Will Barton has done the research. He's pored over the numbers, he's tracked the stocks and he's talked with the experts.
Something just doesn't add up.
How could the most efficient swingman in college basketball not be considered a lottery pick in Thursday's NBA Draft?
"The numbers don't lie," Barton said last week. "I mean, if you look at my production, it'll show you that there's no way I'm not the best or at least up there in the top range of the draft."
He's right. Last season, the Baltimore native outranked every top-rated wing prospect in all the major statistical categories. He averaged 18.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.4 steals while shooting 50.9 percent from the field for an NCAA tournament-bound Memphis squad.
And yet, Barton was widely considered a second-round pick when he declared for the draft in late March. At 6 feet 6 and a rail-thin 175 pounds, scouts questioned his ability to finish at the rim in the NBA. They figured a slight bump would send him reeling, that his frame wouldn't allow him to put on the necessary muscle.
Pundits even questioned the level of competition Barton faced in Conference USA. They argued that he would struggle against players with ACC or Big East pedigrees, that he was more Rodney Carney than Derrick Rose.
"Some guys just don't like him that much," said Aran Smith, founder and president of NBADraft.net. "They think of him being more of an unorthodox shooting small forward, somebody that just doesn't have smooth ability to play off the ball. You know, his game is a little unorthodox."
Take a closer look at the numbers, though, and such apprehensions may seem unwarranted. Despite his slight build, the former All-Metro Player of the Year from Lake Clifton averaged more than three boards per game than any of his Tigers teammates. Also, his statistics were actually better against nonconference opponents than they were in C-USA. And considering Memphis played a top-10 nonconference schedule, that's no small feat.
So in the days leading up to the draft, Barton sounds more like an accountant than a basketball player. He urges anyone willing to listen to check the numbers, to compare his averages against the likes of Bradley Beal, Austin Rivers and Terrence Ross — shooting guards expected to go in the lottery.
He also points to his development, to the marked improvement between his freshman and sophomore campaigns.
After arriving in Memphis as a one-and-done candidate, Barton delivered a disappointing rookie season. He struggled with consistency, and finished the year with modest averages of 12.3 points and 4.9 rebounds.
"It's a big adjustment coming from high school to college," said Herman Harried, Barton's coach at Lake Clifton . "Sometimes it takes the guys a little time to get adjusted to that. You know, the time schedule and the workload."
Barton entered last year more seasoned, more mature. Often criticized for relying too much on his sheer athleticism, he incorporated a more structured approach to the game. He cut down on turnovers, and impressed scouts with his leadership. Barton helped the Tigers regroup after a lackluster 6-5 start, carrying an injury-depleted squad to the program's eighth NCAA tournament appearance in 10 years.
Still, it wasn't enough to guarantee a spot in Thursday's first round. Memphis coach Josh Pastner called all 30 NBA teams before Barton decided to declare, and knew it was a possibility the reigning Conference USA Player of the Year could fall to the early- to mid-second round.
No matter. Barton's never lacked confidence. Before high school games, he would often tell an anxious Harried, "Coach, relax. We got this."
And Barton had that same mentality when he opted to forgo his final two years of eligibility with the Tigers. He felt he just needed a shot, an opportunity to prove his worth. He knew he could improve his draft stock with strong interviews and group workouts.
And that's exactly what he has done.
Barton has worked out for more than a dozen teams, and has reportedly intrigued front offices with his unique combination of length, athleticism and natural scoring instincts. He has moved up mock drafts in recent weeks, and is now considered a strong candidate to go in the mid-to-late first round.
In fact, Barton said he's hearing he could go as high as No. 17 to the Dallas Mavericks.
"It's just depending on how it all goes down, what teams are there and what needs they have," he said.
Barton plans to watch the draft with close friends and family at his mother's East Baltimore home. And on the off chance David Stern doesn't call his name in that first round, Barton won't be too concerned.
After all, according to his research, he's the best shooting guard in the draft. It's only a matter of time before the experts start to feel the same. It's only a matter of time before they realize that numbers don't lie.
"Will believes he's the best player out there, and when he gets out on the court, he plays like he's the best player," said Karen Bush, Barton's mother. "I am absolutely positive Will will have an immediate impact in the NBA. If given the opportunity, I am."
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