Nuggets’ Will Barton accepts role, backs Michael Porter Jr.

Will Barton’s always been in Michael Porter Jr.’s corner. Even if he happens to be starting in his position.

Before Wednesday’s dramatic loss to the Kings, Barton greeted all of Denver’s starters before they took the court. The message he told Porter wasn’t anything he hadn’t told him before.

Arms wrapped around him, Barton told Porter he’s going to be a star.

“Just keep believing that,” Barton told his understudy.

“Me and him talk all the time, got a good relationship, we text all the time,” Barton said after scoring 16 points in his first real game in nine months. “Mike’s going to be a hell of a player. He talks to me, I talk to him, and we just try to keep boosting each other’s confidence.”

That answer was as good of evidence as any that Barton, regardless of role, will be a consummate pro even if he comes off the bench. Besides, it wasn’t like Barton didn’t play an integral role in Wednesday’s wild finish.

Barton said he never saw De’Aaron Fox coming when the Kings’ star swatted him with 10 seconds remaining on a shot that could’ve sealed Denver’s win. Barton got his block back on the other end before Buddy Hield ended the game on a crazy tip-in.

Alongside the starting unit, Porter finished with 24 points on 9-for-15 shooting, five rebounds, three blocks and two steals. Though his offensive numbers were gaudy, neither he nor coach Michael Malone were pleased with his rebounding numbers considering that’s where the Kings beat Denver up Wednesday night.

“I can’t get five rebounds in 30 minutes,” Porter said. “I’ll take care of it. … I know how to rebound.”

Malone also saw the Kings targeting him on defense.

“I thought in the first half he got in foul trouble,” Malone said. “He didn’t rebound. … They went right at him to start the game, and I’m sure other teams are going to do the same thing. He’s going to have to figure that out. We have to help him with that.”

The defensive lapses, which included at least one instance where Porter broke for the offensive end before the Nuggets had secured the defensive rebound, are part of the growing pains and lessons he’ll learn in a more consistent role.

In being transparent, Malone has talked with Barton, too.

“He told me, the team still needs me and just be ready to go out there and play like you always do,” Barton said of their conversation.

And as for whether he might eventually be in the starting unit as the season progresses, Barton said that’s far from his mind.

“My concern is not about (starting) any more once I channel my energy to where it has to be,” Barton said. “That’s where I am, so I’m locked in right now, I’m coming off the bench. I’m not trying to worry about if I’m gonna start again. Right now I’ve got a job to do, and that’s my focus is to come off the bench and try to change the game for us and still help us win games.”

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