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Sometimes, I forget J.J. Barea didn't start the season with Dallas. Hell, sometimes I forget he even left after that 2011 Championship run. It doesn't really feel like he ever left, or maybe more accurately, I don't ever remember him showing back up. Like that State Farm agent who saves two hamburger-loving travelers from a buffalo attack, it's almost like Barea appeared out of nowhere right when the Mavericks needed him most.
For a player with clear limitations in his game, the lovable JJB is always making the best of the natural gifts he was given. It's become especially obvious since Rajon Rondo's injury -- Barea has started the last six games, playing between 28 and 35 minutes every night. During that stretch, he's average 13.2 points, 5.8 assists and only 1.7 turnovers on good enough shooting (41 percent from the field and 34 from deep, both in line with his season averages).
Again, this is all coming from a player who started the 2014-15 season in Minnesota, where he never had a consistent role on a team that didn't make the playoffs a single time when he was there. Since joining the Mavericks, he's played every game but one -- the first, when he was in the process of being bought out by the Timberwolves and not yet on the roster.
Even as I prepare to write this next sentence, I'm laughing to myself at its ridiculousness: where would the Mavericks be this season without Barea?
It's not just filling in for Rondo, although that's by far his biggest contribution, especially considering Devin Harris' recurring ankle issues. He's outplayed Harris for a game here and there, in all honesty. His production matched Jameer Nelson's far too often, too. His 3.7 assist to turnover ratio is no mistake -- even after leaving for a few years, he's returned to the Mavericks offense with an inherent knowledge of how to run it, be it a close game or a blowout. He's probably still the best passer to Dirk, and that's an important skill to have on a team that functions around Nowitzki. Look, Gal Mekel was a decent player, but there's not a chance he'd have been able to do what Barea has accomplished this year.
Barea gets overlooked -- literally, I supposed, but also figuratively -- far too often. Yeah, his defense is bad, and his use-20-seconds-of-the-shot-clock-pounding-the-ball-into-the-floor schtick gets tiring after a single possession, but he's been great in Dallas again. It's a good feeling to watch a player shoot shots like these and just know that somehow, he's going to make it. Because that's just how Barea does it.
You can call it whatever you'd like -- tenacity seems like an apt description -- but whatever it is, Barea has it. Here's to hoping he never leaves Dallas again.