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Roundtable: Will Barton’s resurgence, what to make of Denver's first seven games, and 76ers preview

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Stiffs writers discuss Will Barton’s start to the season and how the Nuggets have looked through seven games. Also, a preview of Friday nights game against Philadelphia.

Miami Heat v Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

How important has Will Barton’s resurgence been to start the year and do you expect it to continue throughout the season?

Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717): Will Barton’s start to the season has been huge for the Nuggets and it won them a game on Tuesday night against the Heat. Barton picked up the slack when Nikola Jokic had to sit due to foul trouble and that was big in allowing Denver just to stay in the game.

Not only did Barton finish the Miami game with a solid stat line, but he also reminded us just how big a role he plays on this team when healthy. Health is the biggest word with Barton and now that he finally looks to be back — or close too — 100 percent, that is huge for his success not just in the short-term, but throughout the season as well.

Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): Barton seems to be very motivated right now, back to his peak condition and ready to take on any task the Nuggets ask of him. There are a lot of great signs in Barton’s resurgence thus far, including him shooting 50% on three-pointers to start the year. Denver needs that kind of spacing to excel offensively. Unfortunately, he has only shot 36.8% on two-pointers thus far, well below average and a sign that his finishing around the rim still isn’t where it needs to be.

His defense has been great, but he hasn’t really been challenged yet. Jimmy Butler spent as much time with Gary Harris and Torrey Craig on him as Barton did, and in two games where Barton’s defense would have been tested against Brandon Ingram and Aaron Gordon, he sat out with a toe injury. So, color me skeptical until we see him against some bigger small forwards.

Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): Barton just needed to be healthy to be an important contributor for the team. He’s one of the only guys on the team that can consistently beat his defender off the dribble, and that is huge for the team, especially when Jokić has shown that he lacks the energy to drive into the paint. He is one of the guys on the team that is always going to bring energy, and that helps the team a ton too. As he continues to get used to playing at full strength, I think his defense and finishing will improve. The Nuggets three guard starting lineup should continue to excel.

Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): Barton’s game is polarizing. He goes off-script, can be ball-dominant, and has a weird habit of throwing grenades to teammates at the last second of the shot clock. He’s also, as Dan said, one of Denver’s only true off-the-dribble driving threats, a slasher at all times, a transition nightmare for opposing teams and he’s giving immense effort on both ends of the court. Barton is playing small forward on a team where fans are chanting for the highly-touted backup. He’s not gonna cede an inch. I expect Barton to play like this all year - but hopefully with better finishing.

The Nuggets are 5-2, but it still feels like they have yet to hit their groove. What do you make of that and just how scary can this team be once they finally start to click?

Ewing: The Miami game was finally when it looked as if the Nuggets were firing on all cylinders, until you looked over and saw Michael Malone fuming on the sidelines. I think there is something to that in even though the Nuggets were playing well, their own head coach was still holding them to a higher standard.

This Nuggets team has one goal and that is accomplishing a championship. Right now, they are playing like a team that is still trying to find there edge and we have seen flashes of it through seven games. Regardless, the Nuggets are still one game out of first place in the Western Conference and are going to be tough to stop when they finally put it all together.

Blackburn: The fact that Nikola Jokic is still playing at the level he is speaks while Denver wins games continues to showcase how talented various members of the Nuggets actually are. Jamal Murray is taking more steps forward. Gary Harris has been an elite defender. Will Barton’s resurgence is notable. Denver’s bench, albeit a bit mismatched as a unit, has some pieces that contribute at a high level.

If Jokic never finds his groove, this team probably wins 48 games or so. If Jokic can recover his magic from last season? That total jumps an additional 10 wins to places where Denver has never been before as a franchise.

Lewis: The defense is playing like they did last season, and that’s with Jokić lumbering around fouling everyone whenever he gets blown past by his man. The offense should normalize as players heat up and cool off, and they get used to the regular demands of an 82 game season. It would be nice to see the Nuggets get to the free throw line more often to help make sure they can get easy points. They’ve been winning despite their offense not being top-10, and they have the talent to be in that sphere by the end of the season.

Gross: We said that about Denver last year, too: “Imagine how good this team will be when they’re healthy for the playoffs.” Well they were not healthy, and they ran out of steam despite taking Portland to seven games in the second round. This team hitting on all cylinders is a frightening thought, but that’s true of most real contenders. To me it looks like the pressure is very much on the young players to perform, as they’re out of dress rehearsals. This is the real thing. How this team handles that will be key to the season, regardless of win totals or the innate beauty (or lack thereof) that accompanies wins.

Denver takes on the 76ers tomorrow night, who are tied for first place in the Eastern Conference. What do the Nuggets have to do in order to walk away with a victory?

Ewing: In order to walk away victorious, the Nuggets are going to need Nikola Jokic to stay out of foul trouble and for Jamal Murray to have a huge game. The Nuggets could potentially be without Gary Harris and Paul Millsap, which would present opportunities for guys to step up like Jerami Grant, Torrey Craig, and maybe even Michael Porter Jr.

Denver is going to have to make their open shots and defend at a high level, similar to what they did against the Miami Heat. The Nuggets are at their best when they compliment good defense with even better offense and if they do that, they should walk out of Pepsi Center Friday night with a win.

Blackburn: Stop Joel Embiid from detonating and make open threes. It’s as simple as that. Embiid has the capability to go off for 40 at any given moment. Jokic will need a strong defensive performance to not only hold Embiid down, but stay out of foul trouble in the process. After that, it’s all about jump shooting. Doing too much dribbling against the Sixers will get Denver killed. Too much post ups against Embiid and Horford is a mismanagement of the offense. Run, cut, kick out, hit open shots. Don’t attack the Sixers head on. They’re too big and get too many calls in their favor for that.

Lewis: Jokic probably needs to take 12 free throws. Not only can the Sixers check him with Embiid, but Al Horford might be a better defender for Jokić. Jamal Murray is going to have to follow the example of Devin Booker and go off against Josh Richardson and Ben Simmons. Oh, and Will Barton will need to not just defend the much larger Tobias Harris, he’ll have to keep him off the offensive glass. This is going to be a really difficult game, and if the Nuggets don’t have their best game of the season, they’ll get smoked.

Gross: If the Nuggets are missing both Harris and Millsap it’s a tough ask, but Denver has the depth to manage. They’ll have to make Embiid at least a net neutral when it comes to front court impact, so as everyone has said: Jokic needs to bring it. The bench will need to hold up their end too. Monte Morris brought both shot-making and passing to the party against Miami, and Denver needs more of that. Beasley going off wouldn’t be amiss either. It’s all hands on deck against a tough foe, so hitting open shots and running the Sixers on the Mile High floor would be a good start.