You might not remember that JJ Barea wasn’t actually a Maverick to begin the season. But after being waived by the Minnesota Timberwolves and added just before the home opener against the Utah Jazz in game No. 2 of the season, it didn’t take the Puerto Rican long to assimilate himself into the team. He was an instant hit off the bench, just as he was in his first stint with the Mavs earlier in his career. He’d eventually start Games 4 and 5 of the playoffs, as well, and it was his calming influence on the offense that reinvigorated the club after two tough losses in Houston to begin the teams’ first-round matchup.
Barea is the type of player who draws a lot of attention toward himself, and not just because of his penchant for drawing offensive fouls. He’s always in the lane either looking to score himself, lobbing alley-oop passes, or dishing out to guys in the corner. Listed at six-feet tall — which I think his buddy Dirk Nowitzki would lovingly call “generous” — he’s able to get “inside” big men the way smaller boxers work against larger fighters. Before the big man can react or correct his positioning, Barea has already left his feet, which often leaves the defender off-balance or simply not in position to really contest the shot. It’s not easy for a small player to get shots off at the rim in this league, but Barea has been doing it for years.
There’s a lot to be said about a point guard who can not only command the offense, but who also has an almost soothing effect on the players around him. By carefully running the pick-and-roll, the speedy 1 was able to dictate opposing defenses, often lulling them to sleep or forcing them to focus on him while other players thrived.
Due to his ability to get into the land, collapsing the defense, spot-up shooters were usually always open on the perimeter for Barea to locate. Chandler Parsons, Monta Ellis, and Richard Jefferson all shot better than 44 percent on three-pointers following a Barea pass, per NBA.com. Despite being the third-string point guard, Barea’s fingerprints were all over this offense. More on that later, though. Let’s get to his best performance of the year.
Barea’s finest performance all season came in what ultimately proved to be the team’s final home game of the playoffs. In Game 4 against Houston, Barea scored 17 points and added 13 assists, his first double-double of the season and just fourth all-time as a Maverick, per Basketball-Reference, including playoff games. He turned it over just four times against 13 dimes, a terrific AST/TO ratio, especially considering it was only his 12th start of the season and first of the postseason.
The clip above goes a long way toward explaining one of the less talked-about elements of Barea’s game: his patience and general self-control. After a big block in a close postseason contest, many players would have sped up the floor and attacked the rim, either to finish or attempt to draw a foul. But Barea pulled up and instead reversed the floor to a cutting Ellis. The Rockets D wasn’t ready for penetration from that angle, and Ellis scored pretty easily.
The Puerto Rican point guard is known for his ball control, often dribbling the ball at length while searching for the best angle to attack off a ball-screen. However, this isn’t to be confused with time-wasting. Dallas scored 109.4 points per 100 possessions with Barea on the floor in the regular season, highest among all Mavericks. That number rose to 109.8 in the postseason, also highest on the team among players who averaged 10 minutes per game, and his on-floor 10.8 net rating was — you guessed it — also a team-best.
The 30-year-old Barea will be a free agent this summer, but he’s already been on record saying he won’t be looking for a significant raise as was the case following the 2011 title run. The point guard clearly enjoys being in Dallas and playing for head coach Rick Carlisle, and rightfully so: Carlisle’s pick-and-roll offense is perfect for Barea, and his skillset is an ideal fit in Carlisle’s system. That symbiotic relationship pushed Barea onto the national scene in 2011 and did so once again this season.
What it will take to re-sign him comes down to what level of interest other teams show in him. Unlike in 2011, many teams run pick-and-roll offenses these days, meaning his greatest skill is a sought-after commodity in the NBA. He could have some serious suitors this summer should teams be searching for a backup point guard. However, there are plenty to be had in the June Draft, so his market will likely be unclear until then.
Barea is no spring chicken at age 30, but his body has held up well to this point in his career despite his typically physical nature of play. Plenty of point guards in the NBA have run the pick-and-roll late into their careers in the modern league, meaning as long as Barea can remain proficient in that offense, he’ll have a spot in the league. And as his Game 4 performance showed, he’s clearly still got plenty left in the tank.
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