Will Barton Rounding into Form as Preseason Rolls On

On Friday, two days before the Nuggets fourth preseason game, at San Antonio, Will Barton was brought a stat.

Reporter: “Did you know you have a 16-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio?”

Barton knew.

“Coach told me,” he said.

But there was an aspect of it that he wasn’t sure of.

“I wonder when was my turnover,” he said, smiling. “I don’t remember turning the ball over.”

Reporters laughed. Yet, Barton was mostly serious.

“I’m serious, did I get a turnover the last game?” he said. “I don’t even remember getting a turnover. I’m just trying to go out there and play good basketball, make the right reads and make the right plays.”

He’s had a ton this preseason.

Barton has been in good form through four preseason games, and as is customary for him, playing better as he plays more. In the last two games, where he’s averaged 27.5 minutes, he’s scored 13.0 points on 47.6 percent shooting and has hit 6-of-10 3-point shots. Nuggets coach Michael Malone knows he must carve out more time for him this season.

“When Will has the ball he’s an effective player – he creates plays for himself and others,” Malone said. “His greatest challenge is going to be when he doesn’t have the ball. Spacing, running, cutting, and not just waiting for the ball to come back to him. That’s going to be a big area of growth for him.

“Defensively, I think he’s done a really good job so far, trying to be more disciplined within the defense and his own one-on-one defense. So, I think he’s taking that to heart; he’s done a better job there, and his stat line speaks for itself…when he gets the extended minutes. I’m going to have to find ways to get him those minutes as a backup two, a backup three, and at times as a backup one if need be.”

Barton is ready for them. He got off to a hot start last season before suffering a bad ankle injury on Halloween night in Toronto.

“You know me, I love to play and always feel like I should play,” Barton said. “If you look at my numbers they don’t lie. When I play a certain amount of minutes I’m real productive.”

Danilo Gallinari’s departure opened up more minutes at small forward, and Barton will likely share those with Juancho Hernangomez. But as the ultimate utility player on the team, he can slot in anywhere on the perimeter. His assists to turnovers now stand at 19-to-3 with one preseason game remaining.

“I love letting Will Barton play pick-and-roll,” Malone said. “Make a play for himself or collapse (the defense) and find the open guy. And he’s done a really good job of that. … Will Barton is a basketball player, and I love the fact that he’s valuing the basketball and being the facilitator and playmaker that he is right now.”

Rotation matters. Nuggets coach Michael Malone stayed coy about lineups and how real Tuesday’s preseason finale.

“Obviously, I’m not going to play our starting group 30-plus minutes,” Malone said. “I also want to stay healthy. I still want to be healthy going into our season opener on the 18th in Utah. But obviously we still want to work with our starting group, get them used to playing together and got to figure out what we’re going to do with that bench rotation, who is going to play.

“I have a pretty good idea right now of who I’m going to start. As far as who the backups are, that’s kind of still being discussed by us as a staff.”

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.

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