Over the next few weeks, the Denver Stiffs staff will be previewing the 2016-17 Denver Nuggets. The team enters Michael Malone’s second season with the Nuggets with a mix of new and familiar faces. With a roster mixed with young talent like Jamal Murray and more experienced veterans like Wilson Chandler, the Nuggets are looking to improve on their 33-49 record from last season.
Since joining the team in February of 2015, Will Barton has been one of the most consistent, hard working, and explosive players on the Nuggets. He set a career high with 23 points in just his first month on the Nuggets roster in 2015 and has now scored 23 or more for the Nuggets on 14 separate occasions. Needless to say, Barton was a guy that just needed a chance to show that he could shine. He found that chance in Denver and has been pretty darn good since he arrived. Just check out these highlights. When he's on, he's a LOT of fun to watch.
Barton isn't quite a veteran but at just 25 years old, I'm not sure you'd consider Barton part of the Nuggets "young core." Nonetheless, with less than 5,000 minutes under his belt, Barton is still a player with a lot of upside who might still have a lot of untapped potential. He's also on a ridiculously cheap deal for the next two seasons. If Barton can maintain his level of play or possibly even surpass it, he'll be one of the most valuable players in the league from a salary cap standpoint.
As he stands now, he's one of the six best players on the Nuggets and a threat to be the best player on the court on any given night. He was the most consistent double-digit scorer on the roster and led the team in scoring on multiple occasions. With the return of Wilson Chandler and the addition of Jamal Murray and Malik Beasley, Barton will face a bit more competition for minutes than he has over the last season and a half. This may mean that he has a dip in per game production. But his play since arriving in Denver means he's likely to start the season as one of the first guys off of the bench.
Open court scoring
Barton thrives when the game gets chaotic. This is especially true in transition and when the pace of play speeds up. According to Synergy, Barton was the most frequent transition scorer on the Nuggets last season, with nearly 1/4 of his possessions ending in a FGA, foul, or turnover coming in transition. His slender frame also allows him to snake in and out of tight spaces, split the double team, and maneuver in crowded areas.
Barton has a nose for the basketball and a motor that never stops running. Pair that with his long, springy build and it's easy to see why he is such an effective rebounder. Barton averaged 5.8 rpg last season as a 6th man off of the bench. That translates to 7.3 rebounds per 36 minutes, a pretty elite number for a perimeter player.
Barton's main role last season was to score buckets anyway he could. Sometimes that'd be on 3-point shots, sometimes on dribble drives, and sometimes he'd create buckets out of thin air. The Nuggets second unit lacked scorers for most of the season so Barton filled that role quite nicely. When D.J. Augustine joined the team in February, Barton's numbers (and percentages) took a dip. This may have been due to fatigue but it's also possible that the ball-dominant Augustine took away some of him mojo.
Barton is just a 30% career 3-point shooter. Last season he shot a career high 34.5% from behind the arc, but that was due in large part to an incredibly hot start to the season. He shot 44% in November and 39.3% in December before falling to 31% in January and 21.7% in February. It's hard to say which numbers we will see this season but my guess is that Barton is closer to being a streaky, 33% 3-point shooter than a reliable 40% shooter.
Barton plays at 100 miles per hour at all times, sometimes at the expense of staying in control. His handle can get a bit loose at times, as can his shot selection. He shows flashes of being a gifted passer but will also get stuck with his head down on drives and miss wide open drop offs. With the addition of Jamal Murray and the return of Wilson Chandler, the Nuggets might not need him to be a playmaker so this weakness might not be an issue for this roster. If he thrives in chaos, the Nuggets will be happy to let other second unit players take control of the offense when they need someone to steady the ship.
Barton is among the more wiry players in the league and lacks the physical size and strength to contest most small forwards. This makes it a bit difficult for Malone to play Barton against tough, physical teams. Malone might combat this by playing his fastest super-small lineups, placing Barton, Chandler, and Faried in the front court together, a lineup that could be as fun as it is unpredictable.
Projected 2016-17 Statistics
Courtesy of www.hashtagbasketball.com, here are Barton's projected per game statistics.
Barton is on one of the most team-friendly contracts in the NBA. Last summer he signed a 3-year deal worth just over $10 million with no player or team options. That makes his contract massively under market value for the next two seasons. For reference, he's making nearly the same amount of money as 15th man, Mike Miller and $1 million per year less than Jameer Nelson. Corey Brewer, who Barton is often compared to, will earn more than twice that much over the next two seasons.