The shifty, veteran guard arrived via trade months before coach Michael Malone did in 2015, and he’s been privy to everything the Nuggets have become in the subsequent seven seasons.
He’s seen, firsthand, their steady ascent up the Western Conference ladder and was one of the earliest subscribers to Nikola Jokic.
Before Gary Harris was traded, Barton played out of position as an undersized small forward, gamely accepting his role even though most nights he was mismatched on bigger wings.
That wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t his fault, either, when prolonged injuries to Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. thrust Barton’s offense into the spotlight, elevating him from a valuable role player to one of Jokic’s primary sidekicks.
Yet Barton, whose 14.7 points per game last season narrowly trailed Aaron Gordon (15) for second-most on the team, drew the lion’s share of the criticism when things went wrong.
As one of the only Nuggets with an ever-present attack mindset, he would more often than not be the outlet when defenses swarmed around Jokic. Among the starters, that was usually a better outcome than if the ball found Gordon or Jeff Green late in the shot clock.
Some of the criticism was warranted. There were lapses on defense, including badly timed missed box-outs, and other times when he’d submarine possessions on offense.
But as glaring as those faults were, many were a result of the fact that he was the only real wing on the Nuggets’ roster last season and they were severely compromised due to injuries.
Their other shooting guards – Austin Rivers and Bryn Forbes – were either defensive stoppers or 3-point specialists. Denver wasn’t deep in terms of two-way players.
If it’s the latter, they’ll have ample prospects to choose from with the No. 21 and 30 picks in the first round of the draft.