Will Barton wiggled into skinny jeans, laced up shimmering shoes, slipped on a denim jacket then unfolded aviator sunglasses and placed them on as he prepared to take questions following his team’s 115-108 win over the Golden State Warriors on Saturday.
“It’s night time, Thrill,” Jamal Murray yelled from across the room.
“It’s always sunny from here,” he yelled back.
Teammates often try to needle Barton about his penchant for rocking sunglasses indoors after games. Every time, Barton takes it in stride. The Nuggets’ 27-year-old swingman is not short on confidence. It’s what’s helped propel him from second-round pick and bench warmer to where he is now: a 14.4 points-per-game scorer on a team in line to make the playoffs.
That self-belief was also what allowed him to shrug off two late-game failures earlier in the week to hit big shot after big shot in the fourth quarter against Golden State. On Monday vs. Boston, Barton pulled up a for a 34-footer at the buzzer that went left. The next night in San Antonio, he saw a good look from the top of the arc rattle in and out as Denver lost by two.
Barton avenged those two misses Saturday, scoring 10 of his team-high 25 points in the fourth quarter.
“I’ve got a short memory,” Barton said. “Miss those shots, move onto the next game and do what I can do to get us wins. You see the teams we’ve been playing. I can’t stay focused in the past. I can only stay in the present.”
The Warriors led by six entering the fourth quarter. Barton was instrumental in helping Denver claw back. In the final period, he drilled two threes, dropped in a floater and knocked down two free throws. The Nuggets outscored the Warriors 38-25 in the last 12 minutes of play to get the win.
“The man puts in the work,” said Gary Harris, whose locker is next to Barton’s and sits next to him on team flights. “He deserves everything he gets. He’s just going to keep coming at you. That’s what he does. He makes big plays. And he made big plays for us down the stretch.”
The Nuggets have often looked to Barton to create offense late in close games when the opposing team’s defensive intensity ratchets up.
Sometimes he’s come through. On Nov. 30, he hit a twisting game-winning layup to push the Nuggets past the Bulls. On Dec. 15, he caught fire and scored 11 points in overtime of a 117-111 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Other times — like the back-to-back games against the Celtics and Spurs earlier this week — he’s fallen flat.
The key to shaking off those moments — good or bad, Barton said — is to live in the present instead of the past.
“That’s the mentality you have to have, especially at this level with the great teams you play against and the great players,” he said. “You can’t dwell in the past even if you’re playing good. We’ve just got to keep moving forward, and that’s my motto.”
Barton has come a long way since the Portland Trail Blazers took him 40th overall in 2012. He averaged just 12.2 minutes per game in his first season for a 33-win Trail Blazers team. He’s now logging 31.9 minutes per game for a Nuggets team that improved to 28-25 after Saturday’s win.
If everything goes according to plan, the Nuggets will make the playoffs and Barton, an unrestricted free agent, will earn a fat contract in Denver or somewhere else.
“They always slept on me,” Barton said Saturday, aviators covering his eyes. “So I had to be my biggest fan.”