“I’m usually pretty honest when I do these slideshows,” writes Rant Sports’ Chipper Murphy. “I had no idea who Will Barton was before I started researching this.” Most casual NBA fans likely find themselves in a similar position to Mr. Murphy. In fact, a good number of people may have looked at this article’s featured image and thought, “Wow, that picture of James Harden is completely out of focus!” That’s understandable: until earlier last season, Barton, the 40th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft out of Memphis was a relative unknown buried on the Portland Trailblazers’ bench.
However, if you’ve tuned into a few Nuggets games this season, or at the very least caught the highlights, you might have witnessed a player in Nuggets colors, with the build of a licorice stick, wearing a headband and hurtling towards the rim at breakneck speed. “Corey Brewer…?” a few fans might have pondered. Nope. It’s William Denard Barton, your dark-horse candidate for the 2015-16 Sixth Man of the Year Award.
Barton, through 21 games this season, is averaging 14 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2 assists per game, on a .460/.420/.875 shooting split, in 27 minutes per game. His shooting accuracy has been a pleasant surprise thus far, particularly from three-point range, where his previous career high was 30% from deep. This improved stroke doesn’t, however, feel like an unsustainable hot streak. He’s taking 3.3 deep shots a game this season - up from his previously very small career sampling of 1.2 per-outing back in Portland. He’s hitting 1.4 of them a game - this is no fluke.
His PER (Player Efficiency Rating) is a 19.64. For reference, that places him 46th in the NBA, right between San Antonio’s Tony Parker and Houston’s Dwight Howard. Pretty good, right?
The shot chart to the top right gives you a little bit of a feel for where Barton likes to score from: 83 of his 209 shot attempts are right at the rim, good for roughly 40% of his total attempts. “The rim is where I want to get. No doubt,” said Barton to Nate Simmons in his exclusive piece for BSNDenver. “Get to that rim, get easy layups, dunks, finish around the rim and get to the free throw line. I don’t really favor one part of the court, besides getting to that rim.”
But that’s not all. It’s not just that he’s getting to the rim, scoring efficiently and making a positive impact on his team - it’s how he’s doing it. There are a lot of effective, worthy candidates for Sixth Man of the Year. Isaiah Thomas, Andre Iguodala, Ryan Anderson; all three of those guys are more commonly referred to as likely recipients. But every so often, there’s a player in the league who comes off the bench and manages to absolutely mystify you with a mesmerizing, unorthodox, inexplicably effective style.
The Suns’ incarnation of Leandro Barbosa, younger Manu Ginobili, Jamal Crawford until the day he forgets to dribble a basketball—these are examples of sixth men that captured NBA fans’ imagination. Barton, though currently a significantly lesser name than any of those three in their primes, is cut from the same cloth. Plays like this are routine:
You might be thinking, “Right, yeah, that looked pretty cool, but that was on a fast break. A lot of players could do that.” That’s just the thing about Barton though. The guy is a fast break. Check out this play against the Lakers:
At first, this would appear to be a vanilla half-court set. Most players, at the point where Barton caught the ball, would have made their way inside the three-point line and seen the mid-range-jumpshot-capable Darrell Arthur, made available by the rotating defense. Not Will Barton, though. Will Barton catches the ball and immediately careens towards the basket like a caffeinated cat seeing a laser-pointer on a wall for the first time. He cuts directly through four Lakers defenders, dunks on two of them and creates a worthy highlight with a grand total of one dribble. “That’s my game, to get up-and-down and play fast. I have a talent where I don’t really get tired, so I have to use that to the best of my ability […] I like to come in there and change that pace,” said Barton to BSNDenver.
The Nuggets aren’t a great team. Beyond Danilo Gallinari, there aren’t a ton of reliable scoring options. Kenneth Faried has rather blatant offensive limitations. Emmanuel Mudiay is contributing 11.3 points per game, but he’s doing so hitting a regrettable 31% of his field-goal attempts. Somebody’s got to put points up on the board; and the more I see of Will Barton, the more I’m convinced he’s the man for the job.
Barton isn’t a household name yet. He plays for a smaller market team; a rather pedestrian smaller-market team this season at that. As a result, he’s not getting a ton of nationally televised match-ups. Regardless, you can’t go around throwing down nuclear dunks on people, celebrating, and putting up solid, efficient numbers without going unnoticed forever.
Barton’s got the numbers. He’s got the athleticism. He’s got a weird shotput shooting form, he’s got the endless, sinewy limbs, and he’s got an affable, likable personality. What all of these traits conjoined make him, most importantly of all, is memorable.
Barton will be firmly in the Sixth Man of the Year conversation by the time the All-Star Break rolls around. “This is just the tip of the iceberg of what I can really do,” said Barton to BSNDenver. Statistically and aesthetically, I’m inclined to agree. Meet Will Barton, the Sixth Man of the Year candidate you’ve subconsciously been craving all along.
Braxton Carr | thesportsquotient.com | December 8, 2015