“I feel I’m the best wing in the draft.”
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did not say this. Neither did Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters, Jeremy Lamb, or Terrence Ross. Will Barton, a product of the University of Memphis, did. The former five were picked in the NBA Draft’s lottery. Barton was selected 40th overall. He thought he was more than just first-round talent, and now he is out to prove he can be the best of the best with the Portland Trail Blazers.
For those who followed Barton throughout his collegiate career, his confidence entering the draft was not surprising. The 6’6″, 178-pound shooting guard played with a fiery, cocky attitude that makes him such a good selection. He has an all-around offensive game, equipped with range well beyond the three-point line, post-up moves, and a desire to slash to the rim. He wears his emotion on his sleeve and plays with constant enthusiasm and pizazz.
Barton led Memphis as a sophomore last season, scoring a team-high 18 points per game while becoming just the ninth player in team history to surpass 1,000 points for his career. And he needed only two seasons to reach that milestone. Along with his scoring output, he averaged eight rebounds, three assists, and a steal per game. It is no wonder, then, that he believes he did enough to warrant a first-round selection. He was projected in many mock drafts to either go to the Indiana Pacers with the 26th pick or the Chicago Bulls with the 29th.
“I think I’m in the (No.) 17-29 range,” Barton said to the Commercial Appeal. “I think I’m a first- … I mean, I know I’m a first-rounder. I just don’t know where I’m going. Your guess is just as good as mine.”
That he dropped all the way to 40th has to add to the chip that is already on Barton’s shoulder. And that can only benefit Portland.
His wiry thin build may have caused teams to stray away, but Kevin Durant couldn’t bench press 185 pounds at the combine either, and he is among the elite players in the league. This is not mean to compare the two, but Durant has shown that strength isn’t necessarily a quality that is needed to excel in the NBA. And Barton knows he will excel as is.
“It’s going to be important for me to just keep gaining strength as I’ve been doing in all of the stages in my career,” he told DraftExpress.com. “I’ve always been skinny, but I’ve just added strength. I’ve always been skinny, but I’ve always produced. So, I’m going to just keep working on it and really just let my game speak for itself.”
He isn’t the only one who thinks his game will do the talking. He drew high praise from multiple outlets following the draft.
Said ESPN’s Chad Ford (Insider only), who had him ranked 27th on his list of 100 prospects:
“Barton is one of the smoothest scorers in college basketball. He can score from anywhere on the floor and can get buckets in a hurry. His long, lanky frame makes him a tough guard. He can be a game-changing defender on the perimeter and is an excellent rebounder for his size.”
“Barton was a nice get in the second round,” Ford added, as he handed out the draft grades. “He’s got a great midrange game, is a good athlete and has a scorer’s mentality. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in a few years, he supplanted Wes Matthews as the starting two guard in Portland.”
“We felt like he didn’t have one defined skill. We felt like he is a very versatile player. He does a lot of things. He’s a great rebounder from the wing position. He can get to the basket a little bit. He has to get a bit stronger to finish in there at our level. He’s a high energy defender. He’s got some length to him. We just felt like there were a lot of traits about him … that could lead to a rotational player at our level. We felt Will was a first-round talent, and when he fell we were very ecstatic to get him at 40.”
Barton will undoubtedly play angry, given his slide into the mid-second round, but he should be happy about falling into Portland’s lap. Though nothing is a guarantee for second-round picks, he should find a meaningful spot on the team out of the gate. The Blazers are thin at the guard position, with Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford not returning. While Damian Lillard, who was selected sixth-overall, will take Felton’s spot, Barton could fill Crawford’s very nicely.
He was right to be so confident entering the draft. After all, he averaged more points and more rebounds per game than Kidd-Gilchrist, Beal, Waiters, Ross, and Lamb. And don’t think he doesn’t know that, either.
“Teams think I’m a pure [shooting guard] and when I’m hitting my shot I’m really dangerous,” he told DraftExpress.com. “I’ll play whatever my coach wants me to. Like I said, my versatility is what’s making me really appealing. At any time, you can put me at one of those three positions and I’ll be effective. So, [shooting guard] is my position but I’ll play whatever the coach needs me or wants me to do.”
Given his mentality and skill-set, it is hard to see him not playing well. And that means Portland will have yet another offensive threat on their hands, a talent other teams will regret passing on.