If the Nuggets ever win a championship in the Nikola Jokic era, give Wizards wing Will Barton a modicum of credit.
Not necessarily in his contributions to the finished product, but in the way the Nuggets’ all-time 3-point leader helped pave a path.
Back in Ball Arena on Wednesday for the first time since he and Monte Morris were traded to Washington for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith this past summer, Barton was reflective of the eight seasons he spent in Denver.
“It was a blessing to come here, be able to make a name for myself,” Barton said. “Make a career out of this.”
It was in Denver, he said, where he’d earned a reputation as a slashing, playmaking scorer. That reputation earned him respect around the league.
“I never take that for granted,” he said.
As Barton finished up shootaround, numerous teammates playfully chided him, referring to Ball Arena as “Thrill Arena.”
In Denver, Barton averaged 14 points and five rebounds per game. Of the 479 games he appeared in, Barton started 279. It was a point of emphasis for him; Barton viewed himself as a starter and proved he was worthy of that label for years.
Now coming off the bench in Washington, Barton’s scoring is down to 7.9 points in 22.4 minutes per game.
But alongside Nikola Jokic, Barton helped transform the Nuggets from an also-ran to a playoff contender. Even though Barton saw first-hand how Jokic manipulated defenses and learned the limits of his powers, he was sincere when he said it wouldn’t help the Wizards win Wednesday’s game.
“No,” Barton said. “He’s that good. He’s the back-to-back MVP for a reason.”
He took a deep sigh and laughed when asked how he thought he and Morris would be received by fans.
“I don’t know,” he said sheepishly.
Barton’s relationship with Nuggets fans was tense ever since they booed him during a first-round playoff series against the Spurs in 2019. And even though that painful memory lingered for Barton, he still wanted to ensure fans remembered him from a team-first vantage point.
Barton was asked about his favorite memory as a Nugget. It had nothing to do with scoring or knocking down 3-pointers or anything of the individual variety. It had to do with what he helped build and the standard he helped set. He cited the first time this iteration of the Nuggets made the playoffs – which was also the series when fans vocalized their displeasure with him. Barton’s favorite memory in Denver was knocking off San Antonio in the first round because it was the first time the young Nuggets had realized their potential in a postseason setting.
“Just to be a part of that whole foundation, laying the bricks, to see where they are today,” Barton said. “Knowing that I was a part of that is gratifying enough for me.”