J.J. Barea talks basketball, Puerto Rico, and more in Time interview

Mavs guard J.J. Barea had a chat with Time’s Stephanie Apstein, in which he talked about the state of Puerto Rican basketball, his experience coming to America, and giving back to the community.

Moving from the town of Mayaguez, a city of 89,000 people, to Miami in high school in 2001 created quite the culture shock. Apstein reports that 98 percent of Barea’s home town is of Puerto Rican descent, so moving to such a culturally diverse area for the first time at age 17 or 18 was a totally new experience for the young Barea.

“Puerto Rico is just different,” he said. “Even though I was in Miami, which wasn’t that far, it was my first time in a school with people from all over the world.”

Barea has been the most notable name in Puerto Rican basketball for a decade now, but while the sport has taken off in his native country in terms of popularity, he remains one of the few players to have reached the highest level in the game. He wants that to change, however.

“Hopefully before I retire we’ll get another player in the NBA,” he said. “Basketball is the co–No. 1 with baseball down there now. It’s not just because of me—we had Carlos Arroyo [2001–11], too. Every summer I spend time with [young players] in the weight room and we talk about the NBA, what the workouts are like. The 18-and-under national team did a good job the last couple of years—I think more than half of them are playing D-I basketball—so hopefully one of them has a chance.”

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Mavs have shown knack for finding diamonds in the rough

For so many kids that grow up dribbling a basketball, hearing their name on the night of the NBA draft is something that only happens when they close their eyes and let their dreams go wild. Blood, sweat and tears go into making that dream a reality, but it only happens for 60 players each year.

It’s something that a significant part of the Mavericks core this season never got to experience.

Wesley Matthews, Seth Curry, J.J. Barea, Dorian Finney-Smith and Yogi Ferrell have all played major roles in the revival of the Mavericks as they chase the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs. Perhaps more importantly, whether it’s young talent or veteran leadership, they’re a big reason why there is optimism for the Mavericks going forward.

However, when teams had their chances to select these guys on draft night, they passed.

Matthews is the lone member of this list that had established himself in the NBA prior to putting on a Mavericks jersey. After a stint with the Utah Jazz, he showed he belonged in the NBA during his time in Portland, which ultimately landed him a four-year, $70 million contract with the Mavericks in the summer of 2015. Despite all of that, his emotions from draft night in 2009 linger.

“Every negative emotion that you can think of,” Matthews recalled. “Pissed off, angry. Just everything.”

Matthews said that going undrafted may have had some positives as a byproduct, such as the structure of his first contract and an additional chip on his shoulder but his demeanor would’ve stayed the same regardless.

Barea, who went undrafted in 2006, played an intricate role in bringing the Mavericks a championship in 2011. When the team was down 2-1 against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, head coach Rick Carlisle inserted Barea into the starting lineup. The Mavericks didn’t lose another game in that series.

“It definitely gives you a little more motivation to prove people wrong,” Barea said.

Curry’s road to stardom has been a long one. He went undrafted in 2013 and though he said he was anxious that night, he knew the circumstances were stacked against him as he came off of surgery. Despite enjoying success this year with the Mavericks in his first extended opportunity, it’s not something he readily reflects on.

“I’m in the moment,” Curry said. “I’m trying to continue to earn my spot, trying to continue to play well. Same work ethic, same mindset. End of the season I’ll think about it and what I’ve accomplished but right now it’s a matter of just staying in the moment and continue to get better.”

Matthews, Barea and Curry have enough tape to shed the stigma of going undrafted. Guys like Finney-Smith and Ferrell are less than a year removed from being draft hopefuls, but both have shown signs they’ll be key cogs for the future of the franchise.

Finney-Smith said being in a locker room with players that share similar backgrounds has definitely helped his development.

“We kind of all brushed on it,” Finney-Smith said. “Guys telling you they’ve been in your shoes and how they overcame it, so all of them helped me. When I first got here, Wes told me playing hard and playing defense was going to get me on the team and I just kept doing it.”

Ferrell, who recently collected his Kia Western Conference Rookie of the Month hardware, said while the undrafted tag will never change, he’s focused on capitalizing on the opportunity he has now.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Ferrell said. “Play well, make the most of our opportunity and that’s just it.”

Head coach Rick Carlisle said there are a couple of factors that play into the success of the undrafted players in the Mavericks locker room. One of the biggest is being around players like Dirk Nowitzki and Harrison Barnes, consummate professionals with an extraordinary work ethic.

The plethora of injuries veteran Mavericks suffered early in the season also presented opportunities for the likes of Curry, Finney-Smith and Ferrell. Their prosperity is not an accident.

“Our people do a really good job of finding guys that not only have a skillset that can be an NBA skillset but also a level of desire and tenacity,” Carlisle said.

For his part, Carlisle puts the players in the best position possible to be successful.

“I think it’s important to be open-minded and to do what you can to enable guys to have success,” Carlisle said.

Despite being deemed unworthy of a pick on draft night, these five players have combined to play over 6,500 minutes for the Mavericks. They’ve proven they belong in this league and give Mavs fans something to be excited about for years to come.

“Once you’re an NBA player, you’re an NBA player,” Curry said. “No matter where you were drafted or not drafted.”

J.J. Barea writes piece for alma mater NU’s site

Justin Anderson isn’t the only Maverick with some writing chops, it seems.

Last week J.J. Barea wrote a quick post for his alma mater Northeastern University’s site. In it he reflected on the season that was, and he also offered a bit of advice to players in mid-major conferences who might not believe they have a chance at making it to the NBA.

Barea knows from experience what it’s like to be on the outside looking in, in terms of the big-time college basketball landscape. Even after finishing eighth in the NCAA in scoring his junior season and leading his conference in scoring as a senior, he received little to no draft buzz when the summer came around. It’s not easy for mid-major players to receive the recognition they might necessarily deserve because their games aren’t always televised and they don’t play against world-class talent on a nightly basis. You could argue, in fact, that Barea’s success in the NBA after dominating at the mid-major level in part helped pave the way for players like Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, both with the Portland Trail Blazers, who played at Weber State and Lehigh, respectively.

“If it wasn’t for my four years at Northeastern, I would have never made it to where I am now,” Barea writes. “For me, Northeastern was great. I got to play a lot in my four years and got better every year so that helped big time. It was not easy, it is a long road, but if you stay positive and really work at it and take advantage of opportunity, it can happen.”

The point guard also modestly mentions that he “got hot at the right time” down the stretch of the regular season, helping the Mavericks enjoy a 7-2 spurt which put them in the playoffs for the 15th time in 16 seasons. Barea picked up his first-career Western Conference Player of the Week award in the process, completely dominating games against the Knicks, Pistons, Timberwolves, and Rockets — all Mavs wins.

“Personally for me was great,” he writes. “I was able to help my team in a big way this year, and had a great time doing it. I am enjoying my NBA journey to the max and learning, and getting better, every year.”

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J.J. Barea’s late-season explosion helped fuel Mavs’ playoff push

J.J. Barea Season Highlights

Look back on some of J.J. Barea's best plays of the season.

Things weren’t looking too good for the Mavericks after a 133-111 loss to the Sacramento Kings on March 27.

With no Deron Williams, no Chandler Parsons, and no grip on a playoff spot — the road loss pushed them down to the ninth seed and a 35-38 record — Dallas found itself at a significant crossroads. Should the losses keep coming, a playoff berth would become even more unlikely. Turn it around, however, and the club could keep playing. Something had to give.

Then J.J. Barea happened.

The next night in Denver, Barea scored 18 points and dished out 11 assists as the Mavs won, 97-88. He’d score a combined 103 points in the following four games — all wins — as Dallas would win seven of its final nine contests en route to a 42-40 finish and the sixth seed in the West. Make no mistake: His play down the stretch was one of the biggest factors as to how Dallas advanced to the playoffs this season.

Along the way, he picked up his first Western Conference Player of the Week award and witnessed the birth of his daughter, Paulina. Barea called that time one of the best weeks of his life.

While that specific period stands out for many different reasons, Barea proved once again this season why he’s such a valuable player, particularly in his role as a backup point guard. He has terrific command in the pick-and-roll and can make an immediate impact off the bench on any given night, especially in partnership with Dirk Nowitzki at the top of the arc. That pair’s unique synergy fueled the Mavs to scoring 109.1 points per 100 possessions when they shared the floor this season, according to NBA Stats, fifth-best among any pair of Mavericks.

Barea’s many different intangible attributes come to life anytime he’s paired with Nowitzki: patience, command, and precision. The point guard can probe a defense and finish himself or find a shooter or roll man for an easy bucket, and Dallas almost always finds good shots whenever he’s on the floor. That goes for Dirk in particular, who was on the receiving end of 70 Barea assists this season, per NBA Stats. Only Williams assisted Nowitzki more.

As we saw toward the end of the season, Barea was even more effective in the starting role. He credited his explosion to having more time to let the game come to him, so to speak, as when he’s playing 35 minutes instead of 15, he can better develop a feel for that particular game and play in rhythm for most of the night. Coming off the bench, on the contrary, players can feel pressure to make an imprint upon the game right away. It turns out he’s good in both roles.

Unfortunately, however, in a game against Memphis at the very end of the regular season he suffered a strained groin, which severely inhibited him during the playoffs. He was unable to move at full speed and it seemed very difficult for him to go to his preferred right-hand side when coming off a screen, limiting his effectiveness as he knifed into the teeth of the Oklahoma City Thunder defense.

“It was frustrating. I was playing my best basketball ever,” Barea said at his exit interview last week. “I was feeling great until that move in the Memphis game. I was looking forward to the playoffs, then this happened and I couldn’t get back to normal. But things happen. It could be worse. I just gotta take care of everything and be ready for next season.”

Barea also said during his exit interview that he would have his right knee scoped to address a medial meniscus injury. He said recovery time should be between one month and six weeks, so it shouldn’t affect his availability at the start of next season. It could, however, affect his ability to play for Puerto Rico this summer as the country looks to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Although Barea’s injuries — latter of which had previously been undisclosed — limited him during the postseason, while others similarly limited his teammates, the point guard was pleased with his team’s spirit this season.

“It was an up-and-down season, a tough season,” he said. “But, team-wise, I think we fought until the end. We fought all year. We had our good moments, our bad moments, but we stayed together, though. The important part is we stayed together as a team at all times. I think we left it all out there. I think it was a great season.”

Barea has multiple years remaining on his contract with the Mavericks, so odds are he’ll be back in the same role in which he flourished this season. And, depending on how the summer unfolds, Barea might even earn a bigger role heading into 2016-17. As he proved this season, he’s ready to do whatever it takes, regardless of what’s at stake.

The best Mavs social media moments of the season

Dirk Nowitzki has a well-deserved reputation as one of the funniest players in the NBA, but as it turns out he’s had some pretty stiff competition this year in his own locker room. Following the Mavs players this season on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat has been a trip.

Whether Dirk and Zaza Pachulia are going at it, Justin Anderson is retweeting pictures of lions, or JaVale McGee is posting selfies with the latest Snapchat filters, the Mavs haven’t let their off-the-floor talents go to waste. Although the playoffs are right around the corner, we still have some time to look back on the funny moments before things truly start to heat up. Let’s take a look at some of the best posts and exchanges they’ve had this season.

Let’s start with today…

The Mavs won seven of their final nine games of the season, which means Dirk is already in postseason form. And when the playoffs come around, he takes no prisoners… not even yours truly.

2016-04-14 10_39_27-Dirk Nowitzki (@swish41) _ Twitter

Of course, that wasn’t his only zinger of the season, and he doesn’t just pick on lowly scribes, either. When the Dallas Cowboys jokingly submitted a #MavsNewCourt design prominently featuring the famous star logo, Nowitzki didn’t pull any punches when voicing his disapproval.

2016-04-14 10_41_39-Dirk Nowitzki (@swish41) _ Twitter

And there was the time when he hit front rim on a dunk — and although it happened after a whistle and therefore didn’t count, that didn’t keep the world from chirping about it. Dirk’s response:

2016-04-14 10_44_18-Dirk Nowitzki (@swish41) _ Twitter

Or when C.J. McCollum crossed him up, spun him around, and hit a jumper. (The Mavs won in overtime, though!)

Not even Pau Gasol, a fellow European legend, can avoid a little Nowitzki shade.

Then, of course, there’s this, perhaps the best tweet by any player of the entire season.

Backyard Tennis

Chandler Parsons and Nowitzki are good buddies. Parsons says Nowitzki was one of his favorite athletes growing up, and he proudly wore No. 41 jerseys when playing ball on Florida playgrounds. Now that they’re teammates, Parsons can hang out with his idol. Sometimes that means playing tennis…

#tbt tennis with @swish41 #itwasin #hebeatmebarefoot

A video posted by ChandlerParsons (@chandlerparsons) on

…while others it might mean lifting weights together…

#tbt struggling with the 30s!

A photo posted by ChandlerParsons (@chandlerparsons) on

…while others yet it might mean exploring Southern culture.

@swish41 is ready to hoop!!

A photo posted by ChandlerParsons (@chandlerparsons) on

You’re never too old to be a cowboy.

Parsons and his buddy, Coach Carlisle

These two might have a weird, quirky relationship at times, but that doesn’t stop them from posing for pictures together in front of a Rolls Royce…

Congrats Coach Carlisle on the new deal! #5moreyears #iseeyourwalletisalreadyout

A photo posted by ChandlerParsons (@chandlerparsons) on

…or from hanging out at the most infamous Halloween party in Dallas history.

Happy Halloween!!

A photo posted by ChandlerParsons (@chandlerparsons) on

JaVale McGee, Snapchat superstar

While Nowitzki steals the show on Twitter and Parsons holds the Instagram belt, there’s no question JaVale McGee has the greatest Snapchat of any Maverick, potentially in team history. He’s been a panda rapping along to “Panda” (very meta)…

…he’s relaxed with Buzz Lightyear…

…and he’s worn tropical headgear.

Following along to the adventures of McGee and Raja “The Sphynx” is always a trip, too.

And finally there was the time that he was Charlie Villanueva and Villanueva was he.

Little Mavericks

Villanueva and J.J. Barea both welcomed daughters into the world this season.

Mi vida mi todo Paulina Barea Ortiz 03/31/16 😀😇😜👨‍👩‍👧‍👦🇵🇷

A photo posted by jose barea (@jjbarea11) on

Priceless…….Game Day vs OKC…….#dallasmavs #aliyah #mffl #mavsnation #believeincharlie #proudfather

A photo posted by Charlie Villanueva (@cvbelieve) on

Congratulations to them both!

Dirk and Zaza: An unparalleled rivalry

Dirk and Pachulia don’t back down on the floor, so you’d better believe they’re not going to be shy away from the game. These two go at each other online harder than most guys do their opponents in the postseason.

Dirk doesn’t believe Pachulia can snag a Leonel Messi jersey.

https://twitter.com/zaza27/status/700465922352553988

(Click to see the whole exchange on that one…)

There’s the Great Shoulder Debate of 2015-16.

https://twitter.com/zaza27/status/684965616189595648

And then there’s Zaza taking credit for Dirk’s rise up the all-time scoring list.

Finally, here’s our entry for tweet of the year…

What a season it’s been for the Mavs, both on the floor and off of it. There certainly is something charming about these guys being so funny away from the game, especially in how they interact with one another. The players really enjoy each other’s company, and that’s a pretty important thing given the amount of time they spend together. The group has talked up the importance of chemistry and togetherness all season long, and down the stretch of the playoff race we learned just why that’s so important.

Mavs’ playoff chances have received big boost from seemingly unlikely places

Mavericks vs. Timberwolves

J.J. led the way once again with 21 points as the Mavs knocked off the T-Wolves for their fourth straight win.

Coming into the season, a tight race for the playoffs was all but guaranteed. That’s been the name of the game out West this entire millennium. Nothing is ever set in stone, and nothing is decided early.

What you probably didn’t expect — and I’m not sure who else could have — is the Mavs would be part of the largest, longest, closest playoff races in years. With five games left in the season, five teams in the West are separated by three games. The Mavericks, currently two games behind fifth place and one ahead of ninth, will play against three of them before all is said and done.

One week ago, the Mavs were coming off a 22-point road loss in Sacramento, preparing to play the second night of a back-to-back in Denver. Deron Williams and Chandler Parsons were injured with no timetable for the former and the season lost for the latter. The Mavericks were three games under-.500 and had lost 10 of their last 12. They needed to win.

So Justin Anderson got the start.

The rookie scored 11 points and blocked two shots in his second career start. Dwight Powell, the 24-year-old backup big man, scored a career-high 16 points in his first-ever start.

Two days later against the Knicks, J.J. Barea scored 26 points off the bench to lead the Mavs to a win. Anderson hit a key go-ahead layup with a couple minutes remaining.

Two days later, Salah Mejri scored six points and grabbed seven rebounds off the bench, blocking two Pistons shots and holding Detroit to 31.8 percent shooting while he was on the floor. Barea poured in 29 points.

And two days after that, Barea scored a team-high 21 points, Anderson grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds, and Mejri blocked a team-high two shots as the Mavs won 88-78 against Minnesota, arguably their best defensive performance of the season.

That, in a nutshell, is the story of the Mavericks’ season, and in one week we have witnessed the realization — though unexpected — realization of the front office’s dream: This is a deep team that can win with or without a lineup full of star players, and even with a struggling Dirk Nowitzki, who shot above 40 percent just once in the last four games, all Mavs wins. Nowitzki and Wesley Matthews — who’s been smoking-hot from deep lately — have done their part, but everyone else has stepped up, too, and they deserve plenty of credit for what’s transpired this week.

J.J. Barea, Player of the Week

Barea was named Western Conference Player of the Week for his efforts, averaging 23.5 points and 6.8 assists in the four wins. That alone tells you all you need to know about the Mavericks this season: It’s not about who’s not playing. It’s about who’s ready to step up and perform.

The Puerto Rican point guard, in particular, has done just that. Before Friday’s game in Detroit, it was revealed that Barea was away from the team to witness the birth of his daughter, Paulina. He arrived to arena a couple hours before tipoff, early enough to catch a brief nap before warmups. He responded with his biggest scoring night in three months. He described the week as “one of the best ever.” He carried the momentum over to Minnesota, as well.

“I’m in a great rhythm,” Barea said yesterday. “Coach and my teammates are doing a great job of putting me in a good position, and I’m just taking advantage.”

Added Dirk Nowitzki, his pick-and-roll buddy: “He’s an incredible pick-and-roll player and that’s what he does. … He’s really smart and takes his time and knows exactly what he wants. He’s just a really, really smart pick-and-roll player. He’s been terrific.”

Just how great a rhythm has Barea enjoyed? He scored 20 points or more in three straight games for the first time in his career, and the 94 points he scored this week were the most in any four-game stretch of his career. He did it efficiently, too, shooting 52.1 percent from the field and 48.0 percent from deep. He led the Mavericks in scoring in all four games.

Justin Anderson, Human Highlight Reel

Earlier in the season, any Anderson-related discussion was speculative: When would he get minutes? Is he ready to contribute? But in just a few weeks, the conversation has shifted from the curious to the obscure: How does Rick Carlisle feel about Anderson’s one-handed rebounds? How does Anderson feel about Dirk Nowitzki and Zaza Pachulia jokingly accusing him of stealing rebounds?

It doesn’t take a basketball savant to appreciate Anderson’s contributions to the Mavs in the last week-plus, and he’s already provided enough evidence to suggest he has the potential to be a force on the defensive end. He’s blocked seven shots and grabbed 36 rebounds in his last six games — including a career-high 10 boards Sunday against Minnesota. When a young player contributes in a big way like Anderson has, it can be tempting to look into the future. Anderson won’t fall into that trap, though.

“I’m just trying to stay humble and just play as hard as I can every possession,” he said.

If he continues to crash the boards and protect the rim the way he has in recent games, he’ll have to play hard on some more possessions per game moving forward. At 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot wingspan and 43-inch vertical leap, Anderson is one of the premier athletes in the league. He’s already displayed tremendous instincts around the rim before, but Sunday against Minnesota he added two more highlights to the reel. First there’s the block:

And then there’s the put-back dunk.

Anderson’s acrobatic put-back finishes these last few games haven’t been a turn of luck, either. There’s a strategy to it. “Offensively, Dirk has such a soft shot that it just falls right off the rim in a perfect position every time,” he said. “It’s never a line drive, so you can just go get it at the highest point and try to tip it in.”

Plenty of other players have contributed during the four-game winning streak, most notably Matthews, Mejri, Zaza Pachulia, and Devin Harris. Their contributions should not go unheralded.

But the fact that there are so many names to mention is kind of the story here. Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson, and Rick Carlisle’s collective dream for this team was for it to be a well-balanced machine, whose wins were fueled not by one or two player but by eight, 10, or 13, however big or small. That’s been the case these last four games, even without two starters.

That hasn’t come to pass unnoticed by Anderson, either. Toward the team’s 88-78 win in Minnesota, Anderson turned to owner Mark Cuban and equipment manager Al Whitley and pointed toward the scoreboard, showing the team’s scoring breakdown. Barea had 21. Pachulia had two. Dirk had 13. Matthews, 19. Six for David Lee, 16 for Harris, and zero for Mejri in his 19 minutes. It’s not that those individual numbers mattered — in fact, they didn’t. That’s the point.

“That’s winning basketball,” Anderson said. “You got all these guys in double-figures, guys playing for one another. Right now we’re playing winning basketball. It’s not anybody worrying about their individual stats. We’re just out there making the right plays.”

No matter who plays, who starts, who dresses, and who doesn’t, if the Mavs continue making those right plays, they’ll be just fine as the season’s end draws closer.

Mavs welcome back guard JJ Barea

JJ Barea Interview

Earl K. Sneed interviews Mavs G JJ Barea after the 2011 NBA Finals win over the Miami Heat.

DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks announced today that they have signed free-agent guard Jose Juan Barea. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Barea (6-0, 185) spent the first five years of his professional career in Dallas and was a member of the the Mavericks’ 2011 NBA Championship team. He averaged 9.5 points, 3.9 assists and 20.6 minutes during the 2010-11 campaign, while helping Dallas capture its first NBA title.

The former Maverick played 315 games in a Dallas jersey averaging 7.1 points and 2.9 assists. Barea also saw action in the NBA playoffs each of his five seasons in Dallas, accruing averages of 7.7 points and 3.0 points in 40 postseason games (seven starts).

The eight-year veteran spent the past three seasons in Minnesota after signing with the Timberwolves as a free agent in the summer of 2011. He holds career averages of 8.3 points, 3.4 assists and 19.0 minutes in 509 career games (59 starts) while shooting .419 from the floor and .798 from the foul line.

The Mayaguez, Puerto Rico native went undrafted in the 2006 NBA draft and was signed by Dallas as a rookie free agent on Aug. 17, 2006. Barea attended Northeastern University and, as a senior, averaged 21.0 points, 8.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds for the Huskies.

Barea will wear number 5.