Say Hello To The NBA’s Most Improved Player: Will Barton
The Denver Nuggets are not much to talk about at this point in the season. They currently have a 12-22 record, which has them tied for eleventh place in NBA’s Western Conference. The Nuggets are a scrappy bunch but they just have not been able to put it all together consistently. But one guy that was not thought of much at all is making the most of his opportunity. The Nuggets traded Arron Afflalo to the Portland Trailblazers last February along with forward Alonzo Gee. Denver received a lottery-protected 1st round draft pick and a collection of players that no one thought much about. Two of the players, Thomas Robinson and Victor Claver, are no longer with the Denver Nuggets. But there was one other player that saw this trade as his opportunity to make it happen. Will Barton was getting limited minutes while he was in Portland. The athletic wing player from the University of Memphis seemed like he was on his way out of the NBA. But with the trade to Denver, his career got a jump start. He was able to play some consistent minutes after the trade and in 28 games, he averaged 11 points. But little did we know that Will Barton was just getting started.
Heading into this season, the Nuggets had a new head coach and the Nuggets decided to sign Barton back based off what they saw from him in the 28 games (Barton signed a three-year, $10.6 million deal). There were no assurances that Barton would get the same minutes he got the year before. But if you take a look at the background of new Denver head coach Mike Malone, you knew that Barton had a chance to contribute. One thing that has never been questioned about Barton is his hustle and Malone loves those type of players. Throughout his career, Barton has always been the player that can be seen flying up and down the court. Sure, he was out of control sometimes, but you have to admire his effort and desire. But for as hard as he played, some wondered whether the skill would catch up to his desire. Well, this season it seems to have come together for Barton. He is the top bench scorer in the NBA right now, averaging a career-high 16.7 points per game. And along with his career-high in points per game, he is also sporting career-highs in rebounding, assists and shooting percentage. The amazing thing about his shooting is his three-point shooting percentage has gone from 22% last season to 41% this year. The hard work he has put in has been great to see and it is finally starting to payoff for him.
Along with the improvement on offense by Barton, the defense has remained the same as it was. Barton has never really been the biggest guy, but what he does is use his length to bother opponents. His reach he uses to block the vision of opponents. And when he guards you, he is right there on you the entire time. When someone guards you like that, it can become irritating. Sometimes that can take players out of their game when someone is consistently hounding them. And with the quick hands that Barton has along with the suffocating defense, he can give some opponents fits when he is guarding them. Barton is a solid defender and gives great effort, but sometimes he does get beat. But like any player that gives great effort, he does not give up on the play. Lots of times you can see Barton coming back into the play to knock the basketball out from behind or tie an opponent up for a jump ball. For example, versus the Golden State Warriors, he came back into a play once he was beaten and deflected it away. Kenneth Faried picked the ball up and threw it ahead to Barton, who finished with a contested two-handed dunk. Those type of plays are not conventional, but they are of a player that never gives up and wants to make some things happen.
The sad thing about Barton is that not everyone can see him. The Nuggets are out on the West Coast and not many East Coast fans are aware of what he is doing this year. Another strike against what he is doing this for a team that is not in the playoffs at this point. But not all hope is lost on Barton. He is getting a chance and making the most of it. And hopefully his efforts will help the Nuggets become a playoff team. But if not, he has at least taken his career to the next level and made himself a viable NBA player. Barton, once the afterthought in the Arron Afflalo trade last season, is now the steal of that trade for both teams.