J.J. Barea is liquid fire.
He is splitting wigs and doming skulls.
He is a gjallarhorn in a small room.
Basically, Barea is making his NBA opposition his personal MJ crying face. The last four games have seen him average 23.5 points and 6.8 assists per game, starting in place of an injured Deron Williams and picking up the Mavericks' first Player of the Week award since 2014.
In trying to comprehend how exactly Barea has managed to do this, I discovered one simple thing -- he is shooting the piss out of the 3-ball, as much as shooting the piss is considered a quality attribute. He's 12-of-25 (48 percent) from deep in his last four games -- all starts and all Mavericks wins. He's almost single-handedly kept the offense afloat as Dirk Nowitzki has drifted back to his December shooting slump ways and Williams and Parsons are out of the lineup. It's been incredible to watch.
It isn't just hitting 3-pointers, it's the way Barea is hitting them that's been crucial for him.
In the last four games, Barea is hitting 47.4 percent of his pull-up three pointers and 87.5 percent of his threes with the closest defender 6 or more feet away according to NBA.com's stats page. That's an insane number -- for comparison, Stephen Curry is shooting just 43.5 percent on pull-up threes for the season. Obviously, Barea's streak won't last, and Curry's numbers aren't really comparable since the impressive part about them is his volume and sustainability. But for a week, Barea has shot it better. That's just facts.
It's especially insane when you consider Barea's been a sub-par to average 3-point shooter for the majority of his career. Those pull-up and wide open threes are important because a majority of them are coming out of pick and rolls -- Barea's bread and butter.
Barea has gotten into trouble in the past because of his inconsistent jumper. For someone who thrives by dribbling into the lane and creating from there, having defenses able to back off and wall off the paint coming around those screens makes it much harder, and especially so at Barea's size disadvantage. He can't muscle past anyone at his height. Barea needs as clear a path to the rim as possible.
That's the scouting report on Barea for years -- back off on pick and rolls, go under on the screen and let him shoot to prevent him having a chance to get into the paint. When Barea starts busting defenses by nailing those threes, it opens up the rest of his game.
It makes it a lot harder to keep going under those screens when Barea is doing this:
It also helps that Barea is cashing in on wide open triples when defenses decide to stick with the greatest shooting big man of all time.
Being able to knock these shots in keeps defenses honest and forces them to switch up tactics. It allows Barea more freedom to get into the paint to finish or drive and kick, as evidenced by the Mavs' recent uptick in made threes during the win streak. Wes Matthews also got lots of nice looks from deep in the win against Minnesota on Sunday and made six of them.
The funny part about this is Barea is doing this on perhaps the worst offensive Mavs team he's ever been a part of. For the season he's nailing 35 percent of his pull-up threes, a more than respectable number. It's far and away a career high since NBA.com's stats page started tracking it in the 2013-2014 season. He's hitting 38.9 percent of his threes overall, which is also far and away a career best since he started to be a regular rotation player eight years ago.
Why now? It's especially odd considering Barea has only one great pick-and-roll partner (Dirk, who is pretty fantastic) and no great rim runners to help suck in defenses. It's funny that Barea is shooting his career best now and not back in 2011 when Barea not only had an elite performing Dirk but also one of the league's best rim-rollers in Tyson Chandler. Basketball is weird.
There's no other real explanation other than Barea is finally hitting shots defenses normally are comfortable giving him. And it has come at a perfect time, as the Mavs desperately need some scoring outside of Dirk in a rotation that is now defense-oriented with more minutes for Zaza Pachulia, Salah Mejri and Justin Anderson.
Can it last? Who knows. The one thing is this isn't just a four-game fluke -- as mentioned earlier, Barea is canning triples this season at career-best rates. Development is a tricky and mysterious beast in the NBA. Player improvement is never locked into a gradual rate; instead we've seen plenty of examples of peaks and valleys in players' respective developments. We've even seen it from Mavericks point guards -- hello, Jason Kidd!
Perhaps Barea has finally found his jumper, despite being a nine-year veteran. Hopefully for the Mavs it stays that way.