Bar­ton could be sur­prise win­ner of Mill­sap sign­ing

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - MARK KISZLA Den­ver Post Colum­nist

Paul Mill­sap is in. Danilo Gal­li­nari is out. As a re­sult, who’s the big­gest win­ner in the Nuggets’ locker room?

The an­swer might sur­prise you. For the Nuggets to make the play­offs in the dog-eat-dog Western Con­fer­ence, they are go­ing to need a big sea­son from Will Bar­ton.

“Will Bar­ton is a heck of a player,” said Den­ver coach Michael Malone, who be­lieves Bar­ton is fully ca­pa­ble of play­ing both po­si­tions on the wing, as well as run­ning the point, if the need arises.

In or­der to pay Mill­sap an an­nual salary of $30 mil­lion, salary cap con­cerns forced the Nuggets to part ways with Gal­li­nari, who led the team in scor­ing dur­ing each of the last two sea­sons. So how does Den­ver fill the void?

Per­haps Malone has an out-of-the­box so­lu­tion. Call it: More Will, More Wins. Let’s start ex­am­i­na­tion of this idea by com­par­ing the per-game sta­tis­ti­cal av­er­ages of two Den­ver play­ers dur­ing the 2016-17 sea­son.

Player A: 18.2 points, 5.2 re­bounds, 2.1 as­sists on 44.7 per­cent shoot­ing.

Player B: 19.2 points, 5.2 re­bounds, 4.2 as­sists on 47.5 per­cent shoot­ing.

Player A is Gal­li­nari. Player B is Bar­ton in the 25 games he was granted at least 30 min­utes of play­ing time. Maybe that’s one rea­son Den­ver felt los­ing Gal­li­nari to the Los An­ge­les

Clip­pers in a sign-and­trade deal wasn’t such a big deal.

It was a painful, some­times con­found­ing, sea­son-long strug­gle for Malone to es­tab­lish a con­sis­tent play­ing ro­ta­tion.

“Will Bar­ton prob­a­bly suf­fered the most from that,” Malone told me. “When Danilo Gal­li­nari and Wil­son Chan­dler were healthy, Will Bar­ton was get­ting maybe 20 min­utes a night. When Wil­son or Gallo were out with in­juries, Bar­ton was get­ting closer to 30 min­utes. And when you look at the chances Bar­ton had to play 25 or more min­utes, his num­bers are off the charts.”

Con­ven­tional wis­dom is the start­ing five for the Nuggets will be Nikola Jo­kic, Mill­sap, Chan­dler, Gary Har­ris and Ja­mal Mur­ray.

But when given 30 min­utes per game last sea­son, Bar­ton was a more ef­fec­tive shooter than Chan­dler, a more pro­duc­tive passer than Chan­dler and nearly as good a re­bounder as Chan­dler.

In this era of po­si­tion­less basketball in the NBA, maybe the most com­pelling rea­sons to start Chan­dler over Bar­ton are: 1) Chan­dler is a stronger de­fender, and 2) If Chan­dler doesn’t get his ego stroked, he’s in­clined to mope.

So I say let Bar­ton come off the bench as the pri­mary backup to Chan­dler and Har­ris to pro­vide an in­fu­sion of en­ergy and of­fen­sive ex­plo­sive­ness.

Could the sit­u­a­tion be a win-win for Bar­ton, un­doubt­edly look­ing to score a big raise from his $3.5 mil­lion salary when he be­comes a free agent in 2018, and the Nuggets, who will prob­a­bly need 45 vic­to­ries to se­cure the No. 6 play­off seed in the West?

Al­though Mill­sap made four con­sec­u­tive ap­pear­ances in the All-Star Game with At­lanta, a re­turn trip seems highly un­likely now that he has moved west, where An­thony Davis, Dray­mond Green and Blake Grif­fin re­side.

If Mill­sap lets Malone es­tab­lish some rhyme and rea­son in his play­ing ro­ta­tion, al­low­ing Bar­ton to play the wing for some­thing ap­proach­ing a con­sis­tent 30 min­utes per game, he might give the Nuggets a le­git­i­mate can­di­date for the NBA’s sixth man of the year.

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