When the Blazers selected Memphis guard Will Barton with the 40th pick of the 2012 NBA Draft, analysts lined up to declare him one of the great draft-day steals, a first-round talent that slipped to the second round for reasons unknown. Neil Olshey seemed to confirm this at Barton’s introductory press conference, when he revealed that Paul Allen had urged the front office to trade into the 20s to draft him and was overjoyed when he slipped to Portland in the second round.
Barton’s showing at Summer League in Las Vegas has been the definition of a player who improves with each game. At the beginning of the week, the rail-thin was relentlessly energetic on both ends of the floor, but incredibly raw as a player. Every now and then, there would be traces of an ability to attack the rim, a tenacious defensive sensibility, and an above-average rebounding nose for someone of his size and position. But these always seemed more like abstract ideas than tangible skills. Barton put it all together in the Blazers’ fourth Summer League game, a 95-82 victory over the Nuggets. He finished with 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting, done through a diverse array of dunks, midrange floaters, and outside shooting. He also had an impressive nine defensive boards. I was able to ask him a few questions after the game:
Earlier in the week, I’d often see you running over to the bench to talk to Wesley Matthews during free throws and other dead balls. What kind of pointers was giving you?
He was giving me a lot of pointers, just telling me to keep my head up when things aren’t going good. Be aggressive and try to play my game, and not think too much out there, and just try to perform good for the team and just go out there and do my best. It’s just going to come to me and I’ve got to get my feel for the game, my first NBA games. He was telling me that he knew I had the talent and I’m going to be fine, just let it come to you.
What sort of feedback have you received from Kaleb Canales this week?
That I’m really talented, stay aggressive, and I’m going to be real good if I just keep working hard and getting better every day.
Not a lot of second-round picks get guaranteed contracts right after the draft. Has the organization given you any sense of your role this season?
Not really. I just want to come in and compete for a spot in the rotation. That’s all I want to do.