Jose Juan Barea, or “JJ” as I like to call him, deserves a lot of praise for the job he’s tried to do since Luke Ridnour joined Ricky Rubio in the trainer’s room.
These are unusual minutes for him. In his entire career, he’s played just 30 minutes or more 36 times (counting last night). That’s 36 times in just six seasons. 26 of those came in his five years with the Dallas Mavericks. He’s not used to this kind of load with minutes played and the responsibility of running a team that comes with them. It’s easy to dismiss this reality for him and say that he’s an NBA point guard and should be capable of doing this with the money he’s getting to be here.
However, that’s just not how the NBA often works. Guys need routines and they need specific roles that they’re accustomed to. For Barea, he’s always been the scorer off the bench that is inserted for measured minutes to spark the offense. I wrote when the signing happened that he’s here to be a change of pace running back type of player for the Wolves and that’s what he was until Ricky Rubio went down.
He’s played at least 30 minutes or more the last eight games and he’s trying to adapt to new responsibilities with the team. While it’s tired him out, bloodied his lip and made him the lone creator on offense for a few games in a row, he talked after the loss to Memphis about how much he’s enjoyed this change of a role and being able to fight alongside his teammates.
I think we can all agree that the Indiana loss was as pathetic as we’ve seen all season. It was a dead moment from the beginning and even an 18-0 run in the fourth quarter couldn’t keep this team from losing by fewer than 23 points. But in the last two home games now, we’ve seen an incredible fight in this young MASH unit that we’ve all been hoping to see.
It hasn’t led to any victories yet. The April losing streak still continues and is sitting ugly at 27 straight right now. However, it seems like this team is figuring out how to fight when there is nothing more than pride and momentum to play for.
This Memphis team is still rounding back into form with getting Zach Randolph back to himself, and yet they’re still a much better team than anything this group of Wolves should be able to handle. Minnesota was right there in the thick of the fourth quarter last night with a chance to steal a home victory though. When Anthony Tolliver’s 3-point play was taken away for an odd offensive foul call, it changed the momentum of a potential victory.
Now the Wolves needed to answer back after hoping to build a four-point lead with 3:49 left and they fell short. The shots stopped falling and turnovers occurred. They couldn’t guard Rudy Gay over the final four minutes of the game. And yet, JJ Barea had this squad within three points and less than a minute to go.
At a certain point, you look at this roster and realize with the injuries this is all you can really ask for – a chance to win and hope for the losing streak to end.
Since Luke went down with his ankle injury, Barea has been clawing and troubleshooting his performances as the lead guard on the court. He’s averaged 16.1 points, 9.1 assists, 3.8 turnovers and 34.8 minutes per game. He’s shooting 43.1% from the field and 48.8% from 3. This isn’t some jaw-dropping line by any means. They’re good numbers for a starting point guard but they aren’t numbers that make you feel comfortable with situation at hand.
What they show is that JJ Barea has decided to help fight for this team. Whether guys like Beasley, Wes, Martell, and Randolph will step up doesn’t really matter. Their production will come and go but Barea is going to fight with whomever is willing to step to the front of the line. I don’t know that it means much heading into next season. Ideally, Ricky will be back, Luke will be his backup and Barea will be the change of pace running back off the bench. We will hopefully never rely on Barea to fill in this role in the next three years.
That doesn’t mean that right now it’s not nice to see someone on this team step up and play for pride. I actually have hope that either the Pistons or the Warriors will fall to the Wolves in the next five days and we’ll no longer have to count consecutive April losses.
JJ Barea is managing his way through his new role and he’s enjoying the experience of fighting alongside his teammates right now. And I actually am enjoying watching that.