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Role Player of the Week: Will Barton

Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY Sports

We know everything Stephen Curry and LeBron James do. We sound the alarm over every Anthony Davis block and dunk.

That’s all fair, but it makes it easy for role players to not get properly recognized. In the ebb and flow of the season, several role players go through hot streaks that go under the radar.

We’ll try to rectify this issue by awarding a Role Player of the Week Award. This is to highlight a superb week by a player who may not get a ton of coverage. The Week 6 winner is Will Barton.

It makes sense that all the players who win this award are overlooked when their teams acquire them, and Barton is no different. When Denver dealt Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee to Portland, the lottery-protected first-round pick was thought to be the only major asset going the other way.

Barton was an afterthought, but the Nuggets gave him a chance at rotation minutes. Despite his decent play down the stretch, Denver was able to re-sign him to a three-year, $10.6 million deal.

Most deals look a lot better with the cap going up, but Barton’s looks like a straight steal. $3.5 million next season will be a great rate for an eighth man, and he looks like more than that.

Perhaps the reluctance from anyone to bid on Barton stemmed from his lack of three-point shooting. He hadn’t shot better than 30.3 percent from deep in his first three seasons, but his stroke looked good enough to improve.

With regular playing time, Barton’s shot has finally found consistency. He’s currently shooting 41.4 percent on threes this year while taking over three a game, and he’s improved vastly on his above-the-break threes. Last season, he shot 29.3 percent on those shots, per NBAsavant.com. This year, he’s up to 40.4 percent.

Barton’s ability to shoot now complements his excellent cutting abilities. Barton has a knack for cutting when his man is helping contain a drive:

Barton wasted no time here cutting the basket here once his man left. It seems like a simple play, but many players don’t cut at the right times, or at all. Barton made sure he left a passing lane for Jameer Nelson and got an easy bucket as a result.

The easy looks and bursts of speed to the rim have allowed Barton to shoot 59.5 percent on attempts in the restricted area, best among Denver’s perimeter players. Finishing has always been a strength of his, and now that he has a more consistent jumper to go with it, he’s becoming very difficult to guard.

Barton scored in double figures in 18 games last season. This year, his first consistently in a team’s rotation, he’s already matched that through his first 21 games. This past week, he averaged 18 points on 47.2 percent shooting in three games.

Defensively, Barton will always be limited by his small frame. He plays with effort, but he’ll never be a consistent stopper. That means Barton will likely be best served coming off the bench, but he can definitely be a difference-maker as a sixth or seventh man if he continues to play as well as he has so far this season.

This is big for the Nuggets, as Barton gives the team some athleticism most of its other bench options are lacking. Barton could be an intriguing partner for Emmanuel Mudiay as the rookie point guard develops, as the two players’ athletic ability and unpredictability would be hard for opponents to guards. The offense is 4.4 points better when the two of them share the court, per NBAwowy.com. So far, that’s been negated by the defense being worse, but if Mudiay develops defensively, the two could be effective together.

Barton’s excellent contract gives Denver plenty of options. The team is flush with cap space and now has a player on a cheap contract who can be one of its best players off the bench. He could also be a sweetener in a trade for a big-time player, as Denver has plenty of assets and will throw its hat in the ring for any star on the block. It’s unlikely he’ll be the difference-maker in that type of trade, but it sure helps any offer.

Denver’s in a rebuild right now, and most of the focus will be on the resurgence of Danilo Gallinari and the emergence of Emmanuel Mudiay. But the play of Will Barton can’t go unnoticed, and it certainly hasn’t in Denver.

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