Barton Proves His Worth In Las Vegas
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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Draft night 2012 was not an enjoyable experience for Portland Trail Blazers guard Will Barton.
Barton, an All-Conference USA first team selection this past season at Memphis, had aspirations of being selected in the early 20’s. In his mind, he was a lock to go in the first round. It was not without reason, either. He out-performed many of the shooting guards who were selected before him in pre-draft workouts, yet he did not hear his name called by NBA Commissioner David Stern.
It was not until the 40th selection that the nightmare ended Barton.
Once the frustration passed from his unexpected slide down the draft board, the realization hit Barton that he landed in a great situation with the Trail Blazers. They are in rebuilding mode and he has a chance to be a major part of that process.
At the Las Vegas Summer League Barton, who the team officially signed last week, averaged 15 points, four rebounds and two assists in five contests. He played his best basketball late, recording 21 points on 8-11 shooting in a win against the Denver Nuggets and 27 points on 10-17 shooting in a blowout victory against the Miami HEAT. While he was trying to make a case for early playing time, there was also a part of him who wanted to prove a point to every team that passed on him.
“Yeah, there is a little something extra,” Barton said to HOOPSWORLD when asked about his motivation level. “I thought I was going to go mid-to-late first round, but it did not work out that way. I am fortunate, lucky that Portland drafted me. I am just trying to make the best opportunity of it. I am not thinking of the draft any more, I am where I am. Now it’s just about trying to be one of the best players in the NBA. It is going to take a lot of work. I’m willing to put it in.”
Barton was coached by Kaleb Canales, who is the perceived-favorite to get the Trail Blazer’s head coaching job, in summer league. Barton clicked with him immediately, forming chemistry that should carry over into the regular season if Canales is indeed hired.
“He is a great coach,” Barton said. “He is a player’s coach. He is real hands on and has a great personality. He is real excited about the game, teaches a lot. He is just a great fundamental coach. He is really hands on about learning the game and just getting better.
“I feel like it has been good, just a process. I feel like I’m getting better every day, learning every day and just trying to sink in as many details as I can.”
One of the things that stood out about Barton during the pre-draft process was his confidence. Barton openly stated that he felt he was the best wing in the class, which is not a mentality that Canales wants him to abandon although it may have affected his stock on draft night.
“Coach just wants me to be aggressive,” Barton said. “He thinks I am a big time talent and just wants me to play with confidence each time out. He wants me to just keep defending. He feels with my athleticism and length that I can be a real shut down defender. He also wants me to attack the rim and make winning plays. That is what I have been trying to do.”
Joining Barton in the backcourt on the summer league team has been fellow rookie guard Damian Lillard, who the team selected sixth overall. He was no slouch in summer league himself, averaging 26 points, four rebounds and five assists in four contests. Lillard is slated to be the Trail Blazer’s point guard of the future, and perhaps the present as well. His performance has Barton really excited to play and grow alongside him for the next few seasons, and hopefully many more after that.
“Lillard is a big time guard,” Barton said. “He can put up points in a hurry and sees the floor very nice. He is also tough. That’s the thing I like about him. He does not back down. He plays with that chip on his shoulder, reminds me of myself. He can really play. He is second to none when it comes to being able to perform and talent wise. I really respect his game.”
With summer league completed Lillard and Barton will get ready for the next step: training camp. Expectations are not very high for the Trail Blazers due to all the changeover on the roster, but if their rookie guards pick up where they left off in Las Vegas they could be back in the playoff mix sooner than everyone expects.