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One skill to improve: Will Barton

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Denver Nuggets v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

This is the fourth part in a series where a Denver Stiffs writer identifies one skill that they would like to see that a player worked on over the summer. Today we’re discussing Will Barton, who enters training camp as a projected starter for the first time in his NBA career.

Will Barton is easily the most colorful player on the Nuggets. After having been acquired as a toss-in for a trade between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Nuggets for Arron Afflalo, Barton has thrived in the Mile High City. Denver officially became home for the Baltimore native during the offseason when he signed a new four-year contract, which if he plays out, will keep him in Colorado for nearly an entire decade.

Barton came to Denver with a high ceiling due to his athleticism, but it’s evident that he’s been willing to put in the work to be great as well. He’s improved his dribble, improved his perimeter shot, is one of the best conditioned athletes on the team, and can play multiple positions.

The 2017-18 season had to be difficult for Barton, with the veteran swingman roving between roles as a wing and backup point guard. With the acquisition of Isaiah Thomas and trade of Wilson Chandler, Barton should be clear to fill the starting small forward role. He may not see too much of an increase in minutes played, but he will be playing most of his minutes with a more clearly defined role.

There’s no way of knowing how the change in role is going to affect Barton’s output. He had a great season, averaging 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists a game, but he will likely be called upon to lead the offense less this season. You’re still going to see a lot of dunks, chaotic drives to the rim, and a style of game that is as swaggy as can be, but there are things he can improve on for next season to help the team make a jump.

Defensive Rebounding

The obvious rebuttal is “what about defense?” which reminds me of this clip from Ride Along. I have news - Barton isn’t getting any taller, folks. He’s 6’6”, and he’s going to be defending players that are taller than he is. Not much he can do in those situations other than make sure to get a good stretch in before the game starts and hustle.

But what Barton can do is work on his defensive rebounding. The Nuggets starting lineup doesn’t have a lot of above average defenders, so when the other team misses a shot, they need to secure the ball after the miss. There could be situations as well where Millsap is tasked with defending the wing scorer, leaving Barton to defend either a power forward or center, depending on who Jokic marks. That leaves Barton at a serious size disadvantage, having to scrap down low with the big boys. If you’ve ever seen Barton, thick would not be in the top 10 of adjectives used to describe him.

The Nuggets were one of the best rebounding teams last season, but they ranked 20th in the league in defensive rebounding. Subtract Wilson Chandler, add in more Paul Millsap, and things may stay the same. But they need to improve in that area if they want to improve defensively.

The league will vote in about a week on a new rule that would change the shot clock from resetting to 24 seconds after an offensive rebound to 14 seconds. That might make teams less keen on fighting for offensive rebounds, but with more offensive rebounds being available farther away from the basket, there might not be much of a change, at least not next season.

If Barton is able to be more confident crashing the defensive glass, he has the ability to grab the ball and go, sparking a transition opportunity by taking off down the court. One of the advantages the Nuggets’ offense has is that all their players can take the ball down the court in transition. If Barton is able to get his hands on more rebounds and start off on his own, that’ll help their offense.

Being able to rebound will help in stopping runs and preventing soul-crushing, momentum shifting plays. With how good the Nuggets offense is, they need to make sure they’re getting as many opportunities to outscore the opponent as possible.

The more opportunities they get, the more thrills on offense — sounds like a win-win to me.