Shooting guard Will Barton putting ankle injury well behind him as his game picks up.
BROOKLYN, N.Y.» Truth be told, Will Barton was pining for someone to ask about his defense. He was proud of it in the Nuggets’ win over Philadelphia on Monday. He has worked tirelessly to improve it. But the media had another focus: offense.
And that was fine by Barton too. The most pleasing thing to him about his last three games, in which he has averaged 19.7 points (first on the team), 6.7 rebounds (second), 4.0 assists (second) and 1.7 steals (tied for first), is that it feels familiar.
“Just happy to be making big shots right now, and I’m just going to keep fighting until I get back to all the way to myself,” Barton said. “Right now, I’m just trying to find ways to help the team win games.”
Barton is picking up where he left off at the time he was injured. He severely sprained his left ankle in a game at Toronto on Halloween night. Barton missed a total of 11 games, but he initially returned after nine and just didn’t have it when he first came back to the lineup. He wasn’t explosive, wasn’t quick, and wasn’t steady or sure on the ankle. After putting up just one point and missing all six of his shots from the field at Utah on Nov. 23, Barton shut himself back down.
It turned out to be the right choice. He returned Friday and has not missed a beat since. That included a little redemption in another game at Utah, where Saturday he scored 20 points in the Nuggets’ loss.
“Last time we were there, after that game I knew I came back prematurely,” Barton said. “I shouldn’t have did it and I was kind of down on myself. Hurt the team.” Not anymore. “Will is getting back to his old self,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Feeling comfortable, feeling confident and then being aggressive. Hopefully, he’s over any concerns he’s had with the ankle injury and can just go out there and play.”
For a moment in the third quarter Monday, Malone wanted to see a little less Barton. The first 3 minutes, 30 seconds was rough. Barton was 0-for-4 from the field with an airball, missed a free throw and committed a personal foul. Jamal Murray was sent to the scorer’s table to get him, and in fact Barton was already walking off the court on a dead ball. But Murray had not gotten to the table in time to be subbed in before play resumed, so Barton stayed.
He made his next three shots, grabbed three rebounds and had a steal. Murray was brought back to the bench to let Barton stay. Barton laughed. “I got it going after he was about to sub for me,” he said. “So, Jamal was my motivation walking to that scorer’s table.
“I had a tough little beginning to the third. But I’m a guy that can play through mistakes. I think I’ve earned the right to play through my mistakes. I made up for them, got my energy going, picked it up and coach let me stay out there.”
Barton’s teammates have noticed the difference.
“He’s doing a great job,” forward Danilo Gallinari said. “It’s not always easy to get back in a rhythm once you get injured. But I thought he did a great job (Monday).”