When the Denver Nuggets re-signed Will Barton to a new contract shortly after free agency started, it allowed Barton to accomplish a goal he has had set for himself for over a decade earlier — be a starter at the NBA level. Finally, after years of proving himself with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Denver Nuggets, Barton had earned his starting small forward spot with the Nuggets, but the basketball gods can be cruel.
In the second game of the season against the Phoenix Suns, Barton took off from the right side of the painted area and “heard something pop” he explained after the game. That pop in his groin/core area ended up needing surgery to repair the damage which came as a shock to Barton, who has never once had to have surgery of any kind. Barton told Mile High Sports that he has never missed more than a couple weeks with an injury in his entire basketball life so the news of his injury was a mentally taxing situation.
“It was tough on me,” Barton explained. “I have never been seriously injured. I have never had surgery before. I have never really had to miss this much time from basketball so it is tough. Especially watching games and knowing I won’t be back for a while. Usually, when I miss a game, I know I’ll be back probably after game or two, but now knowing I won’t be back for a while is tough.”
Now, it seems that the struggles Barton has experienced watching his team from the sidelines may be coming to a merciful end after nearly 12 weeks of recovery and rehabilitation. On Thursday night, after the Nuggets defeated the Clippers at the Pepsi Center, Barton told Mile High Sports that he was close to returning and even joked that he may return before Gary Harris does. Funny enough, just about 18 hours later on Friday morning, Barton has officially been upgraded questionable for the first time since his injury.
Even if Barton does return on Saturday night against the Suns, he may not return to the starting lineup. Nuggets head coach Michael Malone elected to bring both Gary Harris and Paul Millsap off of the bench to ease them back into a rhythm after their respective injuries.
“Maybe it would be easier for me to bring him off the bench and ease him into it,” Malone pondered out-loud during a press conference at practice back on December 27th. “These guys have been out for a while — Will Barton has been out since game two of the season — so easing guys back in lessens the burden and the load and the demands of everyone else.”
It does not matter if Barton starts, comes off the bench, or even plays at all. The fact that he has been upgraded to questionable means that he is extremely close to returning which means the Nuggets may finally be whole for the first time since October 20th, 83 long days ago.
In Barton’s extremely limited time, he is averaging 16.5 points, five rebounds and three assists this season for the Nuggets while shooting 57.1 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from 3-point range.