The tipping point in Will Barton’s journey as a 3-point shooter took place almost a decade ago.
Late in the 2012-13 regular season as a rookie in Portland, Barton scored a season-high 22 points in a late-season loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts then decided to insert Barton into his starting lineup ahead of Portland’s next matchup and the fifth-to-last game of the season.
The Blazers’ opponent that night: Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
“I was riding high. ‘Oh man. My first start, and it’s against Kobe,'” Barton told DNVR thinking back to that night nine years ago. “But I didn’t shoot the ball well. I was awful. Kobe had 47 on me. I’ll never forget it. I was down so bad.”
Barton shot 4-12 from the floor and finished with nine points in the Blazers’ 113-106 loss. He had fallen flat in his first NBA start against his basketball idol. He was devastated. Kobe dominated the game. He worked a 23-year-old Barton up and down the floor all night.
Then around an hour after the final buzzer, a moment that shaped the rest of Barton’s career unfolded. Bryant managed to track Barton down on the way to his car. The two talked for 20 minutes about life, basketball, and what it takes to make it in the NBA.
Within their conversation, Bryant offered the 22-year-old some sage wisdom.
“Kobe told me, ‘If you get a jump shot, you’re going to be deadly,'” Barton said. “Once he told me I had talent and all I had to do was work on my jumper, it further solidified what I already thought about myself.”
Flash forward nine years and Will Barton has made more 3s than anyone in a Nuggets jersey. He splashed his 769th career 3-pointer as a Nugget at the 2:47 mark of the third quarter Friday in Denver’s 116-106 win over the Houston Rockets, which moved him past JR Smith for first place on the franchise’s all-time list.
It’s a remarkable feat considering one of Barton’s weaknesses coming out of college was his shot. He was just a 30% 3-point shooter over his two seasons at Memphis, although improved to a 35% shooter from deep during his sophomore season. He then struggled again with his shot as a rookie in limited minutes. Barton still remembers the scouting reports that knocked him because of his inconsistent jumper.
“They drive me to this day,” he said.
Off of Kobe’s advice, Barton’s main focus after his rookie year in Portland became his shot. Barton got in the lab and didn’t leave. Plenty of shot doctors picked apart Barton’s unorthodox form and told him what he needed to fix, but Barton kept shooting it the only way he knew how. Barton was more concerned about getting his legs under him and finding a proper rhythm with his jumper.
He thought those two ingredients would lead to the consistency he craved.
“I never really concerned myself with my form,” Barton said. “So many guys shoot differently. Steph doesn’t shoot the same way Reggie Miller does. Reggie Miller doesn’t shoot the same way Ray Allen does. But they’re all great 3-point shooters. It was just about me finding my form and me finding my consistent rhythm.”
The work he was putting in behind-the-scenes didn’t get the chance to show while in Portland. Barton never got consistent playing time with the Blazers and struggled to find a consistent rhythm when he did play extended minutes. But when Barton arrived in Denver via a midseason trade during the 2014-15 season, he was ready. The reps he had put in over the last few summers showed.
During his first full season with the Nuggets, Barton shot a career-high 35% from 3-point range. A year later, Barton settled in as a 37% shooter from 3 where he’s basically been ever since.
“A lot of people said I couldn’t shoot and that my shot was my weakness when I came into the league,” Barton said. “I had to put in a lot of work to get my trey ball consistent.”
Never mind the record. Just the fact that Barton’s still here, 10 years into his NBA career is a feat itself for the former second-round pick. The Baltimore kid who grew up playing outside on the blacktop where his natural instinct was always to go to the rim and not settle for the jump shot has made more 3-pointers in a Nuggets jersey than anyone. Ever.
“To get to this point where you can become a franchise leader in made 3s is big time,” Barton told DNVR. “It’s a testament to the hard work I put in and also my confidence to go and become the player I knew I could be.”