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Make-or-break time for Barton

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Will Barton will enter his third season with the Trail Blazers this year hoping to be a regular contributor off the bench for coach Terry Stotts.LAS VEGAS — Will Barton has never been shy on chutzpah, in a charming sort of way.

The Trail Blazers’ lean 6-6 swingman, drawing inspiration from Muhammad Ali, called himself the “People’s Champ” last season. His Twitter handle is “WilltheThrillB5.”

After collecting 20 points, 11 rebounds and four assists off the bench in a win over Brooklyn in February — and becoming the first NBA bench player to achieve such numbers since Barton himself in April 2013 — he declared with a smile, “I make history. Then I rewrite it.”

“Will has the utmost self-confidence,” Portland assistant coach David Vanterpool says. “I’m sure he has expressed that to everybody here.”

Bold for a second-round draft pick out of Memphis who averaged 4.0 points, 1.8 rebounds and 0.8 assists in the 2014-15 regular season, then played one minute in the Blazers’ six-game first-round playoff elimination of Houston.

But Barton established himself as a key member of the rotation in the second round against San Antonio, averaging 9.0 points in five games against the eventual NBA champions. He scored 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting in 12 minutes of a Game-2 loss, then poured in 17 points in 30 minutes in Portland’s only win of the series in Game 4.

As he looks toward his third NBA season in 2014-15, Barton hopes to become a player coach Terry Stotts can count on to provide something every night off the bench.

“It’s all about opportunity,” says Barton, who has started for Portland’s entry in the Las Vegas Summer League. “It’s not up to me. It’s up to the coach and the organization. I can’t put myself in the game.

“I can do anything I put my mind to. I want to go out there and contribute like I’ve shown the last two years. I’ll go in next season trying to fight for minutes. I’ll be the best teammate I can be in practice and in the games, but I want to play more and get a larger role on the team and try to make my NBA future brighter.”

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Will Barton, Blazers swingman, is focusing on his mental approach to the game and leadership skills as he attempts to improve his overall game.At times in his first two seasons with the Blazers, Barton, 23, has looked like a talent who might develop into an NBA starter. At times, he has looked like an undisciplined player better suited for streetball.

Barton was a little of both in the Blazers’ first two LVSL games, averaging 13.0 points and 7.0 rebounds but making only 9 of 26 shots from the field with five turnovers.

Vanterpool offers mostly plaudits for Barton, however.

“Will is doing a great job on the floor,” Vanterpool says. “His game speaks for itself. Guys love playing with him. They know he’s unselfish. They know when he’s handling the ball a lot, maybe even overdribbling, that it’s not a selfish thing. They know if they’re open, he’ll get it to them. Guys feel comfortable getting the ball in his hands, because they know he makes good things happen.”

Surprisingly, Vanterpool said his goal for Barton this summer is to display more leadership.

“I want to see him continue his growth as a leader,” the Portland assistant says. “He gets emotional. That mental approach, as far as leadership, is where he has to grow the most.”

It’s hard to show leadership, though, when you’re not on the court. Barton played only 397 regular-season minutes last season, less than half of the time he got during his rookie year.

Next season, Barton will be in the final year of his contract, playing for his future in Portland. He knows he needs to make strides if he want to continue with the Blazers. The first steps are being taken in summer league.

“I’m trying to improve my overall game,” Barton says. “Try to make open shots. Try to get other guys shots. My defense, rebounding. I’m just trying to show I’m a complete player in every aspect of the game.”

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Twitter: @kerryeggers



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