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Will the Thrill is clutch for the Nuggets this season

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But, not in the way I expected.

Will Barton is one of those players that I have been up and down about in the past. And, when I say “down,” I don’t mean I have disliked him enough to want him off the team, but enough to not completely trust him when he’s on the court. He’s got an incredibly positive attitude, and that’s been infectious for the Nuggets, but his in-game decisions have left me scratching my head more than once.

You know the plays I’m talking about. The ones where Barton brings the ball down instead of passing off to Jamal Murray (or whoever is playing point at the time), and rushes to the three point line to throw up a prayer with 18 seconds left on the shot clock.

Sometimes I feel like Barton wants to be the hero so badly that he overlooks an extra pass to take the shot for himself—even on nights when he’s not shooting well. Sure, there’s something to be said for shooting your way out of a slump, but there has to be a balance to that with so many useful offensive teammates at his disposal.

Even though Barton still has those weird decision making nights from time to time, he’s gotten to be much more consistent lately, and I will go as far as saying he’s been absolutely clutch for the Nuggets this season.

DISCLAIMER: Before I get in too deep with my explanation here, let me open by saying that I’m not making a statement that I believe Barton is more valuable than Gary Harris. I think both serve a vital role on the team, and I actually like Barton off the bench at the 3 so he and Harris can play alongside one another.

Moving on.

The Nuggets were dealt a blow when they lost Paul Millsap with a hand injury a few weeks ago, and it was uncertain if anyone would step up to fill that void while he worked to recover. Well, it wasn’t one person who stepped up, but rather, multiple players have put in overtime to keep the Nuggets’ playoff hopes alive as they work through grueling schedules and long road trips.

As much as I was skeptical about Barton’s consistency, he’s shown he can be the player the Nuggets can rely on to bring energy and generate momentum—especially in times where the Nuggets need a boost off the bench. And, while Kenneth Faried is out of the rotation, Barton is shouldering the 6th man burden well. Denver can expect a regular double digit contribution from Barton in the points category (around 15 per game), and he’s usually good for a handful of rebounds.

However, where I’ve noticed Barton’s contribution the most is his ability to create points. I was a major protester of the Nuggets moving away from centering the offense around Nikola Jokic, and I still want to see Jokic get most of the touches during a game, but I’ve relaxed my viewpoint a little. Over the success we’ve seen in recent weeks, I’ve grown comfortable with a balance of facilitation from Jokic, Murray, Harris, and Barton alike.

Looking at the last 10 games (Boston excluded as Barton did not play) Barton’s contribution came mostly from his ability to create points. And, not just a couple here and there—high teens and twenties points creation resulting in Nuggets wins and ultimately contributing to maintaining position in the Western Conference standings.

Barton averages 16.3 points created per game over the last 10 games that he’s played, and if you compare his high numbers to the Nuggets schedule, you see that when he’s in the game helping to move the ball, the Nuggets are typically winning.

Against Golden State Barton created 17 points, against Utah - 13 points, New Orleans - 17 points, Detroit - 22 points, and Indiana - 23 points. All those were Nuggets wins.

Now again, I’m not saying the offense should center around Barton by any stretch of the imagination, but his ability to get the game moving in an upward direction is undeniable. He and Murray have worked hard to kick start the Nuggets offense in dull moments, and that has carried through on the defensive end as well.

I fully expect to see Denver move up one to two spots in the Western Conference standings as we get closer to the All-Star break. And, once Paul Millsap comes back, I believe the Nuggets will be better able to clench close games with a stronger defensive presence.

For now, I’m digging the Nuggets’ rotation, and Barton off the bench is just what they need to keep moving forward.