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Blazer's Edge Mailbag: Will Barton

Dave answers a bevy of questions about Portland Trail Blazers guard Will Barton.


Happy Monday!  Here's a passel of Mailbag questions about Will Barton.


Since it's the preseason, I think Stotts should do something wacky, and bear with me here. Wouldn't it be productive for (before a game started) Stotts to just pull, say, Will Barton aside and just tell him straight-up:

"Okay, in this game I want you to take 0 shots." (It's an arbitrary number, I know, probably 1 or 2 shots would be more realistic, in case he's alone on a fast break).

Don't you think this would be effective, to get Barton out of his comfort zone and become a more productive player. After one game, maybe he'll go back to normal, but I suppose you could continue this throughout the entire preseason, slowly bringing up the number of shots allowed. You could apply this to all players as well - e.g. "No pull-up threes this game, Damian", or "Only hook-shots, layups and dunks this game LaMarcus".

The idea is to get players to see what happens when they play a different way, hopefully, in the case of Will Barton, it would mean, come Opening Night, he will have reached a 'happy-medium' where he still shoots, but takes less ill-advised shots.

Whaddya think?


I hear ya, and you're right that it's an interesting (and sure to be wacky fun) idea.  But those kind of steps really only work in movie montages.  A coach can steer a player towards a certain style of play or growth area, e.g. "We'd like you to get more assists, Nicolas."  But each player is, in essence, an independent contractor who got to the highest level of his profession based on a certain skill set.  Even if a player has glaring weaknesses, you can't ask him to abandon the skill or style that got him to the show in favor of something he doesn't do well.  That makes no sense for him.  SBNation recruited me as a writer covering the Blazers.  If they turn to me now and say, "We need you to round out your game by tap dancing while talking about the Minnesota Vikings, so no more Blazer-related articles," I'd think they were crazy.  If that's the job they wanted done they should have hired someone else.  If you're going to use me, let me do the things I do best.

You have to be especially careful with young players.  Adjusting to the NBA is tough.  Some players get their confidence shaken early and never recover.  In the first year or two you just want to see if a player has a place in this league.  That means letting him excel in whatever way is most natural.  Once you establish he has enough ability to make it, then you start emphasizing the points that are missing, hoping he'll find enough traction to round himself up to a real player.  Barton hasn't reached that point yet.  We're still figuring out whether he's going to make it or not.   The expectations for Lillard are higher so his growth curve is accelerated, but even he still has a while to learn these things.  We're still looking for his ceiling more than his breadth.

Also remember that few players in the NBA do everything well ("well" being defined as excelling compared to their NBA peers).  Most players have 1 or 2 strong points then strive to become competent enough to not get exposed in their weaker areas.  If Barton becomes an individual scorer first, everything else second, he wouldn't be the first player to fit that profile.  The world needs Cedric Ceballoses and Nick Van Exels too.


I got into a debate with fellow Blazers on the topic of Will Barton a couple days ago, and while all of them said several times "He's too wild" and "He's not a good role player" i remain convinced that he's capable of being a piece in the Blazers future. His explosivness and ability to create offense by him self is a preview of him developing into a raw scorer, and as he's now progressed through his rookie season, a second summer league and training camp I think his added experience is the first step into helping his poor descision making. You can't teach talent but you CAN teach basketball IQ and I think Stotts and Co. can turn this piece of coal into a diamond.


I think your general conclusion has merit...or at least merits a "wait and see" approach.  Barton hasn't been around long enough to reach a conclusion on his eventual worth.  Your friends are correct that right now he's wild, but he plays more under control now than he did a year ago.  That cuts both ways, of course.  Plenty of explosive, creative offensive players can't make the NBA.  Check out the And-1 tour for a generous sample.  We don't know whether Barton will develop or not.  Since the Blazers have him under contract, they might as well take some time and see.  At this point there's no harm done either way.

I would disagree with your assertions at two points:

1.  Basketball IQ is just as hard to teach as any skill.  If a guy really doesn't have court sense, that's not something that book learning or yelling will instill.  Players do get older and wiser, but a significant part of that age-related growth comes from acclamation and technique.  Guys get more comfortable and more efficient, thus looking "smarter".  I guess this qualifies as "Basketball IQ", but it's less an internal development than a way of interacting with the environment.  The point being, guys who just don't see how they relate to that environment in the first place can't be taught to be floor generals any easier than guys who just don't leap well can be taught to dunk.  I am NOT suggesting Barton is one of those guys.  Like I said above, who knows?  He's young.  Neither am I saying that such players are dumber or worse at basketball than other players.  Some of them are phenomenal.  But phenomenal players often have a hard time translating their individual games into 5-on-5 professional ball.

2.  I understand what you mean by Stotts and company affecting Barton's game, and they will.  But in the final analysis Will Barton is responsible for turning coal into diamond, not his coaches.  All they can do is show him the path.  He has to walk it.  If he sees the necessity, grasps the game, and has the perseverance to work at it he could become a fine player.  If not, that's not the responsibility of the coach.  Nor would his failure to achieve that level of success be the fault of his coaches.  Coach Stotts will tell Barton what he needs to do in order to contribute and gain playing time.  It's up to Will to actually do it.


The Blazers have been wasting pick after pick over the last three years and it frustrates me to no end.  In my estimation Will Barton is the next in a long line of blown picks.  Your thoughts?


Barton was drafted in the second round, 40th overall, in 2012.  Even if you want to pass judgment on him this soon, it's not possible to waste second-round picks.  If they see any floor time you're ahead of the game.  If they don't pan out you ended up even with just about every other team picking in the second round.  In neither case are you behind.  In neither case could the pick be described as "wasted".  There just aren't that many alternatives and the good ones are hard to find.


Victor Claver, Will Barton, Meyers Leonard, and Joel Freeland.  Which has the best chance at a long and impactful career?


Meyers Leonard will always have a place in this league because he's a 7-footer with offensive ability.  Even if he doesn't develop much farther than he is now he should be able to parlay his skills into a near-permanent spot on benches around the league.  That's his floor.  Everything north of that increases his impact.  So I'll say Leonard, hands down.

Among the other three there's tension between "long" and "impactful".  Barton clearly has the most potential to deliver impact.  But his strengths are clustered on offense, individual and athletic.  Take away the athleticism, grant opponents the ability to defend him consistently, and he has little left to rely on.  That makes his bust potential high.

Claver is a more well-rounded player but has nowhere near the offensive ceiling of Barton and may not have enough talent to survive in the NBA period.  Ditto Freeland.  Either might be welcome as a reserve but that's as high as you expect them to fly.  Neither one has distinguished himself enough to guarantee a long career, though either might provide more impact than Barton is able to generate in any given game right now.

In October of 2013 I'd say Barton still has a better chance at a full NBA career than either Claver or Freeland, but that could change quickly depending on his growth curve.  That said, I'm not holding my breath.

Share your thoughts on Will Barton below and send any Blazers questions that interest you to the e-mail address below with "Mailbag" in the subject line.

--Dave (