All at once, Will Barton’s on-court existence has become a multi-dimensional experience. Gone are the days where he entered a game with a singular focus. This season, Barton has much more on his plate.
There were times that Nuggets coach Michael Malone used Barton as the primary ball handler last season, but it’s become a full-blown position for him this season. It started in the preseason, and Barton went through a stretch where he had 16 assists and zero turnovers. It became more significant when the Nuggets parted ways with Jameer Nelson, leaving just two point guards – Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay – on the team.
According to Malone, Barton’s potential as a main ball handler is high.
“It is a new era of point guard,” Malone said. “In today’s NBA, yeah, Will Barton can play point guard. He’s shown it in flashes, but I think he needs to become a more consistent playmaker. He’s got the ball in hands a ton…he really has a chance to be a 15-16 points per game, and I’d say 5-6 rebounds and five assists type of a guy every night. And if he does that, I think now he’s leading the sixth man of the year race because now he’s contributing in so many different areas. He has that type of ability. When he drives, he draws a crowd. Now he’s just got to start seeing the floor and where the open guy is.”
Barton’s got three or more assists in six of the Nuggets’ 10 games this season. Third on the team in assist average, Barton has nine in his last two games, including four on Tuesday night in the Nuggets’ win over Brooklyn.
It’s a new way of play for the veteran in his sixth year.
“I have to keep telling myself sometimes, coach is going to have me at point guard, run the team, make the right decisions, slow us down if things are getting helter-skelter,” Barton said. “Coming out here, it’s just natural for me to be a scorer first. But sometimes I have to make an adjustment when coach puts the ball in my hands and trusts me with the ball at the point guard position. It’s just a work in process and I’ll just keep assessing myself and try to get better at it.”
It is not rare for Malone to use Barton at point guard to close games. Yet when he puts Barton on the court, even in a ball-handling capacity, Malone still wants him to put scoring pressure on the defense.
“I want him to play in attack mode,” Malone said. “When plays in attack mode and he gets downhill, now he just has to read the situation.”
Asked how he sorts out the scoring/playmaking balance, Barton was matter of fact.
“It’s just a battle within,” Barton said. “I’m trying to challenge myself…I’m learning. It’s the first time I’ve been asked to do this. No excuses. I’ll get better at it. I’ll keep studying film and trying to make the right reads. But I feel like I’m trying and just going to keep trying to get better.”
But he knows one thing right off the top: He like the role.
“I like it,” Barton said. “I like having the ball in my hands. I feel like I’m a scorer and a playmaker. So, I’ve just got to get used to being at the point, it’s kind of different than being on wing and making plays and trying to score.
“At the point, I’ve got to know Nikola (Jokić) is rolling, let me get him the ball; Paul (Millsap) hasn’t gotten a shot in a while, let me get him the ball; Gary (Harris) is cutting, let me hit him; Wilson (Chandler), he’s not involved right now, let me find him. Sometimes you have to take a back seat for the betterment of the team. I’m just working on that and trying to find balance and still be aggressive.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.