Underrated Draft Prospects: Will Barton

In the previous installments of this series of posts, I’ve argued for Jesse Sanders, Marcus Denmon, C.J. McCollum, Jae Crowder, Kevin Jones, Ricardo Ratliffe and William Mosley. This time I’m arguing for Memphis swingman Will Barton.

Another Star Late in the First?

I’ve repeatedly cited Jae Crowder as the late first round gem that will turn into an NBA star, but it could easily be Will Barton. Barton was a top prospect coming out of high school, but apparently hasn’t impressed his critics enough in his first two years of college to be a lottery pick. Barton is projected as a very late first round pick, but I think he should go top 10 overall. Let’s take a look at why:

Barton’s Stats vs. Average NCAA Small Forward and Top 100 Draft Express Small Forwards. All Stats are per 40 minute.

Player Avg SF SGs in DE Top 100 Will Barton
effective Field Goal % 0.489 0.534 0.551
True Shooting % 0.528 0.575 0.645
3 Point Shooting % 0.346 0.382 0.340
Free Throw % 0.709 0.740 0.746
Offensive Rebounds 1.65 1.27 2.30
Defensive Rebounds 4.08 4.24 6.88
Total Rebounds 5.73 5.51 9.18
Assists 2.23 2.95 3.41
Steals 1.33 1.56 1.64
Blocks 0.43 0.46 0.83
Turnovers 2.43 2.71 2.44
Personal Fouls 3.21 2.45 2.37
Points! 13.81 19.75 20.53
Win Score 2.81 4.84 8.83

Barton is twice as productive as the average shooting guard prospect in Draft Express’s top 100 – and he’s only a sophomore! His shooting percentages are very good, though he needs work on his long range ability. He is above average nearly across the board, but what really seems to separate him from his peers is his rebounding. Barton, a small forward in college, grabbed more rebounds per 40 minutes than the average college center! It’s also important to note that Barton took pretty good care of the ball considering his age and role on the team. In addition, Barton is a legitimate 6-5 with no shoes on – taller than Jae Crowder! – and has a wingspan of over 6-9. Not that height is that big of a deal, but I want to point out that he is the one underrated prospect I’ve covered that isn’t “undersized” for his position.

So What’s the Problem With Barton?

Here’s Walker Beeken’s take at Draft Express:

[Barton's] decision making can still be shaky at times, his skinny frame may limit his ability as a finisher, and … he still needs to prove he’s capable of being a reliable perimeter shooter with his feet set.

ESPN’s Chad Ford has made similar observations:

He needs to add strength and he could be more consistent from 3-point range … Poor shot selection at times

Ok, these are some legitimate concerns. Well, except for the strength one. I never got that. “He’s really, really good, but he’s not strong enough.” Ok, well when he plays basketball PROFESSIONALLY, the team’s trainers can spend all the time in the world increasing his strength. And if he’s already good and he’s this weak, that just means he’ll be even better when the team’s trainers get him stronger. Really, to me, the whole “he’s not strong enough” argument went out the window with Kevin Durant. The dude couldn’t bench press 185 ONCE at the draft combine. Five years later and he’s a top 5 player in the entire league.

Still, concerns about Barton’s long range shooting ability and poor shot selection are legit. If he really does have a poor shot selection, maybe it’s not best for him to be drafted to a bad team that will ask him score a lot right away. As we know, NBA general managers and media pundits don’t care that much about shot selection. If Barton scores over 20 points per game, even if it takes him 30 shots, he will be treated – and paid – like a star. But if Barton can get to a spot where he scores a little less on a lot less shots, he actually will be a star. Indeed, Barton’s future productivity might well depend on who drafts him.

So, Who Drafts Barton?

Here’s a scary thought: there’s a good chance this guy goes to the Bulls. Yes, Chicago has Ronnie Brewer, who is really quite good. But he seems to get a good deal of playtime backing up both Hamilton and Deng. The real problem is that Hamilton gets significant minutes at all. If Barton is eased into Hamilton’s spot, it good be a great situation for both the Bulls and Barton. The Bulls get the best shooting guard in the draft. Barton goes to a place where he will not be expected to be a main scorer, and learns to improve his shot selection. Everybody wins. Except the rest of the NBA.

Concluding Points

The chances of NBA decision makers reading these articles are small. The chances of them taking my advice are all but nonexistent. But if some of these players end up in the league and pan out, maybe it will make people look at potential and college productivity differently with respect to draft prospect analysis in the future. Right now, far too much emphasis is placed on potential and size. Stats that capture possessions (and often carry over well) aren’t given their due. Again, it’s unlikely that any of the players I have covered in this series of posts will be superstars. That’s true of most players in the draft, even players picked in the top five. I think the odds the players I’ve reviewed could have fruitful NBA careers is better than the typical draft pick. Here’s hoping an NBA team gives them a shot.

-James

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