Grizzlies to select him with the No. 17 pick in the first round of last June’s draft. But the five turnovers that stained his stat line Monday provided reminders that an equal dose of patience will be required to go with all of his promise and potential.
Baldwin’s best stretches against Orlando came when he played alongside Conley, who returned midway through the second quarter to run the offense. That adjustment gave Baldwin a chance to find a rhythm with his shot and his facilitating of the offense. Together, Baldwin and combo guard Andrew Harrison combined for 26 points and 10 assists and played heavy minutes in the second half as key veterans sat.
Carter and Conley said they have taken notice of Baldwin’s confidence, which they say can be a bit brash at times. But they also insist he’s humble enough to listen and apply the lessons they’re teaching.
“The turnovers were disappointing for me,” Baldwin said. “I don’t feel like too much of a young player right now. These guys do a great job of preparing me in practice and all offseason. I feel comfortable playing in any game of any magnitude, just trying to compete.”
If Baldwin learns and develops at the same rate of speed as he plays, he could address one of the most pressing concerns the Grizzlies face entering the season in search of reliable depth behind Conley.
The Grizzlies used a 17-4 run in the second quarter to flip a 40-33 deficit into a 50-42 lead just before halftime. That stretch included a 10-0 spurt that came with Baldwin and Conley playing together in the backcourt. Look for coach David Fizdale to continue to experiment with these sort of rotation combinations throughout the preseason in his mission to speed up the tempo.
It was essentially a ‘take-your-pick’ night of highlight dunks from former University of Memphis product D.J. Stephens. But the tomahawk flush on a lob pass from Harrison late in the third quarter was the type of nasty dunk that will have fans buzzing for days.
Mike Conley. After missing the final month of last season with an Achilles injury, don’t think the Grizzlies’ catalyst is taking any moment on the court for granted this preseason. Conley had 10 points, three steals and two assists in 17 minutes. But his most impactful work came during the timeouts, when Fizdale allowed his veteran playmaker to run several huddles and address the team.
Fizdale was most pleased with the disruptive defensive energy in the passing lanes that created 23 points off 23 Orlando turnovers. But the three-point shooting was problematic on both ends for Memphis, which went 5-of-24 from beyond the arc while Magic shooters broke free at an 11-of-24 clip.
Zach Randolph was not part of Memphis’ starting lineup that consisted of Conley, Troy Daniels, James Ennis, JaMychal Green and Marc Gasol. It could mean that Randolph, who had two points, five rebounds and a steal in 10 minutes, will again be asked to accept a reserve role this season. Or, it could just be Fizdale juggling lineups as he sorts through injury rehabs and rotation options in the preseason.
Grizzlies vs Hawks, 7pm Thursday at FedExForum.
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