I struggle, almost every day. It’s my least favorite 18.6 minutes of the day every time it occurs. I try not to make it personal, but sometimes it feels that J.J. Barea has perfectly figured out the most efficient way to upset me. The 18.6 minutes he has averaged per game over a long and arduous NBA season have been a whirlwind of calamity, emotion and fruitless endeavor.
I’ll be clearer. I think J.J. Barea is a fine basketball player and can be a potentially useful backup point guard on a second unit that needs a fearless scorer. Saying this, I do not believe another season in Minnesota will be a good idea for anybody involved.
This is not a controversial take, most of Minnesota would be happy to see the back of the diminutive Puerto Rican this offseason. He has become somewhat of a scapegoat in an underwhelming season; it may be a little unfair, but it is hardly a great injustice. He’s averaging 8.4 points and 3.8 assists per game, which in just less than 19 minutes is actually quite prolific. Per-game numbers, though, often deceive. Barea has been woefully inefficient, his true shooting percentage of 47 percent – the lowest since his rookie year – has him in John Salmons territory (this is a terrible territory to be in for a veteran guard). The Timberwolves were 9.4 points worse with him on the court than they were with him off it, that is a deficit so large that it cannot be solely attributed to Barea, however, his negative contributions to a weak second unit cannot be overlooked.
If there is any hope for his future in Minnesota, it is that his most successful time on the court was when partnered with the emerging Gorgui Dieng. The Barea-Dieng lineups were both short-lived and successful; if he does remain it could be due to an underlying optimism that Dieng can make up for Barea’s obvious shortcomings defensively while working as a useful pick-and-roll partner on the offensive end. The late arrival of Dieng into the rotation means that the sample size is so small that a great deal of projection is required if Barea is to be kept around on this basis. These subtler decisions though are commonplace in the life of a professional sports executive. It’s a stretch, but at least it’s a glimmer of hope.
While his play is by no means stellar (or even remotely positive), there is clearly a chasm between his ineffectiveness and his intense unpopularity. I am irrational, like many others, to be so irked by a backup point guard, who is undoubtedly trying his best to perform and help contribute to the team.
When watching Barea, you become very aware of the rudderless nature of his game. He is a skillful dribbler but he makes you feel that he has no control whatsoever, not necessarily control of the ball but of the direction of the offense he is running. In watching the J.J. Barea isolation offense at its worst you sense the game slipping away through Barea’s tiny hands. The potential for victory was a jacked up 3 easily rebounded by the opposing side.
While I may prefer controlled point guard play, I also subconsciously have found myself rooting more often than not for foreign-born NBA players. The global spread of basketball is a beautiful thing and the more effective non-U.S. born players there are in the league, the more impact the NBA will have in other countries. So it pains me, it really does, to state how troubled I get when Barea gets subbed in. Ricky Rubio is far, far from a perfect point guard, but in terms of being enjoyable and entertaining, he is one of the most satisfying players in the league. Subbing Barea in for Rubio feels like switching off Marvin Gaye to get a load of the new Pitbull single, or changing the channel from the The Wire to NCIS: LA. One minute, Jimmy McNulty is tracking Stringer Bell through creative, substantial procedure and the next LL Cool J is waving his gun around helplessly trying to convince people he is of some value to the art of television. It’s the Hollywood point guard play I find so problematic. Three-pointers off the dribble, drives to nowhere, fancy hesitation moves that end in a blocked layup. It just doesn’t work or make sense for a team that is carried by cohesive offensive play.
He has shot well at times of course, but at this point his successes appear to be in spite of his decision making instead of a product of it. As far as backup guards go he is the diametric opposite to Andre Miller, whom the Timberwolves tried to obtain at the deadline. A deal was never agreed upon and so the Timberwolves are still searching for a floor leader to lead the bench.
The pursuit of a methodical, intelligent player like Andre Miller is suggestive that the style as much as anything of Barea’s play is at odds with the ideologies of Flip Saunders, making it all the more likely that Barea has played his last minutes as a Timberwolf. The salary cap will rise by $5 million to $63 million, pushing the tax level up to $77 million. This may well be crucial given Minnesota’s tight cap situation; $66 million is already committed to next year with most of the roster locked in. Only Dante Cunningham is scheduled to be a free agent. Removing Barea’s bloated $4.5 million salary may be the most obvious path to some cap relief; saying this, trading Barea without giving up further assets will be difficult and the Wolves may decide to ride with the expiring deal now that the cap has been pushed upwards.
It’s nothing personal, J.J., I hope you find a happy home like you had in Dallas. But right now, at the beginning of a pivotal offseason, it is not the time nor is Minnesota the place to attempt to rebuild Barea’s confidence and play. If there are any significant changes made this summer, I imagine it will start here.