There was a time not that long ago that J.J. Barea was a monument to all that was wrong with the post-title Dallas Mavericks.
Hell, even at times before the title. Barea turned into a local hero after the Mavericks’ championship, but for years it seemed the fanbase — and the front office — wanted to replace him.
They wasted three drafts on combo guards (Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Jared Cunningham) to replicate his offensive skills without the defensive liability, then let him go in 2011 to fetch a bigger contract. Dallas has been trying to replace Barea since the start of the Obama administration, but they kept coming back for more because they couldn’t do any better.
Settling. That’s been the Mavericks’ identity since the title year. Shoot for the stars, settle for mediocrity. There was nothing explicitly wrong with Barea in a vacuum. In fact, he’s one of the biggest player development wins of the Rick Carlisle era. They turned an undrafted sub-six-foot point guard from Northeastern into an NBA Finals starter.
The problem with Barea is that he represents a roadblock to how many want the Mavericks to build their team. Young players were stymied because Carlisle would always fall back to the veteran Barea. When no one took their money, Cuban busted out the loyalty cash at the wrong time and gave it to him. With Barea on the roster, the thought process goes, how could the Mavs ever develop younger guards for the future? Why are the Mavs wasting time with a guy who is only good when he plays with the greatest shooting big man of all time? Why are the Mavs entering the small-ball revolution too literally with the actual smallest dude in the league?
It’s funny thinking about those questions now, because if Barea weren’t on the roster the last two years, the Mavs would be an absolute tire fire (even more than they are now).
Barea transformed his game 10 years into his career by doing one simple thing — he started canning threes.
Shooting has been the biggest knock on Barea’s game. His streakiness from deep allowed teams to neuter his most effective skill — getting to the rack in the pick and roll. Teams dared Barea to shoot and backed off to try and wall off the paint whenever Barea got near the free throw line. It’s a testament to Barea’s skill that he was still an effective pick-and-roll player despite his shooting woes.
Barea hit 38.5 percent from three last year, a career best since he became a regular rotation guy. He did it as a spot-up shooter and off the dribble. His jumper carried a lifeless Mavs offense and dragged them into the playoffs. He’s doing it again this year, and it’s hard to imagine how much worse the Mavs’ anemic offense would look with out him.
He’s hitting a bit over 36 percent on pull-up threes and has an effective field goal percentage of 49 percent as a ball handler in the pick and roll according to NBA.com. These are incredible numbers when you consider Barea doesn’t have anything close to a steady roll man to help suck defenders closer to the basket to give him more space behind the arc. The Mavs are one of the worst teams in the league in scoring points off their roll man in the pick and roll.
On catch-and-shoot threes, Barea is hitting 45.5 percent. These are Dirk-like shooting numbers! Barea’s newfound ability to step into a three off a pick and roll and keep defenses honest has been a revelation. Before his jump-shot resurgence, Barea had only hit 35 percent or better from behind the arc once in his last five seasons. It’s a crazy late-career turnaround.
Here’s another crazy stat: there are currently 10 players in the NBA who are averaging at least 17 points, five assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. Barea is one of them.
With the loss of Chandler Parsons, the lack of dribble penetration was a given before the season even started. Harrison Barnes has been tremendous, but that’s not his game. Deron Williams is woefully inadequate at getting to the rim, and Seth Curry is unproven. Barea is the Mavericks only credible dribble penetrator. Defenses know it, and it doesn’t matter. Barea is — *gulp* — imposing his will on teams. When Barea is off the court, the Mavs’ offense turns into a Jeff Goldblum one-liner. Seriously. They score 95.1 points per 100 possessions with him off the floor, the lowest mark for any Mavs player.
His game the last two years screams of a player comfortable in his own abilities and role. He’s picked up a nice pace in attacking defenders in the pick and roll, including a seriously devastating hesitation-shoulder-shudder that freezes defenders in place before Barea steps back to create space and drops a little jumper in the lane — he’s shooting 52.2 percent from 5-14 feet, typically an area players struggle with as space constraints and long arms abound. It figures the shortest guy in the league is thriving there. Of course.
He isn’t perfect — his finishing at the rim is pretty bad and he tends to pound the air out of the ball during some possessions that go absolutely nowhere, but really, the Mavs don’t have a lot of better options.
With Deron Williams and Dirk sidelined most of the season, Barea continues to pick up the slack. He’s been their best point guard the last two years, and you can even argue he’s been the secret team MVP since last season. The fact that he’s still putting up these numbers without Dirk only cements that.
If you’ve been following the Mavs since he came into the league, you know how truly absurd this statement is, but thank god for J.J. Barea.