The list of shooting guards on the open market is small, and the amount of unrestricted two guards makes that list even smaller. But unrestricted two who can score with ease anywhere on the floor? Well, that may only describe Will Barton.
Barton is hitting unrestricted free agency at a time many teams don’t have spending money, but that shouldn’t stop the 27-year-old guard from attracting several interested suitors. The Mavericks will likely take a look at the six-year veteran and find the team doesn’t quite have a player like him.
Barton was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2012 draft but was traded at the February 2015 deadline to the Nuggets in a transaction headlined by Portland acquiring Aaron Afflalo. Barton has posted career averages of 10 points, four rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes per game. He’s a lifetime 43 percent shooter from the field, including 34 percent from deep.
However, he took major strides in the 2015-16 season (his first full season in Denver) eventually breaking out in the 2017-18 season. In 33 minutes per game, Barton scored 15.7 points, grabbed five rebounds and tallied four assists while shooting 37 percent from three. The 6 feet 6 inch perimeter threat played in 81 games for the Nuggets last season, starting in 40 of them. He set career-high per-game averages in minutes, points, assists, and three-point percentage. He provided the Nuggets with much needed versatility, playing positions one through three as the team dealt with injuries.
Barton’s biggest strength is scoring. He’s a threat from anywhere on the court and can drop 20-plus points at a moment’s notice. Not only can he create his own shot, but he’s also a good off-ball player canning threes, moving off screens or cutting. His biggest scoring contributions came after the all-star break where he scored 18 points per game, second only to Nikola Jokic. Even further, Barton poured in 21 points per night in the month of April while the Nuggets fought tooth and nail for a playoff berth.
Barton is also an underrated playmaker. He posted a career high 18.5 assist percentage, and his four assists per game were second most on the Nuggets behind Jokic’s 6.1. Four assists per contest would have exceeded any shooting guard or wing on the Mavericks’ roster.
Overall, Barton’s offensive repertoire is extensive. He can space the floor, create his own shot, operate out of the pick and roll and finish in traffic. He’s not elite by any means, but he can impact the offense in a variety of ways.
Like many players known for filling it up on the scoring end, one of Barton’s weaknesses is being a gunner. When the shots are falling, he’s a spark plug off the bench providing a scoring punch, but when the well runs dry, he can be a ball-stopping, inefficient chucker. The unpredictability can be a roller coaster which can drive coaches up the wall. Part of this stems from Barton’s inability to get to the free throw line. Last season he averaged 2.8 free throw attempts per game and a .220 free throw rate. For perspective Harrison Barnes’ free throw rate settled in at .259.
As the NBA seems to play smaller and smaller as time passes by, Barton’s slight frame could complicate his defensive versatility. He possesses good size, but he’s not particularly strong enough to defend in the post.
Fit with the Mavericks
On the court, Barton is a good fit in Dallas. Wesley Matthews is the only shooting guard under contract for the 2018-19 season, and it’s anyone’s guess what the front office will do when his contract expires after this upcoming season. Aside from that, the Mavericks sorely need players with Barton’s height and offensive prowess.
Here’s the question about Barton’s fit: is he worth it? He reportedly turned down a four-year, $42 million extension with the Nuggets in October wanting to bet on himself, which clearly worked purely from a basketball standpoint. He also wants to be a starter. The problem is the market is dry, and few teams have cap space. Could the Mavericks get a player coming off a career year on a discount? Possibly. But Barton will be 28 by seasons end, and one can argue he won’t drastically improve off his 2017-18 season.
The front office should ask if Barton and a more expensive multi-year contract is more valuable than, say, a Seth Curry who would be much cheaper. Curry’s on-court production likely wouldn’t match Barton’s, but the financial flexibility the Mavericks could retain coupled with Curry’s contributions on the court might match or exceed the Barton experience. It’s purely speculation but something that needs to be discussed when considering Barton’s fit with the Mavericks as every free agency decision needs to be viewed in the long term.