Ron Baker is a borderline second-round pick in the 2016 NBA draft. However, it's also possible he goes undrafted on June 23.
But be wary of counting out Baker making it to the NBA. He had to walk on and redshirt as a freshman at Wichita State just to earn a spot on the roster. Before that, he had only two Division I scholarship offers: Arkansas-Little Rock and South Dakota State.
|Age||23 (Born March 30, 1993)|
|Wichita State Athletics|
Baker turned out to be a hidden gem, maturing into one of the best two-way guards in college basketball during his five years in Wichita, Kansas. The Shockers won more games during his eligibility than all but one program in college hoops: Gonzaga.
And the Shockers one-upped them during that stretch by knocking off the No. 1-seeded Zags during the round of 32 on the way to the Final Four in 2013.
Baker was the team's three-point specialist during that run but proved himself to be much more than just a shooter in his final three years.
"Ron's a player," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall told Bleacher Report during Baker's junior year. "He's not a prototypical shooter—a 2-guard who shoots it. He makes plays."
|Ron Baker by the numbers|
|Wichita State Athletics|
Baker hurt his stock as a senior by not putting up better shooting numbers. In addition to his three-point percentage dropping, he also made 0.5 fewer threes per game compared to his junior year.
"That dude could be a WWE wrestler," a scout said about Baker earlier this year.
Yes, Baker is jacked. He has a solid build despite falling on the shorter side of the professional 2-guard scale. He measured 6'4 ¼", 212.4 pounds with a 6'9 ¾" wingspan at the NBA Draft Combine, according to NBA.com, plus he also has enormous hands and long fingers.
Those measurements project well to the defensive side of the floor. It takes watching a lot of Baker in person to realize the kind of impact he makes on that end. He got the equivalent of a master's degree in defensive principles under Marshall, one of the top defensive coaches in college basketball. He's always where he's supposed to be and is disruptive both on and off the ball.
The Shockers finished No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency and were fifth in defensive turnover rate (percentage of possessions ending in a turnover) this past season, per KenPom.com. The team would mix up defenses, often employing full-court pressure or a half-court trap, and Baker was the point man.
In the half court, he moves his feet well guarding the ball, and both he and backcourt mate Fred VanVleet were masters at digging at drivers and shrinking lanes.
Baker's high basketball IQ also shows up on offense. He played both guard positions for the Shockers—serving as the backup at point guard to VanVleet most of the last three years. Marshall trusted him so much to play any spot on the floor that the first time he ever saw power forward minutes was in 2013's Elite Eight.
The Shockers ran a lot of ball-screen action, and Baker is best when getting his shots off the dribble. He doesn't have blow-by speed, but he knows how to set up his man using footwork and strength to create separation. He looks to make the right play more than to score; Much of Wichita State's offensive success was built upon making the extra pass.
Baker regressed as a shooter this past year. It seemed like he lost some confidence in his jumper. He still has solid form and a high release, so it's possible he eventually gets it back.
His speed is the other concern. He had the second-worst time in the three-quarter-court sprint among guards at the combine, per NBA.com, ahead of only Michigan State's Denzel Valentine.
But don't be fooled into thinking Baker is unathletic. He moves well laterally and has solid hops around the basket. He regularly blocked shots from behind in transition and was a strong finisher at the rim.
NBA Player Comparison
The Shockers are known for their attention to detail and playing extremely hard. Former Butler guard Shelvin Mack came from a similar program (both in stature and approach), and like Baker, his greatest strengths were intelligence and toughness.
Mack hasn't shot the ball great from deep in the league, but he's survived. This is a good sign for Baker. It's not easy to find players who understand the fine intricacies of defense and have a lot of pride on that end. That's what makes Draymond Green so special.
A team that values defense, toughness and isn't drafting Baker because of his shooting would be an ideal fit. If he's able to become a knockdown sniper, that would be a plus. But he's the type of young guy a coach can trust. A good example of this is last summer's Pan Am Games.
That Pan Am roster was a mix of pros and college players, and Baker played the second-most minutes on the team and the most among his college peers. That group included Valentine, Virginia's Malcolm Brogdon, Maryland's Melo Trimble and Baylor's Taurean Prince.
Baker outperformed them all.
This quote from USA head coach Mark Few after Baker helped the team come back from a 21-point deficit to beat the Dominican Republic is telling of his value, per USA Basketball: "It was not looking good. We waited until our backs were firmly pinned against the proverbial wall, and then we responded. Through that whole time, though, Ron Baker was just playing his tail off, and I think that kind of kept us alive."
Baker is going to battle in whatever role he plays, and that could convince a team to keep him on the roster.
Baker's stock definitely dropped because he went from being a plus-shooter to average for a guard.
If he doesn't get drafted, it'll likely be because of that decline. The worst-case scenario, whether he's drafted or not, is that he ends up in the D-League or overseas. He's not a guy who is going to put up huge numbers at those levels, but he could still earn a spot in the NBA by doing the little things that made him such a winner at Wichita State.
NBA teams are learning from success stories like T.J. McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova. Both guards went undrafted and have become regulars in the pros. During college, they were some of the toughest dudes in the country who excelled on the defensive end, had high character and played with great intelligence. Their success bodes well for a guy like Baker.
If he had shot it better this past year, he'd be a lock to get drafted, but he should still go late in the second round. He has a pro's body and will be able to defend at a high level right away. That's a hard combination to pass up on late in the draft.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.