Stay or go? For Shockers’ Ron Baker, it could depend on how he plays in March
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The man crush has an asterisk. It’s more of a "like" than a "love," a reference with the kind of awkward pauses you could drive a semi through.
"There’s a limited ceiling on a guy that’s a 6-4 shooting guard, who’s not a great ballhandler, and he’s not going to be that guy that creates a lot of offense," Jonathan Givony, the brains behind the meticulous NBA scouting site DraftExpress.com, says of Ron Baker, the brawn behind the 16-2 Wichita State Shockers. "He’s a good outside shooter, but he’s still just a (39) percent 3-point shooter. He’s not a Kyle Korver."
Which begs the question, naturally: So what is he? Big combo guard? Scoring point man? Perimeter specialist? The NBA likes its roles and definitions, and the 6-foot-4, 222-pound Baker is a tweener, a basketball iconoclast, an archetype unto himself, a star in the margins.
"I think he’s solid," Givony says of Baker, whose No. 14 Shockers (6-0 Missouri Valley Conference) visit Missouri State on Wednesday night. "I think he’ll get some looks at the end of the first (round), but he’s not had the kind of year that you would’ve hoped."
No. 31 will be an NBA player. The game fits, the body fits, the skill set fits, the IQ and instincts are off the charts. It’s just a matter of when.
And there’s no wrong answer in Baker’s world; it’s just a matter of gauging which one is more … well, right.
This summer? Or the next? Stay? Or go?
Baker reportedly filled out an NBA Draft evaluation form last spring before electing to return for his junior year with the Shockers, putting everyone on notice that 2014-15 might well be the last lap of what’s been an incredible college ride.
Although lately, you do start to wonder a bit about that last assumption. Baker is 36th on Givony’s latest mock, projected as the No. 6 pick in the second round. But the off-guard is nowhere to be found in the one posted at NBADraft.net on Jan. 14. The consensus seems to be that there isn’t really a consensus. Yet.
At the Nike Skills Academy last year, Baker reportedly measured 6-4 in shoes with a 6-foot, 8 1/2-inch wingspan. He camped at academies headed up by LeBron James and Chris Paul. Combo guards — point guard skills, point guard quicks, wing guard range and a score-first mentality — are en vogue in the association, thanks to the meteoric rise of names such as Damian Lillard in Portland and Goran Dragic in Phoenix. Some project the Shockers’ standout, as with Kansas State off-guard Marcus Foster, as a possible fit for that particular subset.
But while Baker has been handling the ball as the Shockers’ backup point guard when Wichita pilot Fred VanVleet needs an occasional blow, his assists per game (2.3 this winter) are actually down nearly one whole dime per game compared to last season’s pace (3.1). The Scott City native’s points per game (16.3 as opposed to last year’s 13.1) and shots (11.9 attempts per game; 8.9 a year ago) are up, but that was to be expected on a roster that was going to need him to shoot more and score more with forward Cleanthony Early out of the picture.
"I actually think (Foster) is more of (an NBA) point guard than Ron Baker is," Givony says. "Just because he can really create his own shots, he can pick and roll, he can get to the rim, he can get to the free-throw line.
"Where with Ron, I don’t see him as a high-volume shot creator. He’s not going to get around people. He’s not going to finish around people. He’s not going to be a great transition player."
To be fair, without Early’s presence, Baker is Public Enemy No. 1 (and maybe No. 2, too) on just about every opposing team’s scouting report. And yet while his baseline percentages have flattened out since the start of the new year — he’s averaging 14.2 points and shooting .364 from the 3-point arc in January — the advanced metrics tracked on Sports-Reference.com haven’t registered many serious dips.
Baker’s effective field-goal percentage, which gives added weight to 3-pointers, is .558, slightly above his career total of .556. His offensive rating of 124.1 (as in points scored per 100 possessions) is roughly at his career mark of 124.2, while his defensive rating of 91.2 (points allowed per 100 possessions, and lower is better) is a new career best. Ditto a win-shares-per-40-minutes ratio of .243, having posted a .218 as a sophomore and a .163 as a freshman. Baker’s 3.6 total win shares is tied for tops in the MVC with Northern Iowa forward Seth Tuttle.
"He’s kind of doing what he did last year," Givony says. "Which is fine. But they’re not, maybe, as good of a team (as last season)."
This summer? Or the next? Stay? Or go?
In Bracketville, the microscopes will come out again. And so will the scouts.
"It depends on how (Wichita) finishes the year," Givony continues.
"Once the MVC starts, people kind of back off a guy like that. (NBA teams say), ‘Let’s see how he does in the (NCAA) Tournament.’ If Cle Early doesn’t have that big game (last March) against Kentucky, maybe he doesn’t get drafted at all."
Playing in the margins is fine. The trick is not winding up getting lost in them.