J.J. Barea is off to a strong start to his 12th NBA season and ninth total in Dallas. While much of the attention has centered around prized rookie Dennis Smith Jr., Barea has quietly played some of the best basketball of his career. Although the Mavericks are in the midst of a 2-10 start, the 33-year-old guard has provided a steadying presence during a dismal beginning.
Through 12 games, Barea is averaging 12.3 points, 4.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds. The point and rebound totals would be career highs, while the assists would be the third highest mark in his career. Per 36 minutes, the 6-foot-tall point guard is averaging 20 points, 7.8 assists and 5.1 rebounds. On a per minute basis he’s scoring nearly as much as John Wall, dishing it a similar amount as Kyle Lowry and rebounding more than Stephen Curry.
We can debate whether Barea’s timeline fits that of the rebuilding Mavericks, but it’s hard for Rick Carlisle to keep arguably his best point guard off the floor. Whether Barea is probing the lane, wreaking havoc for the defense or spotting up and canning threes off the catch, he’s found ways to make a significant impact on the backend of his career.
The numbers of times Barea sets up his teammates for a good shot can’t be overstated. His assist percentage of 40.1 is one of the highest in the league (that’s an estimate of the percentage of teammate field goals he’s assisted while he was on the floor, per Basketball-Reference). Barea’s feel for passing angles and his ability to create them makes him so good, especially for his size.
In this clip, notice how he uses his body to shield the on-ball defender, then sucks in Marcin Gortat with a slight ball fake, which opens up space allowing Barea to lob the ball to Salah Mejri.
And here, Barea’s pass splits two defenders and has enough velocity to whiz by defenders before they can react.
Barea also has a knack for using his body to finish at the rim, even though he has a severe height disadvantage in the paint. In the clip below, watch as Barea leans into the body of elite shot blocker Joel Embiid. This allows the diminutive guard to separate just enough to flip the ball up past Embiid’s outstretched arm.
Here’s another instance of Barea using as much of his body as possible to get his shot off. As he gets a step on the defender, you can see Barea dip his left shoulder into Nemanja Bjelica’s body, allowing him to get in between the basket and the shot blocker. Once Barea wedges into that space, the defender has to go through him to even have a chance at blocking the shot, resulting in an and-one.
We’ve yet to see Barea lose a step of his quickness, but when he does, he’s setting himself up in other ways to prolong his career. With 12 games in the books, Barea is shooting an absurd 64 percent on catch-and-shoot threes. That bests Yogi Ferrell’s second-highest 46 percent by a healthy margin. It’s allowing him to play off the ball in some two-guard and even three-guard lineups while giving players like Smith Jr. and Ferrell the opportunity to initiate the offense.
When all is said and done, this will be Smith Jr.’s backcourt, and the rookie is staking his claim as the alpha guard with each passing game. And stat lines like Junior’s 22 point, eight rebound and eight assist outburst in a road win against the Wizards tend to overshadow Barea’s steady, consistent pulse. But the 12-year vet is as valuable a weapon as he’s ever been for the Mavericks. Like a fine wine, Barea seems to be only getting better with age.