by Ben Collins
Get your short jokes out of the way. We’re about to talk about JJ Barea. He’s heard them all before, so just let them all out before we get started.
OK, are you ready now? Because we’re sort of sick of this guy flying below the radar. Way below the radar.
In the League for five years, Barea finally had his groundbreaking ride in the 2011 NBA Playoffs—and he did it right before he becomes a free agent this summer. One of the glaring images from the 2011 Playoffs is Andrew Bynum’s forearm shiver on the Mavs’ 6-0 change-of-pace guard as he went to flip up a floater. It was brutal. It looked like Barea was shot out of a cannon. That’s what you remember about that shot.
Know what you don’t remember? He hit that floater. Go back and look. Seems impossible, but it’s true: JJ Barea doesn’t need a ribcage to finish a finger roll, and Dallas fans are starting to expect that. He hasn’t been missing those shots in the past few months. And that’s been keeping him on the floor.
He was the Mavs’ second or third option on offense most nights in the postseason, raising his 9.5 ppg average from the regular season to 11.5 versus the Lakers and 12 in the conference finals against OKC. Yep, some undrafted Northeastern grad from Puerto Rico became Dirk Nowitzki’s primary pick-and-roll partner during the deepest Playoff run Dallas ever had.
If you squint a little, he’s even starting to look like the guy he admires, Steve Nash. Barea used to pound the ball into the ground a lot trying to penetrate and dish like his idol does. It almost led to some reduced minutes when the raw Rodrigue Beaubois was set to come off the Mavs’ injury list. Then Barea flipped a switch, started attacking the basket relentlessly, literally going under defenders to create shots bigger guards could never find. So instead of losing minutes, Barea got more.
What’s he like now? We’ll just quote Thunder coach Scott Brooks, whose uber-athletic guards struggled to contain Barea in the Western Conference Finals.
“Barea’s a handful,” Brooks says.
That’s not a short joke, either. He just has no idea how to stop him.