Editor’s note: This article was written before the Nuggets announced that Barton would be inactive for tonight’s game. He won’t be playing tonight, but will certainly pose a threat to the Warriors the next time these teams match up.
For the Golden State Warriors, the threat of a puncher’s chance is always present.
Inferior teams would throw and land 30-foot haymakers to try to knock the champs out. Sometimes the field’s best efforts would get the best of the Warriors on any random night during the season. Other times, those efforts would make the Warriors stagger against the ropes for a while before the inevitable barrage of ‘third round’ jabs that shift the momentum of the fight.
Then there are the ‘fighters’ in the field that revel and thrive in their one shot hitter quitters, those players that consistently torch a particularly team to the point that they build a rep off of those games.
The Denver Nuggets’ Will Barton is one of those guys. Last season, Barton averaged 14.2 points per game against the Warriors, including a 25-point performance in February. Two season ago, Barton averaged 19 points per against the ‘Dubs. Denver generally gives the Warriors fits in their matchups and the play of Barton is a huge part of it.
The Warriors will conclude their two-game road trip in Denver tonight, and other than finding answers for Nikola Jokic defensively, they may need to make a concerted effort to contain Barton.
In this game above from last season, Barton shredded the Warriors’ defense on the perimeter and in the paint, and he started early with continuously moving off the ball. Notice the back cut 24 seconds in the video. As soon as Kevin Durant lost Barton, it was up to Zaza Pachulia to leave Jokic to either make a block from behind or take the foul.
Barton again scores another backdoor bucket at 1:26. Stephen Curry and JaVale McGee, for whatever reason, doubled Trey Lyles and Barton slid past Draymond Green for the easy bucket.
At 2:42, look at how effortlessly Barton drove to the basket. A switch or some weak side help from Curry would have been fine but Klay Thompson, like Pachulia, at that point could have left his man to help contest that shot.
When Barton runs off the ball, the Warriors can funnel him into traps and can and should double him after running him off the line.
Regardless of what the Warriors do, they must find a way to neutralize Barton early and plan to defend him just like they planned for Jokic. Otherwise Barton’s rep as a “Warriors Killer” will continue to grow.