Year in Review Series
By Daniel Lewis
Will Barton came to the Denver Nuggets last season as a part of a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers for Arron Afflalo, and chose to remain in the Mile High City when he signed a 3-year, $10.6 million contract as free agent during the offseason.
When Barton came to the Nuggets, he had a whopping 1,581 career minutes in three seasons in Portland. Stuck behind Wes Matthews Jr., C.J. McCollum, and Nicolas Batum, who are all excellent wing players, Barton hadn't had an opportunity to demonstrate what he could do with extended minutes. But Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly knew Barton through their Baltimore connection, and knew that he just needed a chance to show how valuable he could be for a franchise.
Boy, did he prove to be valuable this season, with production across the entire season that few people could have predicted. The 24-year-old swingman averaged 14.4 points a game, shooting 34.5 percent from the 3-point line and playing a huge role on the boards, pulling down 5.8 rebounds per game. Barton was one of the best players in the league in points scored in the fourth quarter, with 5.5 points per game during that quarter, right around some of the elite players in the league like Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Russell Westbrook.
It can't be understated how important Barton was for the Nuggets throughout the season. With a preseason injury to Wilson Chandler, and with Danilo Gallinari missing time, Barton was vital off the bench for Michael Malone. With a young starting unit and a young reserve unit, Barton was given the responsibility of creating offense, and was able to beat his man off the dribble and slither his way to the rim time after time. Barton is a crazy athlete, and used his vertical leaping skills to avoid contact and contort his limbs to get shots off at the rim.
Watching Barton sky for big-time jams was one of the highlights of the season for Nuggets fans, with every drive into the paint holding the potential for serious elevation that would get his teammates bouncing up off the bench.
As for next season, Barton's role is unclear. When the Nuggets are healthy, there might not be as many opportunities for the Nuggets 6th man to get the ball in his hands. Will Barton be leading the offense on the second unit when Wilson Chandler, Jameer Nelson, and Jusuf Nurkic are healthy? Will the Nuggets draft a playmaker that can create offense with the ball in his hands and diminish his role?
Either way, the Nuggets are lucky to have the People's Champ on their roster - they're a better team with him here.
By Zach Mikash
That was Barton's true shooting percentage this season, by far the best of his career. It's representative of the improvement Will has made in his game over this season and the increased impact he had on the Nuggets offense. Additionally, he took far far more shots this season than he has in any season prior which makes his increase in shooting efficiency even more impressive. Before the season started it was no secret that Will was one of the guys who was putting in big time hours down at the team's facility. At media day he noted how hard he had worked on his shot in the offseason and he didn't disappoint. If he works just as hard this offseason, who knows how good he'll be next year.
Room for improvement
by Kayla Osby
This is a very generic answer, but the one thing that prevented Barton from being the best sixth man in the league this season was consistency. It was frustrating to see him go through long stretches in the season where he disappeared, compared to the stretches where he was oftentimes the best player on the team. His best month was December, where he averaged 20.8 ppg, shooting 47.2% from the field and 39.3% from the three-point line, all the while bringing down 6.8 rebounds a game. If he can manage to bring this production on a more consistent basis, he will not only be in serious contention for 6th Man of the Year next season, but he will help the Nuggets tremendously off the bench.
By Zach Mikash
This has got to be the toughest decision of any player. There are so many to choose from when it comes to Barton. There was a couple of dunks in a game against Phoenix later in the season that were quite impressive. Also a few before the all-star break that definitely raised some eyebrows. However, a player like Barton shines brightest when everyone is watching and for the Nuggets that only happened once this season: during the All-Star break when Will the Thrill took to the dunk contest. While he ultimately would be defeated, Barton threw down a wicked jam in the opening first round that was far more impressive than any of the other recent Nugget participants.
Best Game of the Year
By Gordon Gross
Barton had a lot of good games this year, but I've got to go with his December 20th effort against the New Orleans Pelicans. Denver lost that game but not through any fault of Barton's. He had a career high 32 points with 7 makes from downtown, snagged 10 rebounds, had 6 assists against just 1 turnover, and did some of his patented Will-isms (including a behind-the-back fastbreak layup). All of Barton's skills were on display in that game and it would be hard afterward to think of Will as just another bench body. He definitely announced his presence in the year-end awards in a big way that day.
What do you think was going through Barton's head as he watched Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon in the Slam Dunk contest?
Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares): The same thing that was going through all of our heads: "These dudes can jump!" Barton did fine in the contest even if he was outclassed by two of the best dunkers of this generation so I'm sure he was cool with just sitting back and watching from his front row seat.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): Will Barton spent the first few years of his career struggling to get into games. He was in the middle of the greatest season of his career, had come out Michael Jackson's Thriller, and was hanging at the All-Star game by league invitation. I'm sure he was having the time of his life. And with Barton's statement that he lives in the gym in the offseason, I'm sure he was thinking, "I may not win this contest, but I plan to be the best player attending this thing." He might do it, too.
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): "WOOOOWWWW." Barton is a high flier, and I bet between him and Kenneth Faried, the Nuggets rims are glad to get some rest this offseason. But in the presence of Gordon and LaVine, both of whom stretch the laws of gravity, I bet he was just as much in awe as the rest of us were.
Even after all that has been written in review of Barton, I don't think it has been enough to describe how much fun Barton was this season. How awesome, on a scale of 1-10, was Barton?
Mares: 8, maybe 9. Barton was pure energy off of the bench and one of the guys that brought his best effort every night. It's so easy to root for him because you know no matter what he's going to leave it all on the court. He has a few holes in his game and doesn't always make the best decisions, but he earns fan's respect every night.
Gross: I'll go with a 7, maybe an 8. I loved watching him heat up and destroy teams early in the year when the bench had very few other contributors. He took that load on his shoulders and showed he'd worked on his shooting in the offseason instead of focusing only on his slashing skills. When D.J. Augustin showed up, Barton struggled to adjust, and he was unable to find his fit as a ball-handler. His "chemistry" with Joffrey Lauvergne was especially cringe-inducing. Struggling a bit is no crime though - he was finally in the game plan of opposing teams every night, and adjusting to that and to playing that many minutes was a challenge. Barton doesn't back down from challenges, and I expect him to improve again this offseason, and to continue to bring the effort every night. That's his calling card.
Lewis: 10. I don't think the Nuggets, even with a Barton fan in Tim Connelly, expected Barton to be this good this soon. He's played just over 4,600 career minutes in the NBA, and half of those came in this season alone. Barton was the Nuggets lead option in the fourth quarter at times, and was huge off the bench for them. His energy helped motivate his teammates, and his work ethic fits with the culture the Nuggets are building under Michael Malone. So awesome.
Due to injuries, Barton stepped into a role with more responsibility this season. What kind of role does he have with the Nuggets next season?
Mares: Probably a very similar role. He's a great 6th man, scorer off of the bench. I don't think he'll move into the starting spot or anything like that but he will be counted on to get buckets with the 2nd unit and will likely continue to play minutes in closing time more often than not. Barton's shot is the biggest and most obvious area that he can work on. He finished at 34.5% from deep. If he can come back with a more confident and consistent shot from behind the arc he'll be right back in the conversation for 6th man of the year. He might even win the thing.
Gross: Will Barton is a great sixth man, and he seems to recognize that is his way to make a mark. I would like to see him get better off-ball, as he has a tendency to go 1-on-5 when the ball is in his hands and he can't trust the players on the court with him. Barton recognizes he is the most dangerous scorer on our bench - he just needs to find more ways to be that scorer. It will open up the court for others as well as give him ways to beat the current defensive strategy of, "allow Barton to drive and then pack it in when he gets close to the hoop because he's absolutely trying to get to the rim." Barton's role as a sixth man won't change, but the ways he can affect the game can increase - and I hope they do. Barton's not done growing yet.
Lewis: Barton played 82 games for Denver, and started once. Next season, I don't think he'll be a starter, but he can play a role with the second unit again. If his future is as a 6th Man of the Year candidate, he'll need to improve his ability to shoot off the dribble, especially in the mid-range. The Nuggets second unit next year could look a lot different than this year, with the Nuggets holding three first-round picks, as well as a healthy Wilson Chandler and Jusuf Nurkic expected to be available. When Michael Malone talked about all the positions (except for Mudiay) being a competition next season, I'm fairly certain he was including the roles on the second unit in that. Barton will have to put in work if he wants that lead role off the bench, because there should be solid competition for minutes.