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Penn State basketball: Scouting report on VCU transfer PG Ace Baldwin

Learn more about Penn State basketball point guard Ace Baldwin ahead of the 2023 season.



Ace Baldwin, Penn State Basketball
Mar 17, 2023; Albany, NY, USA; Virginia Commonwealth Rams head coach Mike Rhoades watches his team against the St. Mary's Gaels during the first half at MVP Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Penn State Basketball team went through some radical changes this offseason. Head coach Micah Shrewsberry led the Nittany Lions to their first NCAA tournament bid since 2011 but used the success to land the job at Notre Dame in his home state of Indiana. His departure and other circumstances led to the transfer of 4 players including freshman starter Kebba Njie and freshman spark plug Evan Mahaffey. This was a huge blow to an already thin roster that saw most of the NCAA tournament rotation graduate or leave early for the NBA draft in Seth Lundy’s case. This left new head coach Mike Rhoades with just 3 returning players. The transfer portal was Rhoades’s preferred route to fill out the roster, eventually bringing in a huge transfer class of 9 players. The most important player in that group was Junior point guard Ace Baldwin Jr.

Penn State basketball: Scouting report on VCU transfer PG Ace Baldwin

Ace is a 6’0 PG from Baltimore, Maryland that was a 3-star in the 2020 high school recruiting class. He spent 3 years at VCU and was a starter from day 1. Ace followed Rhoades from VCU to Penn State following a fantastic season. Ace led VCU to  A-10 regular season and tournament championships averaging 12.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 2.2 steals a game on a shooting slash of 42.1/34.2/79.5. He was first team all A-10 and took home A-10 Player of the Year and A-10 defensive player of the Year. Ace was the first player to commit to the Penn State basketball team in the transfer portal and was an important piece in attracting other players to join the program including his VCU teammate Nick Kern Jr. 

Like many people in the fan base, I did not watch a lot of VCU last year so I did not know a lot about our new star. From watching your average highlight video you can tell that Ace is a strong player that uses ball screens a lot. He gets to his spot in the mid-range and is a proficient scorer. He also uses his length well on both ends and seems to control the offense. Now let’s dig a little deeper and see what some underlying numbers and full-game films show us. Credit to “College Basketball Scouting” for providing a great breakdown on how Ace operates statistically and “Mistachill” for uploading many complete VCU games including the February 3rd, 2023 matchup against Saint Louis and the March 12, 2023 matchup against Dayton that I used for this breakdown. 

Let’s start on the defensive side of the ball because plainly, Ace is just awesome here. This is hardly surprising considering his DPOY honor this past year in the A-10. The eye test can just tell you a ton right off the gate. He pressures his matchup full-court all game if they are the lead ball handler. Ace uses his length extremely well off-ball, just swarming to the ball and creating havoc for the opposing offense. He is a versatile defender switching between pressuring the opposing lead guard to play prevent on a shooter seamlessly. The stats tell a similar story on this end. Ace has averaged over 2 steals a game all 3 years at VCU, and he has a very impressive 3.9% steal rate. He projects to immediately come in and be the Penn State basketball team’s best guard defender and shouldn’t have any problems on that end adjusting to the Big Ten. He is more than long, strong, and fast enough to hold his own from day 1 in the conference. 

On offense, Ace can be a big-time scorer or facilitate well and bring the team up which was shown in full force in the 2 games I watched. Something to keep in mind as we discuss his offense is that the VCU offense sucked last year through no fault of his own. The spacing on the team was legitimately horrible, starting 3 non-shooters, which made operating a lot harder for Ace. To give a better idea of what I mean, in one of the games I watched, Ace was the only player on the team to hit a three.

Against Dayton in the A-10 Championship game, we got a great look at Ace Baldwin’s pure PG abilities as he racked up 7 assists and just controlled the pace of the game for large stretches. He operates mostly in the pick and roll, playing there as the ball handler 48% of the time resulting in 0.86 points per possession which is the 71st percentile in the country. Ace keeps his eyes up at all times and is always looking out for his teammates. Because of this he is very gifted at finding cutters, like his current teammate Nick Kern, and can always punish the defense for falling asleep. He handles pressures and traps very well, finding those pockets of space to make some spectacular passes to the big rolling off the screens. 

While the counting stat of 5.8 assists per game shows a solid but not great playmaker, his 31% assist rate shows just how special of a passer he is. He picks up his dribble too fast at times off screens but even when he does he never panics. He is patient enough to wait for the passing lanes to open up and hit the right guy. Sometimes however those passing lanes do not open up, and that doesn’t always stop Ace. He has a 19% turnover rate, which mostly comes from attempting some very difficult passes. He is a player Penn State should immediately be able to rely on to run some efficient offense and get everyone involved as this team learns its roles and develops chemistry.

In the Dayton game, he also showed a dimension of his game I hope we see explored more with the Penn State basketball team this season. He knocked down 2 catch and shoot threes, one off of a nice relocation, and the numbers say he needs more of those opportunities. He is an elite catch-and-shoot shooter, being in the 97th percentile on catch-and-shoot jumpers on an absurd 68% EFG. When he has time to set his feet, get square, and has some space he is an absolute knockdown shooter. 

The problem is he does not move much off the ball to get free and get those opportunities, and when a defender does close the space, he does not attack that well. You would expect with that incredible shooting he would be very efficient in spot-up situations, but he is in spot-up situations 19% of the time resulting in 0.93 PPP which is just 52nd percentile in the nation. He struggles to attack a close-out and get to his spot, often making poor reads, taking an off-balance jumper that is not needed, or just backing up and resetting the offense. Hopefully playing with another PG in Kanye Clary and others who are used to having the ball like RayQuawndis Mitchell can help Ace get more catch-and-shoot looks. 

In the Saint Louis game, we get a way better look at Ace’s scoring. He lit up the box score this game, scoring a career-high 37 points. His navigation of ball screens is really what jumps out right away. He uses them so well to get space for his smooth pull-up jumper which he can knock down in bunches. He can get that shot off in pretty much any situation thanks to his speed and how fast his release is, making it a fantastic bailout shot for the offense, similar to Jalen Pickett’s step-back three or post fadeaway. He controls the pace well, rarely getting sped up or slowed down similar again to Pickett. The difference here is that Ace likes to go fast, a lot. He loves to get a ball screen as high as possible so he can get a full head of steam attacking the opposing bigs. Then he either tries to get by or through them on a drive or stops on a dime for the mid-range pull-up. 

He gets in trouble sometimes when he goes for a runner and is just going too fast to make it accurate but overall his driving ability is impressive. 28% of his FGAs at the rim on 55% shooting which is solid for a 6-foot PG. His speed certainly helps here, but his acceleration and change of pace are not great, so he rarely blows right by opposing guards. Because of this, I would categorize him more as a strong driver. Using his strength to go right into the body of his defender and get them off balance to then either fade back for a mid-range or use his length to get the ball up around them. 

Ace is not afraid to pull up from anywhere no matter what advanced analytics say. He routinely will pull up from just inside the three-point line if that is where he can get space. Don’t worry though he isn’t afraid of the deep shot either. 19% of FGAs come from left above the break threes on 33% shooting and another 16% of FGAs come from right above the break threes on 30% shooting. The degree of difficulty on some of these shots leads to the percentage not being great but there is no worry on the jumper. His mechanics are great. It is a compact, fast, and easily repeatable jumper that is just completely fundamentally sound. He has a great ability to get square and on balance no matter where he is trying to pull up from. He also had a high release point and that mixed with his length and speed makes the shot hard to block despite only being 6 feet tall. 

Where can Baldwin’s game improve?

It is not all perfect though obviously. The main issue is Ace’s overall shot selection. With how bad the VCU offense was Ace often found himself taking less-than-ideal shots for a good offense. He had just .87 expected points per shot and it mostly just comes from tough pull-ups, bad runners, and getting walled off inside. Specifically, the areas you want to see him improve are spot-up opportunities like mentioned before, and in transition where he gets just 0.78 PPP which is a terrible 16th percentile. Both areas boil down to the same thing, he struggles in 1v1 situations. He forces bad pull-ups and doesn’t let things evolve enough in both situations. He needs to learn to leverage his speed and shot better to get better looks inside, and he needs to just slow down a bit there to let the offense develop a bit. 

Ace Baldwin Jr. immediately projects to be the star of this Penn State team. His familiarity with Rhoades and the VCU system, ability to put the ball in the basket, and passing chops make him the ideal point guard to start this new era of Penn State basketball with. There will be some growing pains for sure as Ace gets adjusted to the better athletes and more talented players of the Big Ten, and as he works to get chemistry with his new teammates. However, it’s not all bad changes. This Penn State roster projects as a much better-spaced team which will give Ace a lot more room to operate. At the very least Ace should provide PSU fans with a ton of fun moments in what should be a very interesting season.

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