DENVER — There has been a surprising yet common, theme developing throughout the Denver Nuggets preseason involving Will Barton. The Nuggets want Barton to be a focal point of the offense and not just a volume scorer off the bench.
Yes, that ended up being his role last season but Nuggets' coach Michael Malone envisions Barton as a much more complete player than what was seen last year.
"I think what happened was when Will Barton knew he was only getting 20 minutes, he probably doesn't even realize this, he tried to impact the game with just his scoring because he probably thought that was what could keep him on the court," Malone said. "When he knew he was going to play extended minutes Will Barton was a complete basketball player. He was a facilitator, made the right play, and let the game to come to him. That is what I want to see this year. I want to allow Will to play with freedom, pick his spots, be a facilitator, be a scorer, and Will is one of the few guys we have that can get his shot whenever he wants. That is the luxury of having a guy like Will Barton coming off of the bench. He can make a play for himself or for his teammates at any point in the game."
It is no surprise that when players know that they are getting extended minutes that they play with significantly less pressure. Barton going into a game not being worried about filling up the stat sheet in his minimal amount of time was something that he struggled with last season and led to him being seen as more of a gunner than the versatile player he is.
Now that Malone has been vocal about getting Barton more minutes it seems to have released a level pressure off of Barton's shoulders and has him back doing what he loves: just playing basketball.
"It's kinda easy for me. It's harder when I don't know when I am going to play so now I am trying to go out there and catch on fire so I can stay in the game," Barton explained. "Now, I kinda know what I am coming into and how much I will be playing so it should be easier on me."
The Nuggets' plan for Barton is to sharply increase his workload. Malone calls Barton a "utility player" and plans to use him as such. Regardless of if Malone needs a ball-handler, a scoring two-guard, or a wing player, it seems that he will turn to Barton as the need arises.
"You look at the stats but Will Barton has 16 assists and just one turnover," Malone said referencing Barton's performance this preseason. "Obviously when he is out there with Jamal I let both of those guys be the initiators and play. I love letting Will Barton play pick-and-roll, make a play for himself, collapse, or find the open guy. He has done a really good job with that. 16 assists and one turnover in three games is remarkable for a guy who is really a utility player. Will Barton does not have a position. He can play one, two, or three. Will Barton is a basketball player. I love the fact that he is valuing the basketball and being the playmaker and facilitator that he is right now."
Barton knows what he wants his role to be. He wants all the minutes he can get and feels that, if allowed to play in that capacity, he could be one of the league's breakout players this season. Barton is a productive player when he gets 25 minutes or more and Denver wants to rely on his ability to get his own shot, be a playmaker for others, and play off-ball as well.
"You know me. I gotta play," Barton explained. "I always feel like I should play and like I said if you look at my numbers they don't lie. When I play over a certain amount of minutes I am real productive."
This was also echoed, again, by Malone when he asked if he envisions Barton taking on an increased role with Denver this season.
"That is the plan. Last year was tough for Will. Especially when we were healthy," Malone said. "He was playing 20 minutes a night because we had Gallo, we had Wilson, Gary was playing so well and so many of these other guys but now, the hope is that we can get Will Barton, I'd love to get him up to 25 or 26 minutes a night because when he got those minutes last year his numbers were off the charts. "
Regardless of what role Barton plays next year on the Nuggets, he will always be the self-proclaimed "baller" he has always been going back to his time playing on concrete courts in Baltimore and because of that, Barton will always find a way to play all out.
“I’m a baller. I’m one of the guys who will play 5-on-5 in the gym all day until whoever quits. That’s just who I’ve been my whole life so I don’t even think about it,” Barton said. “I’m just happy to be out there playing. This could go on forever if it’s up to me.”