Prior to the start of this season, there were strong rumors that Will Barton wouldn’t even be suiting up for the Denver Nuggets in 2020-21. With the emergence of Michael Porter Jr., the possibility of Barton moving into a role off of the bench was becoming greater and greater, and he felt he had done more than enough to maintain his starting spot. Less than a year later, Barton is once again in a position of flux.
Barton has a player option for this offseason, and he was hoping to put together a solid year of production that would allow him to safely opt out to sign one last big contract. Instead, he regressed in a few areas, and one of the main reasons for that regression was his health. Barton played in only 56-of-72 games this season, and that includes the 45-second jaunt he ook in the loss to the Golden State Warriors when he sustained the injury that would keep him out for the majority of the playoffs.
Barton saw a dip in his production across the board along with his shooting percentage dropping from 45.0 percent last season to 42.6 percent this year. After shipping out multiple guards this year during the Aaron Gordon, Barton is pretty much locked into a starting spot, but, once Jamal Murray returns, is he going to be happy with being the fourth or fifth option? He didn’t seem to be that way this season.
Barton was hoping to use this season as a springboard into free agency. Unfortunately, he’s unlikely to be flying very high after this year. Barton saw his per-game averages drop across the board along with his overall shooting efficiency. His 3-point percentage saw a slight bump from 37.5 to 38.1, but, outside of that, it was a regression year for Barton who needed a big season after coming into the year disgruntled with his role on the team.
Barton was a secondary ball-handler for the starters, and he saw an increased workload with the bench unit as one of their primary ball-handlers when Jokic and Murray were on the sidelines. If he returns next year, we’ll likely see that role be fleshed out even more after some of the struggles the Nuggets’ bench saw this season.
Season Grade: C+
Ultimately, the main reason that Barton’s grade comes in at a C+ rather than being lower were the games where Barton carried the load for Denver when the rest of the roster was struggling. In the team’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets back in January, Barton shouldered the entire offensive load for the end of the third quarter into the fourth quarter, and he ultimately finished the game with 22 points while shooting 6-of-8 from 3-point range.
Barton’s health and regression on both ends of the floor are the main reasons this grade can’t be any higher. Even when he made his return for the playoffs, it was clear that he wasn’t ready for a heavy workload. Barton looked to have turned a corner in 2019-20 with his defense as he nearly registered his first non-negative mark on that end since the 2014-15 season. This year, regression came back in the form of a -1.2 Defensive Box Plus/Minus.
Season Highlight: April 19th Game vs Memphis Grizzlies
Barton’s game of the year was one of the best games in the entire NBA this season. In a double-OT win over the Memphis Grizzlies, Barton poured in 28 points including being nearly perfect from 3-point range with a 5-of-6 outing from the veteran wing player. This game was just a week removed from the Murray injury, and Ja Morant was getting just about every call he could ask for en route to 11 free throws in the game. Barton let Nikola Jokic take over in the overtime, but he more than carried his weight during regulation.
What’s next for Will Barton
What’s next for Barton is a very interesting offseason. He has a player option for $14.6 million available to him this offseason, and it remains to be seen how he’s going to handle that. While he could elect to opt out in hopes of a bigger role or one more big extension, he’s coming off of back-to-back injury-marred seasons. Is he going to find another deal that’s going to pay him that amount of money on the open market?
While he could opt out, it makes just about no sense for him to do so. Murray is likely to be sidelined for the beginning of next season which will make Barton the secondary ball-handler alongside Jokic. He can use that increased role as a way to build some of his value back next year ahead of his free agency. Right now, there are only eight teams projected to have practical cap space that isn’t negative.
Barton is just about locked into one of the two starting guard spots with the current status of the roster. There are other guys that will challenge for minutes, but none of them bring his combination of size, shooting and ball-handling in their arsenal. More than likely, Barton is going to opt into his deal for at least one more year in the Mile High City.