For those of you who might still be smarting from the Trail Blazers choosing not to made a trade to acquire a pick in the 2014 Draft, Will Barton is here to assuage your concerns. While the 2014 class goes down as one of the most hyped in recent memory, Barton says he’s confident the that he and his fellow young players can more than hold their own against the a bunch of rookies.
“I’m not worried about no kid coming from college,” said Barton before the draft. “I don’t feel like any of them kids are better than me, one through 60, that’s about to get drafted. That’s just honest. I’m saying, I don’t think no one in that draft is better than CJ (McCollum) or AC (Allen Crabbe).”
While Portland’s front office might not go that far when it comes to comparing the talents of the players just drafted to those already on their roster, they’ve made it clear that they like their collection of young players, so much so that they’re banking on the development of guys like Barton, McColllum and Crabbe to provide the infusion of talent they’ll need to keep pace in the Western Conference.
Portland probably could have made a trade to acquire a first or second round pick at some point during the 2014 Draft, but the cost of doing so, both in terms of what they’d have to give up and how another new player would impact the development of those already on the roster, wasn’t worth the price. So rather than neutralizing the growth of players already on the roster by bringing in more young players, Portland is going to ride with their young talent, a tact that Barton is obviously onboard with.
“Our approach is: Just give us a shot,” said Barton. “We’re still young, just as young as half the kids in that draft. You know what I mean? We’ve got youth but we got experience, so why not stick with guys like me, AC, CJ, T.Rob and Meyers and just let us grow and see what happens? I’m not a GM, I’m not a coach, so I don’t control that. I just control my work ethic.”
Which is why, despite scheduling himself three weeks of vacation, Barton got back into the gym early with the intention of proving he’s ready for a bigger role in 2014-15. That “work ethic” Barton says he controls does take on a mind of its own from time to time.
“With me it’s weird, because I tell myself before I’m going to take two, maybe three weeks off, and as it starts progressing I start feeling bad,” said Barton. “Like I’m not in the gym, I’m not getting better. Someone is getting better and I want to be the best so I’m like, I might start going in the gym early just because, when I’m away from the gym for a long time, I just don’t feel right.”
So spurred by his desire to improve, Barton is back in Portland participating in structured workouts with the Trail Blazers’ coaches. He’s been especially focused on improving his skills at point guard, which is something he’s been steadily working on since last season.
“We’ve been thinking about it since last summer,” said Barton of playing the point. “Mo (Williams) might be coming back, Mo might not be coming back, but it was something I was thinking about either way. That’s my whole thing, I really never worry about what’s going on around me because I can’t control that. I can’t control if Mo comes back or if he does. I can’t control if Coach chooses to play Mo or if he doesn’t. My thing is: What can I do? So I wanted to sharpen my skills at point guard. I feel like I have a mindset for it and a skill set for it, so now it’s just like, let’s put it into action and see how he look doing it. I feel like, so far, I’ve been looking real good doing it.”
With the Las Vegas Summer League right around the corner, those of us who don’t get to watch practice will soon have a chance to see just how far Barton has come as a ball-handler and distributor. The play at Summer League tends to be guard-centric, as running an offense with non-roster players with just a week of practice can often lead to a lot of freestyling by ball-handlers, but Barton says trying to run the point, rather than scoring them, this year in Las Vegas.
“I’m not a guard that just thinks about scoring, and that’s what helps my offense, because I’m out there just trying to make the right play,” said Barton. “If it’s getting to the basket, I’ll do it. If it’s finding my teammates, I’ll do it. I’m the type guy that prides myself on my teammates enjoying playing with me. That’s getting up and down, running, finding them, hitting guys like AC for threes when he’s open, finding CJ early and letting him push, finding T.Rob for a dunk or Meyers for a dunk, Joel for a pick and pop. I want my guys to say ‘I like when the ball is in Will’s hands because I know he’s going to make a play for us.’
“That’s my main goal as I’m transitioning into trying to play point guard. I’m having a lot of fun with it. It’s a new experiment. I haven’t played point guard in the long, long time. I’m having a lot of fun doing it and I enjoy it.”
Though he made great strides in his second season, so much so that head coach Terry Stotts tabbed him as the team’s most improved player, Barton is quick to point out that, while his quality of player was improved in 2013-14, he actually played more minutes as a rookie than he did as a sophomore. But he’s reached a point where he feels confident in his ability to grow as a player in Portland, which is one of the reasons, along with his standard supreme confidence, Barton isn’t worried about no college kids trying to take what he’s hard earned.
“I feel more comfortable, so that’s always a big plus,” said Barton. “I know more of what I’m getting into, so that’s better. It’s just that grind is the same. I’m still working to get into that rotation, still working to get more known and get the coaches more comfortable with me and working to secure a spot on this team and in this league… That’s why I’m going into my workouts like, now I want to play more and produce like I was doing. Now it’s just going harder and hopefully I can get to a better situation where I’m playing more. That’s all it’s about, playing more and winning. That’s all I want to do, help contribute to the team.”