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As part of Denver Stiffs’ transition from Denver Nuggets postseason coverage to offseason coverage, staff members will be conducting End of Season Reviews for all 17 players on the roster. There will continue to be news, NBA draft, free agency, and trade articles, but over the next three weeks, an accompanying End of Season review (or two) will also post every week day.
Today’s review: Will Barton
Coming into the 2019-20 season, there was a lot of questions surrounding small forward Will barton. He had a down year during 2018-19, and the team was going to have to make some tough financial decisions due to other contracts they had given out. Fortunately for the Nuggets, Barton wasn’t one of those tough decisions, and he boomed for them this past season. This was arguably his best season as a pro, and he fit in perfectly with what this team was trying to do.
On the offensive end, he gave them a legitimate and consistent third option, and he could give them another ball handler at all times. Throw in another strong season from 3-point range, and Barton was everything they could have asked for. Once the playoffs started, it became abundantly clear how much this team missed his presence on the floor.
For Barton, next year will be huge for him. He has a player option for the 2021-22 season, and he could opt out for one final contract extension or opt-in if he has a down year. Barton is the perfect third option for this roster as a starter, but we could also see him moving to the bench this year depending on the role of Michael Porter Jr. If that’s the case, we could see a much different season out of him.
Barton fit in perfectly with this Nuggets’ roster. He wasn’t asked to be the team’s leading man on either end of the field, and that was perfect for him. He was asked to handle the ball on occasion while matching up with the opposing team’s second-best wings. Previously, Barton was miscast as a primary ball-handler or wing stopper, and that’s not what he is. However, if he’s your third scoring option, and he just has to use his length on defense, he can do that all day long.
He was averaging 1.1 steals per game on the year, and, when he was scoring, he was doing it efficiently. That’s the type of play that you need out of your third scoring option. He brought some outside shooting to the roster which helped space the floor for guys like Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris, who did their best work inside the arc.
Barton wasn’t a flawless player for them this season. He averaged 1.5 turnovers per game, and he also was unable to be there for the team’s playoff run. His absence in the playoffs hurt this team tremendously against teams like the LA Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers, who had a bevy of wings at their disposal. They’ll be thrilled to have him back next season no matter if he starts or comes off the bench.
Season Grade: A-
Barton is very deserving of this grade. You can make the argument that he was the third-best player on the team this season, and there were nights when he was even their best player. His scoring ability gave them someone that could get hot in a hurry when their stars were cold. Not all teams have that, and it can make the difference in a playoff series. I’ve said it several times, but his ball-handling was missed severely in the playoffs because there were several spurts where they were missing that extra on-ball threat.
The only reason this grade isn’t an A+ is that he wasn’t there for the playoffs. A player’s best ability is their availability. He wasn’t able to be there when the games mattered most, and that hurt them. The case can be made this team wouldn’t have been pushed to seven games in the first two series, and they may have had the energy to outlast the Lakers. We will never know for sure, but it will always be what might have been.
Season Highlight: Game against Golden State Warriors
This one was an easy call. If it weren’t for the play of Barton in this game, the Nuggets would have dropped it to arguably the NBA’s worst team. He dropped 32 points on a night where he was searing the nets like a true splash brother. He was 11-of-20, including 7-of-10 from 3-point range. On a night where Jamal Murray was inactive, Barton stepped up to take his place.
What’s next for Will Barton
It’s unclear what’s next for Barton. The Nuggets have Michael Porter Jr. waiting in the wings, and Barton was one of his biggest supporters during his play in the bubble. Porter is very clearly the future of this team, but we don’t know that Michael Malone will be ready to hand over the keys to that starting small forward spot just yet. If he were to remain a starter, his function would be as an off-ball scorer that could handle the ball during bench minutes.
However, if they were to bring him off the bench, this roster would get a lot more interesting. Barton brings a super-scorer mentality that they lost with the trade of Malik Beasley, and he can handle the ball effectively as well. This team’s starters would likely be a combination of Murray, Harris, Porter, Jerami Grant and Nikola Jokic. With a strong five like that, the bench would just need to tread water, but Barton would actually give them an advantage.
It remains to be seen what they’re going to do with Barton. He’s not leaving the mile-high city, and he’s going to be a key player for this team. How much is that going to be? We won’t know until opening night when Malone trots out his rotations, and it won’t even be clear then because it takes one missed rotation for Malone to change it all up.