The Portland Trail Blazers’ brass did their job this off-season and filled the holes the Blazers’ bench desperately needed. Now they are guard heavy, having added Mo Williams and Earl Watson (both via free agency), and C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe (both via the draft).
They also have a second year player named Will Barton on the roster, whom you should definitely not forget about. Barton could have the same type of breakout year as Jimmy Butler had last year for the Bulls; now Butler stands to start at shooting guard this season. Can a player like Barton eventually crack the starting lineup? Let’s take a look at some telling stats from last season.
Barton only started 5 games all season, but his numbers were impressive for a rookie:
38.0 mpg, 15.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg and 3.2 apg
Wesley Matthews, the starting shooting guard, offered up these numbers as a starter:
34.8 mpg, 14.8 ppg, 2.8 and 2.5 apg
Nicolas Batum, the starting small forward, offered up these numbers:
38.5 mpg, 14.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 4.9 apg
The obvious difference between Barton and the two guys starting is the shooting ability they both possess. Barton only managed to shoot 22% (2/9) from deep in his five starts while Matthews shot 39.8% and Batum 37.2% from deep. Neither of those marks make them outstanding shooters by any means, however they can extend the floor and create space for Lillard and Aldridge to operate. The good news is that Barton already has the defensive side of the ball figured out and could easily become a stellar defender at the shooting guard spot. If the Blazers go small then Barton could even fill in at the small forward spot for both Batum and/or Dorell Wright.
Why is this important for the Blazers? If, and believe me it’s a big “if”, Barton could develop even further and show some range in his shooting, then that could make Batum (and his huge contract) expendable in the future. I’m not saying the Blazers are going to trade Batum this season, but let’s take a look at money owed after this season.
Batum: 2 years at $24 million (roughly)
Wes: 1 year at $7.24 million (roughly)
Barton: 1 year at $915,243
With the new CBA has come more fiscal responsibility by GM’s across the board and the Blazers will be no different. If the Blazers can perhaps move Batum or Matthews and fill that role with Barton then they would have a starter at a ridiculous discount. Think this isn’t realistic? Take a look back at those numbers from all three guys earlier…I’ll wait. Barton’s numbers (although only for five games) are comparable to both of the starters and again at an amazing discount.
Look no further for comparison to a move like this than the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls are going to let Luol Deng test free agency and while this cannot be 100% attributed to the emergence of Jimmy Butler you can bet that it played a large role in that decision. There are plenty of teams that will part with draft picks or valuable assets for a player like Nicolas Batum. He is beloved so far in Portland, but the NBA is a business and nobody is off limits.
*All stats and figures from basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.