First off, I would like to acknowledge that Barton made the game winning shot in overtime that allowed Portland to complete their comeback victory over the Atlanta Hawks last night. It wasn’t pretty, it was certainly out of control, and it was probably a little bit lucky; but it was there. Good for him – Moving on.
I don’t want to talk about a single shot validating his erratic play, because it doesn’t. However; the improvements he made in last night’s game were unmistakable. Bear in mind, he is the same Will Barton that plays what I will call a “caffeinated” game, but for each step back his weaknesses proved to be, his strengths propelled him 2 steps forward.
Barton has taken a bit of heat for shooting like a drunken cowboy. This is nothing new, and, in fact, I am a perpetrator in this regard:
“Will Barton was… Will Barton. I.e.: a gaudy stat-line rooted in garbage time solo-work. He was far more relevant than Allen Crabbe, but whether that was good or bad is up for debate. Sometimes it’s better to lose as a team than salvage personal numbers with erratic play and volume shooting.”
– Some David MacKay guy, circa 5 days ago
One could make the argument that this was still the case last night, since he attempted just as many field goals as he did in the Blazers’ Summer League debut. The fact that he made 8-17 against Atlanta as opposed to 5-17 against Phoenix is irrelevant. I’d be lying if I said his shot selection was significantly improved.
Here is the important change I see – Will Barton successfully assisted his teammate on four separate occasions. This is not to be taken lightly. In the regular season, 4 assists is reasonable for a guard, but by no means exceptional. However, in Summer League, it’s worth noting. That benchmark has only been surpassed one time by any Blazer this week, and that was point guard CJ McCollum with 5 against the Lakers.
There are two reasons this happens in Summer League:
1) Players pass less in an effort to make enough shots to impress NBA scouts.
2) Non-NBA caliber players can’t finish worth a damn.
Barton was able to create good shots for his teammates, while at the same time scoring profusely and when it counted. Of course, he is still very raw, and those passes landed in opponents hands a total of 7 times, but at the very least he is looking to pass. The decision making will come with time and training (Portland collectively hoped).
As far as strength outshining weakness goes, I love his energy on the boards. Over the course of the past week, Barton has averaged more rebounds as a 6’5” shooting guard than Meyers Leonard has as a 7’1” center (6.0 compared to 5.5). He’s always at the glass, ready to reel in the rebounds.
The value of a guard that can get defensive rebounds is often overlooked. Will Barton is able to help set up the coming play immediately, allowing the center (in this case Meyers Leonard) to run the floor without hanging back to pass. It’s just a moment, but it is crucial for a quick offense (something Terry Stotts has brought to Portland).
Barton has always had a knack for rebounding. In five starts at the tail end of last season, Barton pulled in 13, 7, 9, 6, and 7 (an unprecedented average of 8.4). It would be a mistake for Portland to ignore this upside when determining their soon to be muddled guard rotation.
His biggest issue at this point is decision making. What’s this? A player that saw fewer than 15 hours of court time their rookie season struggles to make great calls? If the Blazers devote even a little bit of time to helping him hone his skills and soften his setbacks this season, that could change in a major way.
The important thing is that Will Barton is coming along as a player. Whether you like the form that player has taken is up to you. He’s not perfect (no kidding), but this work in progress is just that – in progress. Last night Barton played a solid game, and if you’ve been following along, you know there’s more where that came from.
Will Barton: 16 pts, 4 asts, 8 rbs, 1 stl, 3 PFs, 7 TOs – 47% shooting