From sixth-man, to point guard, energizer bunny, team DJ, and fashion icon, Will Barton wears a lot of hats for the Denver Nuggets and in Saturday night's 125-107 win over the Orlando Magic, Barton wore another: starting shooting guard.
Barton has come off the bench in all 12 of Denver's games prior to Saturday and found out at shootaround that Gary Harris wasn't going to play against Orlando due to shoulder soreness. The 26-year-old, who started 19 games a year ago, wants Harris back as soon as possible but with his status up in the air for Monday's matchup in Portland, Barton is more than happy to take advantage of increased minutes, a bigger role, and more responsibility.
One of the reasons Nuggets' coach Michael Malone opted to insert Barton into Denver's first five was because he knew his starters were going to have to play heavy minutes. Barton logged a season-high 38 minutes and all of the Nuggets' starters played more than 34.
"He loves to play and he never gets tired it seems," Malone said pregame.
He was right.
"I wasn't tired at all," Barton said from his locker after the win while sporting a pair Tom Ford designer glasses. "My mindset right now is on a whole 'nother level, man. I'm so excited to play basketball and I'm so excited about this team. I just really think we can be good and I'm just focused on winning, winning, winning. I don't get tired."
With Barton sporting tunnel vision 24/7, the 6-foot-6 playmaker is putting together a career-year in his sixth season. Barton scored 26 points in the win over the Magic on an efficient 8-12 shooting. He grabbed nine rebounds, handed out five assists and filled up the box score from every angle like he's done countless times already this year.
Barton's posting career-highs in points (14.2), field goal percentage (44.3 percent) and three-point percentage (38.6 percent). He hit 4-6 from distance versus Orlando.
In a sense, Barton is the Nuggets’ pulse. When he's on, Denver usually finds themselves in position to win and when he struggles, the Nuggets' bench flounders.
"I'm in a whole 'nother space and a whole 'nother place right now and I'm just with it," Barton said. "Whatever it's gonna take, I'm with it. And I don't get tired. I love basketball so it's nothing."
Another role Barton's filled this year is closer. More often than not, he'll be on the floor at the end of games, handling the ball or playing on the wing. That's another hat he wears quite comfortably. Barton's shotmaking, playmaking, and defense are all peaking at the right time.
“It’s going to come down to game-by-game, who is going to give us the best chance to win," Malone said recently about how he chooses his closing lineup. "And that’s going to be the guy who closes games.”
It's safe to say Barton's also well-suited for that role.
"I view myself as a closer even though I don't start," Barton said after Denver's win earlier this week over the Thunder. "So I actually expect to close games and when I don't close games, I'm kind of surprised. I'm not surprised when I'm out there so I just want to go out there, get rebounds, get stops, and have the ball in my hands, make plays for others and score. So like I said, I view myself as a closer."
For Denver to reach their playoff potential this season, they'll need this version of Barton on a nightly basis. They could be well on their way too. Over the past eight games, the Nuggets are fielding the league fourth-best offense and have the eighth-best Net Rating. But at 8-5, Denver has to stay focused. There's a long, winding, treacherous path through the Western Conference from now until April
"If you've won the championship, been to The Finals a lot, you know you're going to get there," Barton said. "Well, we haven't had that luxury so we shouldn't be looking ahead. We've got to keep winning games so we make sure we get there in the end. So our focus has to be laser-like."