Barton could be surprise winner of Millsap signing
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.