It was February 19, 2015 when the Denver Nuggets sent Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee to the Portland Trail Blazers for a lottery protected first round pick and multiple players. One of those players included in the trade was none other than Will Barton and little did we know what he would mean to this Nuggets team for years to come.
Barton joined the Nuggets a year before Michael Malone became the head coach and was only on the team for two weeks before Denver fired Brian Shaw and named Melvin Hunt interim head coach. The Nuggets finished with a record of 30-52 that season and felt like a team lost with no answer in sight.
Things started to slowly turn around though as the Nuggets hired Michael Malone as their new head coach and improved the next season bumping their record up to 33-49 as Barton had a really solid year averaging 14.4 points per game off the bench. The fun really began to start the following season when the Nuggets got Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray into the fold and ended up falling just a game short of the playoffs finishing one game back of Portland for the eight seed.
These seasons — before Jokic and Murray established themselves — are when Barton really carried the Nuggets and was the heartbeat of the team. Barton was the one who was always kept it real, said what needed to be said, and was the real glue that held the Nuggets together. Not only was Barton the first player who spoke out publicly on how great Jokic could be, but he also took Murray under his wing and helped guide him to the player he is today.
The 2017-18 season was when you could really start to tell the Nuggets had something special brewing as Barton had a career year averaging a career-high 15.7 points off the bench, while shooting 37 percent from beyond this arc. This season ended in heartbreak for the Nuggets as they lost game 82 to the Minnesota Timberwolves and missed the playoffs by one game for the second consecutive season.
You could already see the career arch for Barton with the Nuggets as he started with them at their lowest point and was a leader in them getting back to being a competitive team once again. Then came the 2018-19 season, which ended up being a great season for the Nuggets as they ended the year as the two seed in the West and made it to the second round of the playoffs before losing to the Trail Blazers.
This was a tough season for Barton though as he injured himself in just the second game of the season and had to undergo hip/core surgery, which forced him to miss 37 consecutive games. For Barton, this was the first time he had suffered a major injury in the NBA and he had to fight, scratch, and claw to try and get back healthy and help contribute to the Nuggets playoff run.
Barton did just that as he started the final 35 games of the regular season and the first three of the playoffs before moving to the bench in place of Torrey Craig. It was sadly just the start of some bad injury luck for Barton though as he missed a number of games over the course of the last there seasons due to various injuries.
When you look back on the Nuggets bubble run, Barton sadly missed all of that due to a lingering knee issue. Fast forward a year later and Barton missed a ton of the Nuggets playoff run due to a hamstring issue, but to his credit he did fight back and play in the final three games of the Phoenix Suns series and even scored 25 points in Game 4.
Even though the Nuggets playoff run ended early this season, it was nice to see Barton stay healthy for that and play in every single game. Barton honestly was the healthiest he’d been in years this past season as he played in 71 games and performed pretty well averaging 14.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game.
The defense is really where Barton began to get exposed this past season and it’s a big reason why the Nuggets traded him to the Washington Wizards in a deal for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. When you compare the two players, Caldwell-Pope shoots a much more efficient clip from three than Barton and he just gives the Nuggets more upside on the defensive end of the floor.
Still, Barton deserves his respect for what he was able to do for the Nuggets organization. Barton joined the Nuggets when they were in the cellar of the Western Conference and were a team desperate for answers. In his eight years with the Nuggets, the team constantly got better and Barton was the first real leader of the Michael Malone era.
There was a number of times Barton could have jumped ship and signed somewhere else, but he didn't. He stayed with the Nuggets because he believed in the culture they had and in return the results started to get better and better. It’s a shame Barton missed some of pivotal Nuggets moments over the years because without him chances are Denver would not even be there.
It always confusing to me why Barton felt like the scapegoat for fans when things were going sideways. He always felt like the easy person to blame as people would always point to his defense or potentially that big shot be missed in the clutch. On the flip side of that, all the big defensive stops and game winners felt seldom mentioned and they certainly happened as Barton often delivered when the lights were on and the Nuggets needed him most.
Not only did Barton do a lot for the Nuggets on the court, be he did a lot off the floor as well. As the Nuggets ushered in new talent and stars like Jokic, Murray, and Michael Porter Jr., Barton was always there to help guide those guys along. Barton was the cool, calm, and collected one in the locker room that always kept it real and would always tell you the truth.
Barton was here when the Nuggets were at their worst and he’s leaving when they are truly growing into their best. It’s incredibly tough to see someone go that meant so much to this team, but that’s the nature of the business and sometimes you have to make tough decisions.
There’s no easy way to wrap this up, but the easiest way is to just say thank you to Will Barton as he truly did mold the Nuggets into the team they are today.