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Denver Nuggets Film Friday: This is the Will Barton we’ve been waiting for

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.

Is it early this season? Absolutely. Is it possible that Will Barton is going to regress? Absolutely. Does that mean that it’s impossible for him to sustain something close to this level of play moving forward? Absolutely not. Barton is the second-most experienced player on this roster, and he’s showing that veteran level of play with the best stretch of his career to start the season.

Through the first 11 games of the season, Barton is averaging 17.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game while shooting 49 percent from the floor and 43.3 percent from 3-point range. Barton’s 4.4 assists per game are a career-best mark for him, and he’s coming off of a 30-point outing where he was the team’s leading scorer with Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. both on the bench. With the struggles we’ve seen out of MPJ to start the season, Barton has been a saving grace for the team that lacks a consistent weapon outside of Jokic.

How is Barton playing at this high level? That’s what we’re looking at today. Barton has been far-and-away the second-best player on the Nuggets, and he’s doing it while being the fifth-highest paid player on the team. Granted, Jamal Murray is among the four guys above him, but Barton has been crushing it nearly every single night next to the reigning MVP. Let’s see how he’s getting it done.

Barton the Ball Handler

When Murray is healthy, he and Jokic have a great chemistry when they’re running a two-man game. Jokic’s ability to shoot from range makes it to where the defense is in a lose-lose situation. With Murray out of the lineup, the team was looking for another guy to play that role, and Barton has been crushing that role in the early going. On this play, early in the fourth quarter against the Miami Heat, Jokic moves towards Barton and sets a false screen before leaking to the left wing where he gets an easy look at a jump shot. Barton’s height allows him to see over defenders that other shorter guards may not be able to, and it makes the defense have to honor at least one other player on the floor while being unable to just solely focus on Jokic.

In this game against the Indiana Pacers, Denver is without Jokic, MPJ and Murray. That leaves Barton as their primary offensive threat, and the Pacers know the offense is likely going to run through him. He went on to score 30 points and a couple of assists in the first quarter that would make the defense think all game long. One of those assists was this one to JaMychal Green. Barton is driving to his left and gets near the free-throw line when he has to make a decision of what to do with the ball. He holds Myles Turner just long enough before whipping the ball out to Green. Turner has to close out hard to contest the shot, but that opens the baseline for Green to drive the rim for the dunk. Barton is averaging a career-best mark in assists, and his assist percentage is over 20 for the first time in his career because of plays like this.

A Confident Barton is a Scary Barton

Throughout his career, Barton has been at his best when he’s playing with a ton of confidence. Right now, he might be the most confident player on the floor on a nightly basis. Every time he rises up for a jump shot, he’s convinced it’s going in. Let’s look at this shot from late in the win over the Heat. This shot is effectively the dagger in the heart of the Heat comeback. Barton has the ball on the left wing, and he’s being guarded by Jimmy Butler while trying to find a way to get the entry pass to Jokic. He can’t quite find the passing lane, but rather than resetting he takes a stepback dribble to his left and knocks down the huge 3-point shot to seal the game and his 25-point night.

In this lineup, Barton is the offensive threat. Other guys out there with him can occasionally create shots, but none of them have the consistency that Barton does. Both teams know that, but, at the level Barton is playing at, the light in his head is always glowing green. He’s at the top of the key with Kyle Lowry in front of him. There’s still time on the clock for Barton to try and initiate a play if he wants to. Instead, he just rises up for the triple as he has for the first few weeks of the season. The confidence he’s playing with right now is a hot streak Denver needs to ride as long as they can.

Doing it on Both Ends

This play is veteran savvy and confidence mixed into one perfect outcome. This play is that cornerback that’s reading the quarterback’s eyes and goes for the interception on someone else’s guy because he’s seen the play run before. He’s on the left wing guarding the player the farthest from the ball. He sees Kelan Martin looking for the entry pass and starts to cheat over. Once he sees the ball leaving Martin’s hands, he goes and breaks up the pass and his the ball going the other way.

This one is just the experienced veteran taking advantage of the rookie. At 24, Chris Duarte is far from a young and inexperienced player in the game of basketball, but he’s still got some things to learn at the NBA level. Barton is trailing Duarte across the floor when he sees the pass tossed in Duarte’s direction. The Pacers aren’t communicating to Chris where Barton is at, and he loses track of how close he is before getting the easy steal and going the other way with it.

For those of you that are still here, remember to leave your feedback in the comments or over on my Twitter, and have a fantastic film-filled Friday.