It was career year for Will Barton, who enjoyed a bigger role with the Nuggets and turned it into his best stats as a pro.
His 15.7 points, 4.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 33.1 minutes and 45.2 percent shooting from the field were all career highs. His 2.22 assist-to-turnover ratio was second on the team only to Devin Harris (2.48).
And he was the most versatile player on the team, playing point guard, shooting guard and small forward, and doing all of that in both starting and reserve roles. Barton is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and the Nuggets would like him back in their uniform.
“All I can speak to is my relationship with Will Barton and how much I care about him as a person, first and foremost,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “And then you speak to the fact that he wore so many hats this year – starter, off the bench, backup point guard, two-guard, small forward. It doesn’t matter with Will. He’s a basketball player.”
Barton also wore another significant hat: Closer.
He led the Nuggets in average fourth quarter minutes at 9.3. His 4.0 points per fourth quarter was second on the team only to Jamal Murray’s 4.3. Barton was also nearly automatic from the free throw line when the Nuggets needed it most, making 33-of-35 (94.3 percent) from the charity stripe in the clutch. That was fourth-best in the NBA among players who had taken at least 15 clutch time free throws in the regular season.
“And, to see him step up in the manner in which he did when Gary Harris was out late, that allowed us to go 8-3 in the last 11 games; that allowed us to go 6-1 to close out the season,” Malone said. “I thought Will was fantastic. I think he improved this year defensively. … He had a career season. He was a big part of what did this year, and I would love nothing more than to have Will Barton back in a Denver Nugget uniform.”
OFFENSE: Barton played more in transition, and more analytically.
The percentage of his total shots that were 3-pointers jumped from 35.3 percent in 2016-17 to 41.1 percent this season. Additionally, Barton scored 44.5 percent of his total points in the paint, his highest percentage in three years, which was a two percent jump over the 2016-17 season. Barton reduced his midrange shooting, taking just 83 shots from that space this season. He took 93 last season.
Changes in the frequency of his on-ball actions lent themselves to his ability to play at the arc or at the rim. These are his most used actions in each of the last two seasons. As you can see, the order is exactly the same. The percentages of times these actions were used, however, are very different.
Pick-and-roll, ball handler: 26.2 percent
Transition: 23.2 percent
Spot up: 19.5 percent
Pick-and-roll, ball handler: 30.2 percent
Transition: 20.1 percent
Spot up: 18.8 percent
So, more transition, more spot up shooting, and fewer times handling the ball in pick-and-roll circumstances, which many times puts the player in situations to take midrange shots. Barton took a career-high 5.2 3-point shots per game and equaled his career high 3-point percentage, making 37 percent of his attempts from the arc.
In total, his offensive improvements were a continuation of Barton smoothing out the rough edges of his game, and honing-in on the things he does best. And he accomplished it this season under the pressure of playing three different positions, many times playing multiple positions in a game each night.
DEFENSE: Nuggets coach Michael Malone has spoken to Barton’s improvement on the defensive end. Barton agreed, but added he’s got continued work to do.
There were only two Nuggets to have at least 80 steals and 50 blocks this season – Nikola Jokić (90/61) and Barton (82/52). Barton’s on-ball defense was much-improved this season, so much so that he found himself regularly on the court in defensive lineups in critical games late in the season.
In pick-and-roll coverages, Barton will continue to work on fighting through screens more consistently. On the weak side, Barton said he has to continue to work on his help defense while also keeping track of his man.
But by any measure, this season was a nice step forward for Barton.
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.