How do you solve a problem like Barea?
Okay, J.J. Barea wasn’t really a problem last year, but he also wasn’t a solution in the way we hoped he might be.
Let’s get the negative out of the way first. In his first season with the Wolves, Barea was riddled with injuries throughout a good chunk of the season and he dribbled the life out of the basketball when he was on the court. The injuries didn’t seem like anything major that should mar his future seasons with the Timberwolves. He was banged up and pulling muscles you don’t want to pull, but he wasn’t suffering knee injuries or having chronic back problems. It’s possible they just happened. It’s possible they were related to the lockout and not being prepared for the regular season. Whatever the injuries were related to, it’s nothing that alarms me as him being an injury prone player.
It seemed pretty obvious — and Barea would be the first to admit this — that he had a problem adjusting to the new team/system/teammates in his initial moments of the season. He didn’t quite seem to know how to find the balance of what he should do on offense. Instead of moving the ball when he was faced with this unfamiliarity, he dribbled. And dribbled. And dribbled. AND DRIBBLED SOME MORE. It got to the point that you wanted him to shoot or get off the pot.
Seeing an indecisive nature from Barea didn’t seem right. In Dallas, he had a focus of what to do when he was running the point or acting as a small shooting guard next to Jason Kidd. His job was to make stuff happen and be lightning on the court. He was good at this because it just caused reacting to whatever the defense was willing to give up. The Wolves didn’t have the same spacing or the passing that Dallas had when Barea was there and this most likely constricted the offensive flow. Barea had to be a point guard instead of a just a player on the court.
Barea finally found his groove when the season became shot. He did less dribbling and more playing that resulted in the offense clicking. He wasn’t just scoring either. Over the last 21 games of the season, J.J. played 30 minutes and dished out eight assists per game. The team’s offense was surging briefly with Barea being one of the primary playmakers. In March, the Wolves offensive rating was an extremely impressive 109.3 with Barea on the court. Unfortunately, the defense was giving up 116.8 points per 100 possessions.
However, I think Barea’s biggest contribution to the Wolves this season came away from his play. There were two instances that stand out:
Here are Barea’s exact comments from Tom Powers’ article:
“They just come in here after the game like nothing happened,” Barea said. “That’s what happens to a losing team.”
“There’s a bunch of us, too, that care and play hard,” he said. “But there’s a bunch that don’t care, and we just got to change that.
“I’ve been noticing it. But today you can really notice it. It was a brutal second half. Nobody fighting, nobody getting mad at nobody. After a game like that you got to have problems. You got to argue with your teammates. But nobody cares so we’ve got to change that.”
In his article, Tom mentions that Barea said it out in front of his locker, within earshot of everybody that was willing to pay attention to his words. As someone that was there when he said those comments, I can attest that he didn’t lower his voice and was more than happy for any of the players to hear what he was saying. There were players on this team at the end of last year that didn’t seem affected by the losing. When you saw guys like Kevin Love, Anthony Tolliver, Nikola Pekovic after games, you’d notice a frustration in their voice and in the way they carried themselves. They looked tortured by the losing.
There were other players that had the same demeanor as if the team was on a winning streak. Barea noticed this and spoke out about it. This comes from him being an actual competitor that can’t stand losing and won’t accept it. Maybe this is just who he is or maybe being in the Mavs organization throughout the previous seasons (including the championship run) engrained a competitive fire that can’t be smothered with losing. Whatever the reason is, Barea was a leader as much as he could be. THIS is where is the most valuable to the Wolves.
It helps when he can be the same spark plug off the bench we saw in Dallas, but it helps just as much, if not more, that he’s willing to speak out against the same downtrodden mentality this team has embraced once the season is lost the past few years. Sure, he has issues playing the game at times and it isn’t always pretty to watch him pound the pressure out of the basketball.
But one thing you know will be constant with J.J. Barea is his unwillingness to accept a losing culture. Guys like him are rarely the problem.