I hate that I’m about to unmask myself as a terrible basketball historian, but I think one of the most underrated Dallas Mavericks is a guy who’s still on the team: J.J. Barea.
That’s going to sound stupid, since you’d probably be hard pressed to find a Mavericks fan with a bad word to say about Barea the human, or who would downplay what he does on the court. How can that guy be underrated? But the birds-eye-view of what J.J. has brought to this team — more than a decade of rock solid 6th man point guard play — doesn’t fully encompass how impressive his career is.
J.J. Barea, now finally being made an honest man by the NBA’s new player measurements, is officially a 5’10” undrafted point guard from Puerto Rico. That’s a height where most players don’t make it, from a draft situation where most players don’t make it, hailing from a place with vanishingly little in the way of NBA tradition. J.J. Barea has never seemed bothered by these three strikes. Perhaps he’s been playing with nine lives instead. Even a torn achilles at the age of 34 wasn’t enough to push J.J. into retirement.
Just to flesh out how uncommon J.J. Barea is: since 1946, there have been 15 Puerto Rican NBA players, and just 8 players born in Puerto Rico. The combined total number of games played by players born in Puerto Rico is 1,604. J.J. Barea accounts for 828 of those. That’s nearly 52% of all games played by a native Puerto Rican.
And as for his height, it’s true that occasionally a sub-6 foot player will set the league on fire for a moment. Most recently, players like Isaiah Thomas and Nate Robinson seemed like stand outs. But then,seemingly just as soon as they popped into the public consciousness, they were out of the league. Decent careers for both, nearing a decade in the league, (Thomas was waived in February after being traded to the Clippers) but still a number of years behind Barea’s steady-as-she-goes 13 season NBA tenure.
His status as an undrafted player is truly just the metaphorical cherry on top of the implausibility of J.J. Barea. NBA teams seem to be wising up to undrafted talent as Five Thirty Eight has recently shown, but Barea came into the league at a time when undrafted players getting minutes was rare and getting rarer.
All that to say… J.J. Barea gets credit for being a good backup point guard, but not nearly enough credit for being what he actually is, which is a complete basketball enigma. His numbers don’t jump off the page, but they’ve been amazingly consistent, even as he’s waded into “Old Man Barea” territory. Hell, there’s even a good case that his 2017-18 season at age 33 was the best of his career.
And through all of it, there’s just something so… Maverick-y about Barea. He just has that Yeehaw jeux ne se qua. The “teX” factor. So indelible to the Dirk-era Dallas teams is Barea, that if not for his three years post-championship spent in Minnesota, I think he’d be a shoe-in for the ring of honor.
The etymology of what it means to be a “Carlise guy” will eventually be traced back to J.J. That is, a heady, over-achieving role player who knows how to give the coach exactly what he’s looking for. It could be anything from settling down a discombobulated offense after one too many turnovers, or as a spark plug who can make the right pass and inject energy into a lethargic flow scheme. When we ask for a player to be “the next Barea,” the shoes we’re asking him to fill aren’t quite the Nowitzki-sized Nikes that Luka finds himself standing in, but they do have their own unique weight and importance to them. Because we’re asking someone to replace a player who was one of a kind. Like a pair of crocodile-skin Doc Martens. J.J. Barea is a Maverick Miracle, and people should remember that.