Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Will Barton Makes a Splash

After getting solid play from Barton in spot minutes in Games 2 and 3 against the Spurs, Terry Stotts gave him his first extended run of the playoffs in Game 4. He responded with the kind of game that puts a young player on the map in the NBA - 17 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists on 7-13 shooting in 29 minutes.

Barton has always had the talent; he's just had a hard time cracking a Portland rotation stuffed with veterans in his first two seasons in the league. He declared for the draft after only two seasons at Memphis and after a two-year internship on the bench, he's now a 23 year old ready for a bigger role in the NBA.

At 6'6 175 with a 6'10 wingspan, Barton is an electric athlete with a solid all-around game who can impact the game in a number of ways. In his sophomore season at Memphis, he was the best player on a 30-win team, averaging 18 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.5 steals on 51% shooting.

In the draft process, I'm always a fan of guys who can stuff a stat sheet. Barton's length and athleticism allows him to impact the game as a defensive player and a rebounder and makes him almost impossible to stay in front of off the dribble. He has the skill to beat a defense from the perimeter (shooting 35% from 3 on 3 attempts a game as a sophomore) as well as create shots for his teammates if he is doubled.

He slipped in the draft for a number of reasons - his thin frame, his occasional bursts of wildness in college, doubt about Memphis program and their lackluster regular season schedule - but the biggest was circumstance. Barton had the misfortune of declaring for the draft in a year stacked with SG's - Bradley Beal, Terrence Ross, Jeremy Lamb, Austin Rivers and Evan Fournier were all taken ahead of him.

* Also - John Jenkins, Jared Cunningham, Orlando Johnson and Tomas Satoransky.

If he had stayed in school for his junior season, he would have been one of the best players in the country. Keep this in mind - he was in the same high school class as Victor Oladipo and he was a much, much better player in their first two seasons in college. Oladipo didn't explode on the scene until his junior season (when Barton was already in the NBA). He averaged 11 points and 5 rebounds on 47% shooting as a sophomore.

As the No. 41 pick in the draft, the odds were against Barton in the NBA, particularly in his rookie season, when there was little chance he was going to crack the rotation. This season, the signing of Mo Williams and the drafting of CJ McCollum pushed him further down the pecking order - the NBA is a business and an untested second-round pick has little chance of unseating a former All-Star or a lottery pick.

However, with their backs against the wall against San Antonio, Stotts had no reason not to roll out Barton and see what he could do. His athleticism and ability to attack the rim gives them another dimension on offense and improves their team speed on defense. His shooting percentages will come back to Earth if given more minutes, but he has a 22.7 PER in the playoffs for a reason - the guy can play.

Barton has little chance of unseating Wesley Matthews next season, but he could become a deadly 6th man for the Blazers. You want to bring guys off the bench who give your line-up a different look and change the complexion of the game and Barton has those qualities in spades. If Portland can't find a spot for him in the rotation, someone else will.

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