The Denver Nuggets are having a rough season, but Will Barton has been a bright spot.
In a rebuilding season, it’s often hard to find reasons for optimism. There’s usually the silver lining of giving the promising rookies and young players ample minutes, but even if they represent the franchise cornerstones for the future, it’s not always pretty to watch.
With Jusuf Nurkic still recovering from injury and Emmanuel Mudiay struggling with his trial by fire in the starting point guard role, the Denver Nuggets know this better than most. But in a rebuilding year that’s come with an 8-14 record and the league’s worst attendance rates, at least Nuggets fans have had Will Barton to entertain them.
Barton, a 24-year-old backup wing who was acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers in the Arron Afflalo trade last season, is not exactly superstar material. The focus for the future will still be on Mudiay, Nurkic, Nikola Jokic, Joffrey Lauvergne and Gary Harris, and even with Barton re-signed to a three-year deal this summer, he’s probably not starter material.
What he is, however, is the spiritual successor to Corey Brewer: a rangy wing who loves to get out in transition, streak toward the rim off the bounce and play with an undeniably infectious amount of energy. The cold air in Denver might be stifling just how contagious that energy is, but you get the point: Will Barton is a bright spot in an otherwise dreary season.
In 22 games, Barton has come off the bench in all but one, but he’s still the team’s second leading scorer at 14.4 points per game. He’s also chipping in 5.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals a night, he’s shooting 46.1 percent from the field and unlike Corey Brewer, has been efficient from downtown, draining 40 percent of his 3.6 three-point attempts per game.
Barton has reached double digits in the scoring column in 19 of his 22 games, he’s putting up career highs in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and three-point percentage, and with Harris still dealing with a concussion, he’s managed to step up his game over the last week as well.
In Denver’s last five games, Barton is averaging 17.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, including 22 points in an exhilarating road win over the Toronto Raptors. He was also the lone bright spot in Tuesday’s home loss to the Orlando Magic, finishing with 23 of the Nuggets’ 75 points for the game.
He may not exactly be a refined player, but he’s easily the most fun player on Denver’s roster at the moment…and he might just be their best player as well.
After all, it’s not like there have been many other contenders for that designation. Danilo Gallinari is barely just shaking off his early season shooting woes, averaging a team-leading 17.5 points per game on a dismal 38.9 percent shooting. Gallo hasn’t lived up to expectations following his torrid finish to the 2014-15 season, but Barton has exceeded his.
Among all players who have come off the bench in the majority of their games, Barton ranks third in scoring (behind only Ryan Anderson and Alec Burks), leading some to wonder if he could stir up some Sixth Man of the Year chatter.
That might be a bit ambitious considering he’s the top reserve of a Western Conference bottom-feeder, especially since voters will side with a sixth man on a contender every time. But Barton’s injection of energy off the bench has been enjoyable nonetheless.
Overall, it’s been a depressing season in Denver. Nurkic is still sidelined; Wilson Chandler suffered a season-ending injury before it even began; Mudiay’s growing pains have been hard to stomach at times; Harris has missed his last six games with a concussion; Lauvergne’s been banged up; and Jokic is now splitting time with J.J. Hickson for some reason.
But in a rebuilding year filled with low expectations and developmental minutes for the raw, younger talent, Will Barton’s Tasmanian Devil act has been the silver lining of the storm clouds in Denver.
Gerald Bourguet | hoopshabit.com | December 10, 2015