Will Barton has always seen a starter within himself. Now he’s going to get the chance to show he can be just that.
In the hours after Nuggets coach Michael Malone’s initial estimate of a couple of weeks missed for injured shooting guard Gary Harris, the Nuggets learned he would be out longer. On Thursday, Malone revised Harris’s time on the shelf to four weeks.
“From what I’m hearing it could be up to four weeks, and that’s being positive,” Malone said. “It’s unfortunate. Gary had a tremendous summer, he was playing great for us. That’s the value of having such great depth. It will be a great opportunity for some of our young guys to play meaningful minutes early in the season, if that’s the case.”
First up: Barton.
The veteran shooting guard had a breakout season in 2015-16. Of all the players who stand to see an increase in minutes because of Harris’ absence – rookies Jamal Murray and Malik Beasley included – it’s Barton who will have the first chance to solidify himself in the spot should Harris miss regular-season games.
“Gary said he feels great today,” Malone said. “But I think they have to wait for the swelling to go down and then take the next course of action. But we’re going to go into it that Gary will be out anywhere from three to four weeks.”
Asked how he would prepare for the increased role, Barton never hesitated.
“The same way I stepped up last year when guys went down, when Gary went down for a little while,” Barton said. “Just relishing the moment, taking advantage of it but at the same time just being myself, not putting no pressure on myself.”
He’s off to a solid start in camp, and finished with 12 points, five assists and three rebounds in the Nuggets’ preseason opener. The performance was fine, he said. But Barton said he is looking for more.
“Growth in my game, getting better with my decision-making, staying consistent with my jump shot and really being locked in on defense, that’s really what I’m focused on,” Barton said. “Seeing some strides. My on-ball defense has been pretty good; just got to make sure I’m not messing up coverages and things of that nature.”
There will be many combinations Malone and his staff experiment with in the preseason. Barton is in a few of them. If he plays well, he’ll put himself in position to take the spot in a regular season he’s looking forward to more than any other in his young career.
“Last year I was excited because I knew I would get a chance,” he said. “But now I’m more established. I had a good year but now I want to take it to another level. I’m more excited, and I feel like we have a better team too.”
Footnote. The Nuggets left for Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon. They have exhibition games against the Lakers there Friday night and Sunday night. It will be the first time former Nuggets coach Brian Shaw sees his old team in person. He’s on the staff under new Lakers coach Luke Walton.
Christopher Dempsey | www.denverpost.com | October 6th, 2016