Will Barton

Northwest Notes: Barton, Niang, Nuggets

Nuggets guard Will Barton understands it may take awhile for players to get back into game shape due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the 29-year-old is still mentally prepared to return to the hardwood, Alex Labidou of Nuggets.com writes.

Barton discussed a number of topics with Katy Winge of Altitude, including returning to Denver’s practice facility, his thoughts on The Last Dance and more.

“You can try to do as much as you can, but without getting on the court and playing 5-on-5, nothing can prepare for game shape,” he told Winge, as relayed by Labidou.

Many practice facilities around the NBA are beginning to open with strict restrictions and protocols in place, allowing some players to return to a court for the first time in roughly two months.

In addition to Zoom calls and virtual training sessions, players have resorted to watching game film and weekly episodes of The Last Dance, and Barton is no exception.

“I don’t miss an episode… Mike [Jordan] was insane and I mean that in the best way possible,” Barton said. “Just how driven he was, his mindset mentally he was just different. We all know how gifted he was, how talented he was. But to get a live look into a mindset, what made him tick, is amazing.”

Here are some other notes out of the Northwest Division:

  • Jazz forward Georges Niang gave insight into his first workout at Utah’s practice facility, which was recently reopened amidst the coronavirus pandemic, as relayed by Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune. “The guy that is on our training staff has to be in full [personal protective equipment] — whether that’s a mask, gloves; I know he’s carrying around a spray bottle and a towel,” Niang said. “So, basically every step that I take or wherever I go, that place is getting sprayed down.”
  • Nick Kosmider of The Athletic examines what the Nuggets must do in order to compete for a championship, listing seven questions to answer if the playoffs take place. Denver has a deep roster headlined by the likes of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, but the franchise has failed to achieve postseason success in recent years.
  • Harrison Wind of TheDNVR.com provides a peek into the Nuggets‘ first week of workouts back at the practice facility. Denver formally opened its facility last week, becoming one of the first teams to do so.

Northwest Notes: Mitchell, Taylor, Sikka, Nuggets

The Jazz are hopeful that time will heal the fractured relationship between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, Tony Jones of The Athletic reports. This could be the biggest challenge for Jazz coach Quin Snyder and the front office in recent years, Jones continues, with Gobert having one year remaining on his contract and Mitchell potentially headed to restricted free agency after next season. Mitchell has been frustrated with Gobert for his careless actions prior to both testing positive for the coronavirus, Jones confirms.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor remains optimistic the league can resume the season, Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. “I’m really hopeful. I think we’re going to do it, if it’s at all possible,” Taylor said. “This is a health issue that we have no control over, but I think for our players and our fans, I would like to see us take a break and hopefully we can get back in 30 days and finish the season. I think the playoffs, they’re just so much fun and so important to our fans and our players.”
  • Timberwolves vice president of basketball performance and technology, Robby Sikka, was well ahead of the curve in terms of preparing the team for the coronavirus, as Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic details. Sikka warned players to wash their hands and to avoid close contact with ill people as far back as late January. Sikka was hired by president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas last summer to prioritize player health and wellness. He’s been integral in drawing up plans to help the organization get through the pandemic, including daily checks on the players.
  • The Nuggets need to acquire another impact player to become true contenders, Joel Rush of Forbes.com argues. They’d have to be willing to move Will Barton, Gary Harris or any bench player outside of Michael Porter Jr. this offseason to accomplish that goal, Rush adds.

Northwest Notes: Porter Jr., Patton, Wolves, Gilgeous-Alexander

Forward Michael Porter Jr. has solidified his spot in the Nuggets’ rotation and he may even become a regular starter sooner rather than later, according to Mike Singer of the Denver Post. It’s unlikely that Porter will supplant Will Barton in the lineup despite his 25-point outburst against Indiana but it’s not out of the question, Singer continues. It’s a safer bet that Porter carves out a significant role down the stretch as a microwave-type scorer off the bench, Singer adds.

We have more from around the Northwest Division:

  • The Thunder‘s Justin Patton is the player most likely to be dealt over the next week, according to The Athletic’s John Hollinger. Patton’s $1.62MM salary becomes fully guaranteed if he remains on their roster through January 7 and the Thunder are currently $750,250 into the luxury tax threshold. The center could only be acquired by one of the nine teams with workable trade exceptions, or by the Hawks via cap room, Hollinger adds.
  • Warriors coach Steve Kerr has been impressed with the Timberwolves’ unheralded young players, as he told reporters including Kent Youngblood of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “What I see with the Wolves is similar to what I see with our team, in that suddenly a bunch of young guys get their chance, and they play hard,” Kerr said. “For Minnesota to go to Milwaukee, play the best team in the league down the wire, without (Karl-Anthony) Towns and (Andrew) Wiggins, it shows you what a young team is capable of, just competing.”
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has established himself as one of the league’s top second-year players, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman writes. The second-year Thunder guard, the centerpiece of the Paul George deal with the Clippers from Oklahoma City’s perspective, is averaging 19.9 PPG while mainly playing the off-guard spot after averaging 10.8 PPG in his rookie year as a point man.

Northwest Notes: Ingles, Towns, Nuggets, Jones, Conley

Jazz forward Joe Ingles has sought advice from San Antonio’s Patty Miles and New Orleans’ J.J. Redick as he adjusts to a sixth-man role, Aaron Falk of the team’s website reports. “It’s been a few years since I’ve come off the bench,” Ingles said. “I’m just figuring out different ways, what they do, their routines. If there’s anything I can steal or use to help our team win games, I’m going to do it.” Ingles is off to a slow start in his new role, averaging 7.6 PPG and 3.4 APG with a .400 FG%.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns has no regrets about his scrap with Joel Embiid that resulted in a two-game suspension, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic tweets“Listen I’m going to defend myself. I ain’t going to take nothing,” he said. “That’s a very … talented player. I just had to defend myself in that situation.”
  • The Nuggets are getting an average of 36.7 points from their bench, putting them in the middle of the pack in the league, but forward Will Barton says they’re way better than that, Kyle Fredrickson of the Denver Post relays. “We’ve got the best bench in the league when we’re clicking on all cylinders,” Barton said.
  • Tyus Jones was grateful he had the chance to play for his hometown team, Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune relays. Jones grew up in Minnesota and played four seasons for the Timberwolves. He signed a three-year offer sheet with the Grizzlies this offseason and Minnesota declined to match it. “Last year it was like, ‘Man, I might not get this chance again to play for my hometown team.’ … It was just a cool experience, something I’m grateful for because not everyone gets to do something like that. It’s pretty unique and pretty cool,” the point guard said.
  • Mike Conley is going through a bigger adjustment than anticipated, as the Jazz guard told Sam Amick of The Athletic. “It’s kind of a little bit out of my routine because I’ve had to watch more film on us than I can on the other teams because I’m still learning. … I’ve got a big guy now (in Rudy Gobert) who can go get it. I can throw pocket passes, but it’s a little different. We’ve got lob threats and shooters around. You’re just trying to figure out where guys like to come off screens, and which hand, and then just remembering the terminology,” he said. Conley, who was traded by the Grizzlies over the summer, is making a combined $67MM this season and next season.

Northwest Notes: Bazemore, Wolves, Nuggets, Ingles

After being traded from the Hawks to the Trail Blazers in the offseason, Kent Bazemore has become rejuvenated, writes Jason Quick of The Athletic. As Quick writes, the veteran wing had become frustrated playing in Atlanta last season as the team – which won 60 games during his first year as a Hawk – fully embraced its youth movement.

“The game is changing with the young guys coming in and getting an opportunity right away,” Bazemore said. “It wasn’t like that when I first came in. I’m old school in that respect. All you have to do is be respectful, work your way up. But the league is changing in that respect, and that frustrated me.”

According to Quick, before Bazemore was traded, he provided the Hawks with a list of preferred destinations. The Blazers were number one on that list. Now, his new teammates can see that Bazemore is enjoying the opportunity to get a fresh start in Portland.

“The environment here will light him up,” Rodney Hood said. “And you can already tell with him, coming from Atlanta and not playing competitive basketball, that he wants to taste it again, that he’s hungry, prepared and ready. He was telling me last year he was so frustrated that he got a lot of technicals. But we can all see he’s excited about the season.”

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Before Kyle Lowry signed an extension with Toronto, the Timberwolves looked into his availability, tweets Darren Wolfson of SKOR North. There has been no indication that the Raptors were considering moving their All-Star point guard, so it may have been as simple as an inquiry that went nowhere. Still, as Wolfson points out, it shows that new president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas will kick the tires on every potentially available impact player — even those that don’t necessarily fit Minnesota’s timeline.
  • The battle for the Nuggets‘ starting small forward job appears to be down to Will Barton and Torrey Craig, writes Nick Kosmider of The Athletic. Barton, who was more effective in Denver’s final preseason game on Thursday, has said he’d “prefer to start,” as Mike Singer of The Denver Post relays.
  • Joe Ingles may have emerged this preseason as the de facto backup point guard for the Jazz, says Tony Jones of The Athletic. Dante Exum is still making his way back from knee surgery and Emmanuel Mudiay hasn’t shown the ability to consistently run an NBA offense, so Ingles figures to take on some ball-handling responsibilities for the second unit, Jones explains.

Northwest Notes: Barton, Gallinari, OKC, Bell

After being limited to 43 games in 2018/19 due to injuries, Nuggets swingman Will Barton has been slowed in camp due to a nagging hamstring ailment, which he admits has been frustrating, per Mike Singer of The Denver Post.

“Definitely a little deflating, coming off an injury-plagued season last year,” said Barton, who is entering the second season of his four-year, $53MM contract with the Nuggets. “The good thing is I feel good when I’m out there, I’m real confident, I’m not really holding back very much. Doing the things I like to do. Got a good rhythm, so not too depressed, but it is a little deflating because I don’t want to hold back, I want to be able to practice fully and play fully and do everything.”

The Nuggets have indicated that the starting small forward position is up for grabs, with Torrey Craig, Juan Hernangomez, and Michael Porter among the players vying for the role. Barton would seemingly be the favorite if and when he’s healthy, but his hamstring may put him behind the eight-ball in that competition to start the season.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Danilo Gallinari, acquired by the Thunder for salary-matching purposes in the Paul George blockbuster, is on an expiring contract and may not have a long-term stay in Oklahoma City, but a productive season could benefit both him and the team, writes Erik Horne of The Oklahoman. As Horne points out, if Gallinari is healthy and effective, the Thunder could flip him at the deadline, and he’d be in position to cash in as a free agent in 2020.
  • Royce Young of ESPN.com explores how the Thunder are adjusting to life in the post-Russell Westbrook era.
  • The Timberwolves are encouraging newly-acquired big man Jordan Bell to reclaim his basketball identity after playing a limited role in Golden State, writes Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. “Jordan is not used to shooting. We want him to shoot,” Karl-Anthony Towns said of his new frontcourt mate. “Be a scorer. Be who you are. … Don’t feel you can’t use the talents that you’ve been practicing for so long but you don’t get to show.”

Northwest Notes: Westbrook, Barton, Rubio, Jazz Workouts

Russell Westbrook dealt with significant pain in his left hand for approximately six weeks before the Thunder were eliminated from the postseason, Brett Dawson of The Athletic reports.

Westbrook, who shot 36% from the field during the opening round, and fellow Thunder All-Star Paul George underwent surgical procedures this week. Westbrook had a ligament repaired in his left hand as well as arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. George had a tendon repaired in his right shoulder and will soon undergo surgery to address a small labrum tear in his left shoulder.

It’s difficult to know how the injuries might impact the Thunder next season, though Westbrook should be ready in plenty of time for training camp, Dawson continues. Expected roster changes over the next four months will have a bigger impact, Dawson adds.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Trail Blazers traded Will Barton to the Nuggets four years ago but Barton downplays the significance of trying to eliminate his former team, according to Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Barton is averaging 9.2 PPG and 4.9 RPG this postseason. “I’m past that. That was a long time ago in my career,” Barton said. “They just happen to be the opponent that we’re playing against and I just want to beat them, not because I used to play with them, just because they’re in our way for trying to advance. That’s the only thing I’m thinking about. I can’t try to make it personal or anything like that.”
  • The Pacers, Bulls and Suns are the most likely landing spots for Ricky Rubio if he doesn’t remain with the Jazz, Frank Urbina of Hoops Hype opines. Rubio could come at a lower cost than other point guard options for Indiana, while he could give Chicago and Phoenix a veteran presence while also grooming a younger player at the position, Urbina adds. Rubio will be an unrestricted free agent after making nearly $15MM this season.
  • The Jazz brought in six draft prospects on Wednesday, according to a tweet from the team’s media relations department. Power forwards Mamadi Diakite (Virginia) and Dewan Hernandez (Miami, Fla.), wings Tyus Battle (Syracuse) and Brandon Randolph (Arizona) and guards Matt Mooney (Texas Tech) and T.J. Gibbs (Notre Dame) were the visitors. Big men Neemias Queta (Utah State), Zylan Cheatham (Arizona State), Silvio De Sousa (Kansas) and Australian Harry Froling and guards Payton Pritchard (Oregon) and Devon Dotson (Kansas) are coming in on Saturday, according to another Jazz tweet.

Northwest Notes: Blazers, Millsap, Murray, Harkless, Nuggets

The Trail Blazers are focused on executing their game plan more than using their emotion for Sunday’s Game 4 in Oklahoma City, Sekou Smith of NBA.com writes. 

Portland will look to take a 3-1 series lead in a hostile playoff environment and quiet the boisterous Thunder crowd, one of the league’s toughest arenas to win games in.

“We’ve just got to focus on us,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “We’ve got to be us and do what we do and all of the peripheral stuff … doesn’t have to do with us.”

The Blazers protected home court in Games 1 and 2, jumping out to a 2-0 series lead. Stealing Game 4 on Sunday would allow the team to wrap the series up in five games at their arena on Tuesday, but the mission will prove to be challenging.

“It’s going to be talk, it’s going to be fouls, it’s going to be all that stuff. All that stuff is going to be part of it. But it’s who can deal with that stuff and not be too emotional,” Lillard said on Saturday, one day after a crazy Game 3 atmosphere. “Who can be more even-keeled. Who can handle it more and still have the right mentality through all of those things. And we just stay within ourselves, play hard and we compete.

“And if something is brought to our doorstep, we’re going to open the door and see what’s going on. And that’s all it was. Because we don’t go out there talking and acting no type of way. But like I said, if it comes to our doorstep, we’re going to open the door and see what’s going on.”

There’s more today from the Northwest Division:

  • Nuggets forward Paul Millsap opened up on “little brother” and teammate Jamal Murray, as detailed by Mike Singer of the Denver Post. “The main thing is just playing the game,” Millsap said of Murray. “Not getting focused on what people want him to do but just playing the game. Seeing him having 19 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds instead of focusing in on just scoring and trying to be going for 50 every single night. He’s actually playing the game now, and I’m super proud of him by how far he’s come.”
  • Trail Blazers forward Maurice Harkless was fined $15,000 for throwing his headband into the spectator stands during Game 3 of the team’s series against Oklahoma City, the league announced on Saturday. Harkless’ incident marks the fifth separate fine the NBA has issued since the weekend began.
  • Nuggets coach Mike Malone made a change to his starting lineup in Game 4 against San Antonio, starting Torrey Craig in place of Will Barton. The adjustment played a part in Denver stealing a road victory and regaining homecourt advantage, with Craig scoring 18 points and grabbing 8 rebounds in 37 minutes. “Torrey’s size and physicality, his hustle, like Torrey Craig was leaving it all on the floor, which I love,” Malone previously said after Game 3, as relayed by Mike Singer in a different story for the Denver Post. “And then Malik’s obviously shooting (well).  He’s been one of our best offensive players this whole series, shooting the ball very confidently. Attacking the basket and also playing pretty good defense. Both of those guys warrant more minutes, and I’m sure they’ll both get a great chance to play extended minutes [in Game 4].”

Decision Behind Game 4 Start For Torrey Craig

Mike Singer of The Denver Post, writing before the Nuggets Game 4 win over the Spurs, talked about Nuggets coach Michael Malone considering “all options” when it comes to making a starting lineup change ahead of Game 4.

“We’ll continue to look at it,” Malone said on Friday after Game 3. “All options are on the board. Obviously it’s never about any individual, it’s gotta be about what’s best for our team.”

As Singer noted beforehand, small forward Will Barton looked out of rhythm the first three games of the series, leading to Torrey Craig getting the start in Game 4. Through the first three games, Barton was 9 for 31 from the field.

Ultimately, the decision to go with Craig was in order to put more defensive pressure on the Spurs, allowing Craig and Gary Harris to match up with DeMar DeRozan and Derrick White.

Game 5 is scheduled for Tuesday night in Denver.

Community Shootaround: Second-Best Team In The West?

The 2018/19 NBA season is now over a quarter of the way through, with many teams having played at least 30 games. At this point, the Western Conference is still extremely crowded, with 12 teams that are .500 or better fighting for playoff spots. Even the top of the conference is tough to figure out, with teams like the Nuggets, Thunder and Lakers battling to distinguish themselves as the second-best team in the conference (behind a healthy and engaged Warriors team).

The Nuggets have continued to impress after a fast start, as they have withstood several injuries to key players such as Paul Millsap, Will Barton and Gary Harris. They currently own the league’s 8th ranked offense and 5th ranked defense while posting a 19-9 record, good for first in the conference.

The Thunder have used the league’s best defense to carry them to a 20-10 start. Paul George is having the best season of his career as the Thunder continue to stifle opposing offenses. The addition of Dennis Schroder has stabilized the team’s bench units, something previous Thunder teams couldn’t rely on.

Finally, the Lakers have rebounded from their slow 0-4 start to find themselves at 18-12. LeBron James has been his usual terrific self while several of the team’s young players have continued to settle in around him. Of course, it’s also possible that the Lakers make a trade to further improve their team as a result of the crowded playoff picture in the West.

When fully healthy and engaged, the Warriors are still regarded as the clear favorites in the Western Conference. However, the battle for second-best in the conference will likely continue throughout the season and early rounds of the playoffs.

With all that being said, who do you think is the second-best team in the Western Conference? Perhaps you believe that it could be a team that hasn’t been mentioned here. Share your thoughts in the comments section!