Will Barton picked the right time to have a career night.
Playing a home game against the Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets reserve guard came off the bench to pour in 37 points. He also notched the game-winning layup in the final seconds.
Barton’s performance came at an opportune time, as the Nuggets have been ravaged by injuries perhaps more than any other team in the NBA. Not only were the Nuggets playing without Paul Millsap and Wilson Chandler, the Nuggets needed to go much of the night against the Bulls without Nikola Jokic, who suffered a sprained ankle.
Although the X-rays came back negative for Jokic’s injury, Denver still needed to operate without its entire starting frontcourt. Much like Lou Williams has had to pick up the scoring slack for the LA Clippers, Barton picked up his teammates.
Going forward, the Nuggets will rely heavily on their young guards. Mason Plumlee and Kenneth Faried are not traditional scorers, so having a reliable offensive option coming off the bench is a big asset for head coach Mike Malone.
Barton offers the mentality to be an elite scorer off the bench. He strives to get to the rim and draw contact, and he’s a capable three-point shooter–currently averaging 43.6 percent from behind the arc.
“Will Barton didn’t win the game at the end. I thought he won the game in the second and first quarters, when we were getting blown out,” Malone told reporters after Barton’s career night. “He comes in and gives us offense.”
Given the Nuggets’ injuries, Barton could emerge as a popular Sixth Man of the Year candidate. The depth of maladies, plus Barton’s impressive 15.4 PPG average on 48.2 percent shooting, will put him in the mix.
Malone could opt to start Barton, choosing to go small with Plumlee and Faried in the backcourt. He could also throw Juancho Hernangomez into the mix in more of a stretch lineup. As the coach experiments, Barton could become a reliable option.
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