The Mavs offense wasn’t at its best last season when Dirk Nowitzki was on the floor. Or Chandler Parsons. Or Monta Ellis or Tyson Chandler or Rajon Rondo.
No, Dallas scored more efficiently with JJ Barea on the floor than it did with any other player on the roster. The Mavericks scored 109.4 points per 100 possessions when Barea, the architect of the second unit, took the floor. Only 17 qualified players league-wide had a team on-floor rating higher than Barea’s. For reference, only two teams in the league had offensive ratings than 109.4 (the Clippers and Warriors).
Unlike in recent campaigns, the 2014-15 Mavs second unit was extremely reliant on the point guard. During the 2013-14 season, for example, the second unit was less focused on one player’s abilities and more so on the whole group, with Devin Harris, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, and Brandan Wright sharing the bulk of the scoring load.
With Barea at the helm last season, however, the ball was in his hands the majority of the time while the second five worked. Considering the results, it’s hard to argue with the process. Barea’s teammates were able to convert at such an efficient clip last season off of his passes that it only made sense for him to carry the burden of playmaking almost by himself.
For example, 45.9 percent of Barea’s offensive possessions were spent as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, according to Synergy Sports. He ranked in the 66th percentile in scoring efficiency in those sets, an above-average mark but not necessarily an elite one. However, it’s what he was able to do aside from shoot that set him apart last season. Dallas shooters scored a whopping 1.151 points per possession off Barea passes out of the pick-and-roll, second-best in the NBA among players with at least 300 such possessions. (Below is a chart showing the top-five.) Only LeBron James’ teammates in Cleveland scored more efficiently from his passes. The Puerto Rican turned it over just 4.9 percent of the time when he passed out of a P&R, a better mark than players like James, Stephen Curry, Kyle Lowry, and Tony Parker.
The key to scoring efficiently is finding the right shot, and Barea seems to be able to do that pretty much every time down the floor, particularly when he passes the ball. The modern pick-and-roll has two desirable outcomes: a three-pointer or a layup. The Mavs guard hit the roll man last season 129 times, leading to 165 points. The 1.279 points per possession rollers scored off Barea dishes last season ranked first in the NBA among players with at least 100 such passes.
Dallas big men scored more efficiently on rolls last season than those on any other club in the NBA, so it’s no surprise that Barea ranked near or at the top. However, the balance between how much of that has to with the big men’s touch versus the point guard’s passing ability is an ongoing debate among fans and analysts alike in the league. Personally, I think it’s a pretty healthy balance of both, and in that regard it makes Barea’s accomplishments extremely respectable.
Barea Lobs it to Chandler
J.J. Barea lobs it up to Tyson Chandler for the alley-oop dunk.
There’s perhaps no backup point guard in the NBA who has better command off the bench than Barea. When he comes into the game, everything changes: pace, tempo, control, and, more often than not, momentum. He slows things down to a degree, running multiple pick-and-rolls to try finding the right angle to attack. And once he does, he’s difficult to stop: He’s small and quick, a bad combination for backup big men not accustomed to working against such players. Many notable backup 1s (Lou Williams, Isaiah Thomas, Aaron Brooks) are much more perimeter-oriented than Barea. They rely on threes and jump shots and play more like shooting guards in a point guard’s body. But the Mavs’ reserve is always working to get inside the paint; he scored more points per 48 minutes on drives than Monta Ellis and Dwyane Wade last season, per SportVU.
The Mavs second unit this season figures to feature Barea again. He’ll be surrounded by plenty of shooters, including Devin Harris, Justin Anderson, and others on the wing. While he’s shifty enough to work in tight spaces if he has to, Barea is especially dangerous in space because of his quickness, and when you can manufacture space by flooding the floor with shooting, that’s even better. Dallas spot-up shooters scored 1.047 points per possession off Barea dishes last season, 20th in the league among players with at least 100 possessions. That mark ranks better than Damian Lillard, Goran Dragic, and James Harden.
It’s clear that Barea brings first-team ability to the second unit. He runs the offense at such a high level that Dallas often scores in bunches when he plays. Bringing him back ensures that the second unit will always play under control and, more than likely, it will almost always outscore its opponent.