Is Will Barton a sleeping giant on the Wizards' bench?

Is Will Barton a sleeping giant on the Wizards' bench? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON -- With an 8-6 record and now four straight wins, the Wizards are off to a good start. Just about all of their players have remained healthy and performed to their career norms. In some cases, players have leveled up from last season.

One veteran, though, stands out as below his usual statistical standards. That would be Will Barton, who is in his 11th season and has long been steady at scoring, generating assists and grabbing rebounds.

Barton this season is averaging 9.1 points, down from 14.7 per game last year with the Nuggets. His 38.5 field goal percentage is nearly a career-low and his worst since he was a rookie. His 3-point percentage (33.9%) is not bad, but still his lowest since 2014-15.

Through 14 games, the Wizards are still waiting for Barton to find his form, but once he does it could have a significant impact on the team. Knowing his game well from their days in Denver, head coach Wes Unseld Jr. identified Barton as an ideal bench scorer in his rotation.

It just hasn't happened yet, but it could also mean the Wizards have some untapped upside despite their recent winning streak.

"He’s wired to score. He’s somebody that’s always been a scorer his whole career... He still has a lot in the tank, obviously, you can see it," Kyle Kuzma said.

So, what is holding Barton back? It turns out there may be a very good reason for it. The injury to Delon Wright on Oct. 25, the Wizards' 4th game of the season, has had some domino effects. One of them is a change in Barton's role, as he now has to take on some point guard responsibilities.

The Wizards have taken some of that pressure off lately thanks to the emergence of Jordan Goodwin behind starter Monte Morris, but Wright's injury has changed the calculus for Barton nonetheless.

"I think it’s one of those things with him of trying to find a rhythm," Unseld Jr. said. "He’s had some good spurts, but it’s a little more difficult when you don’t have a primary ball-handler, he kind of becomes… your de facto point guard. It’s just that balance of keeping us organized while staying in attack mode and being aggressive, which plays to his strengths."

Unseld Jr. added that he sees opportunity for Barton in transition. He believes Barton is most dangerous scoring the ball in open space and says that can happen more often if Barton gets defensive rebounds and takes the ball up the floor to initiate the offense.

Another change for Barton has been the fact he's coming off the bench. He was essentially a full-time starter in Denver for five seasons before he came to Washington. The Nuggets had some very good teams with him in the lineup.

Barton explained this week how it has required an adjustment for him.

"I'm just really trying to figure out what my role is and figure out how I’m going to play in my minutes. But I can’t worry about that. I’ve just gotta go out there and try to be as effective as possible whenever I’m on the court. I think I’m figuring that out," he said.

Barton's numbers this season should be viewed within that context. For instance, he's rebounding at about the same rate he was last season, albeit in lower volume because he's playing fewer minutes. He's also averaging 8.7 shots per game when last year he was at 12.6. Barton may have also benefitted from playing alongside one of the game's best players and passers in Nikola Jokic.

Still, his volume from just last season indicates Barton could provide much more scoring this season than he has so far.  Last year, he scored 20 or more points 17 times and twice eclipsed the 30-mark. So far this season he has reached double-digits just five times in 14 games.

If Barton is averaging only 3/4 of the shots he got last season, then he naturally won't put up quite the same numbers. Regardless, his career track record suggests he will be a weapon for the Wizards sooner or later.