After the paroxysms of unbridled joy I experienced watching the 2010-11 NBA playoffs, NBA fans are now whispering novenas to the big man in the sky that there will be NBA roundball in the fall, winter or spring.
The owners want to reduce players’ salaries, implement a hard or flex cap, large-market owners do not want to share further revenues with their small-market ownership brethren, NBA.com and team web sites have removed player information (reminiscent of a recently deceased Kremlin leader having his portrait removed from a state office) and all of this comes on the heels of a great postseason.
Apologies to all, but I am not going to spend the foreseeable future writing about the issues surrounding the lockout. It’s hard to feel empathy for the owners – when the Maloofs have run the Sacramento Kings into the ground – and Derr Kommissar David Stern is still demanding that the city of Sacramento build a new arena for the Maloofs, The Maloofs have stubbornly refused to sink any cash into the franchise, but taxpayers should subsidize the building of a new arena for these casino-owning jokes. And it’s difficult to feel the financial pain of players, who make obscene amounts of money, and then go on to have careers like Steve Francis, Eddy Curry and Stephon Marbury. (All three of these well-compensated basketball professionals joined the Knicks in the Zeke era.)
The economic landscape has changed, which is why Stern is asking the players to take less cash, but Derr Kommissar is still operating under rosier financial times that decree cities should build arenas to host his roundball extravaganza. There is a gap in Stern’s logic, where teams need to be cut a financial break by supposedly greedy players, but cities are left on the hook to build revenue generators (arenas) for dubious ownership groups.
In this Tea Party day and age, what city is going to build a new arena using primarily public funds?
That is my obligatory lockout bit.
The X Factor
Before the start of the 2011 NBA Finals between the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat, Chasing 23’s resident Kobe Bryant publicist, The Brown Mamba, posed this question in, “(Best of) 7 Questions for the NBA Finals”: Who is the “X factor” for each team?
The Brown Mamba cited Jason Kidd for Dallas and Chris Bosh for the Heat. I wouldn’t have considered Bosh an “X” factor when the guy is a member of the most heralded Big Three in NBA history, but let’s allow Kobe’s social media expert to explain the rationale behind his choice:
You can pretty much count on James’ and Wade’s performance (and Haslem always seems to average 8 and 10), so any bonus from Bosh should make this an easy series for the Heat.
That made sense until hoops fans saw LeBron retreat into his special place, where no one but F.B.I. agents Mulder and Scully could have assisted him, and it could be definitively stated that LeBron was the negative “X” factor.
In the Comments section, I made this succinct but amazingly insightful comment:
JJ Barea will be X factor. Bibby can’t guard Barea or geriatric Bob Cousy.
I also wrote that I thought the Heat would win in six, but let’s stick with this surprisingly accurate prognostication, and ignore the sparse nature of the prose and how incredibly lucky I got with the veracity of the above sentence.
The first time I saw J.J. Barea play, was as a freshman for the Northeastern Huskies, when his underdog squad made a fifteen-minute bus trip to take on the Al Skinner-coached Boston College Eagles at Conte Forum. As a B.C. fan, I turned up at the game expecting to have my usual fare of a hot pretzel and coke, and watch the Eagles smoke the Huskies. Skinner’s team had two future NBA players, in the Clippers’ Craig Smith and the Suns’ Jared Dudley, and this game was scheduled as filler – a gimme – for the Eagles.
Barea proceeded to take over the game. I’m sitting in the stands, in a state of disbelief, asking myself how the hell does Northeastern get this guy, Barea, and Skinner has Louis Hinnant playing point guard? Barea killed the Eagles, went for something like 30, ran the show and led Northeastern to an impressive road victory. I left the game pissed, but freakin’ Jose Juan Barea was stuck in my head. (Skinner’s B.C. teams had a bit of a problem losing to local Boston area teams – such as Tommy Amaker’s Harvard Crimson.)
Two years later, I went to watch Barea’s Huskies host the legendary Tyler Coppenrath-led Vermont Catamounts, and this time Barea did not dominate the game. Barea was clearly the focus of UVM’s defensive efforts, which he struggled against, and Barea started chucking Jimmer Fredette 3-pointers after taking a dribble over half court. The Huskies lost in front of a packed house, Barea looked mortal but still very talented, and I never thought for one moment that I had watched a player who would go on to become the “X” factor of the 2011 NBA Finals.
With his father advising him, Barea showed interest in coming out after his junior year. He elected to stay in school and played his senior season at Northeastern, where he became Northeastern’s most heralded
player since Reggie Lewis.
Flashing ahead to June of 2011, Games 4, 5 and 6 of the NBA Finals were J.J. Barea’s NBA bar mitzvah. He became a man. The Mavericks’ statistical analysis team clearly had evidence that the Mavs were playingbetter with Barea on the floor, and Rick Carlisle made the decision to insert Barea into the starting lineup for Game 4 – replacing DeShawn Stephenson.
Barea was the ideal change of pace to Jason Kidd at the point. Barea had proven that he could consistently beat his man off the dribble, and it was this skill that enabled Barea to become the Finals’ “X” factor.
J.J. made $1.7 million for the 2010-11 season. Barea isn’t an example of Mark Cuban throwing around big money, but of Donnie Nelson and the Mavs’ basketball brain trust making an intelligent signing that fit the needs of their team. For the 2010-11 season, Dallas was able to station around the 3-point line an array of shotmakers, who consistently made teams pay, if they sloughed off from their man behind the arc. The Heat was unable to stop Barea’s penetration, because of the threats Dallas had arrayed behind the 3-point line.
Dallas won an NBA title playing a style of basketball that is more common to Europe, and that’s how a physically-less-talented team (i.e. Dallas Mavericks) was able to beat a physically-superior team (i.e. Miami Heat). The game has changed. It has evolved to a place where the point guard may be the most important position on the court.
Contemporary Point Guard Play
People will point out that J.J. Barea is a defensive liability, but every point guard is a defensive liability, because the elimination of handchecking was done to increase a point guard’s ability to drive to the tin. Some are more pronounced defensive liabilities, such as Mike Bibby, but with the floor spread, it is virtually impossible to stop a water bug like Barea. A team has to respect Barea’s ability to hit the three, so defenders are unable to go under ball screens. This leads to a style of play, where the maybe 6’0” Barea, becomes his team’s most dangerous and effective offensive player.
This had me think of point guards – from the ghost of NBA seasons past – who would have been far more effective playing in 2011 than when their careers ran their course. Greg Anthony, who perennially struggled with his top of the key jumper, would have been a more effective offensive threat playing in the 2011 NBA. And how about former Kentucky star and brief Boston Celtic, Wayne Turner, would there have been a place for him in today’s NBA game?
Turner couldn’t shoot the rock, but neither can current Celtic point guard Rajon Rondo. Does any current NBA guard shoot the ball worse than Rondo?
The European-ization of the game has made players, such as Rondo, extremely effective. With capable 3-point shooters spaced around the arc, it has reduced the need for a point guard to have a reliable jump shot. A point guard, such as Barea, who can both penetrate and shoot the long-range 3-pointer is a more potent offensive threat than Rondo, but Rondo does a lot things that Barea can’t do. Both players fit their respective team’s needs.
Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had answers for Dirk Nowitzki, but he couldn’t come up with a solution to stop Barea in Games 4, 5, and 6 of the NBA Finals. It could be persuasively argued that Miami’s Big Three were felled by a $1.7 million point guard, who played his college ball at Northeastern. (Don’t think Heat President Pat Riley hasn’t completely absorbed that body blow.)
With Derr Kommissar David Stern and his cabal of owners looking to impose a hard salary cap, it’s essential for NBA teams to find future J.J. Barea’s. It may have shocked some people that The Jimmer, went as high as 10 to the Sacramento Kings, but his skill set is ideal for today’s NBA. Teams throw substantial money, at NBA big men, but point guard play is what can immediately inject life into an offense. Barea was that player for the Dallas Mavericks.
Barea was so effective that Spoelstra decided not to play the defensively-limited veteran point guard Mike Bibby in Game 6. Barea’s effective and destabilizing offensive play forced the Heat to alter its playoff rotation and insert the seldom-used Eddie House into the action. The Heat was forced to make adjustments to Barea. Did Miami’s Big Three ever consider that J.J. Barea was going to play a major role in denying them of an NBA title?
Barea’s “X” factor contribution to the Dallas Mavericks’ championship season suggests that teams do not have to add an elite point guard to win an NBA title. It has been reported the Heat might have an interest, in signing Barea as a free agent, but the Heat only have James Jones and Mike Miller that can consistently stroke the 3-ball. The thought of Mario Chalmers and J.J. Barea sharing the point guard duties has to be attractive to the Heat, but Barea would also be a good fit with Mike D’Antoni’s “Seven Seconds or Less” offensive system in New York. Barea would be better off staying in an offensive system, which was rooted in European offensive concepts, but no one can blame the guy for trying to make some cash after a superlative performance in the NBA Finals.
The 2010-11 version of J.J. Barea, valued at $1.7 million, was the perfect example of the Dallas Mavericks recognizing a market inefficiency and using it to their advantage. It’s more difficult to properly ascertain the value of a J.J. Barea than it is to identify the overwhelming athletic skills\of Miami’s Big Three, which must make the pocket protector crowd quite proud. With a hard cap or flex cap approaching, the teams that are able to correctly quantify, and properly assess the skills of a J.J. Barea, will own a distinct competitive advantage.
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