We ask GM Donnie Nelson if the Mavs are in the trade-deadline market for a backup point guard to supplant J.J. Barea.
"We are looking for a point guard, yes,'' Donnie says, and our eyebrows raise … and then fall. ‘The backup point guard we're looking for is Roddy Beaubois.''
Just how satisfied are the Mavs, really, with JJB?
And how satisfied should they be?
A couple of years ago, when J.J. Barea was a rags-to-riches third-stringer, he was a fan fave. Now he's counted on to provide so many of the things the Dallas Mavericks often lack, not only in his role as a backup QB behind Jason Kidd but also as a penetrator, a waterbug defender, a scorer at the 2 and an inspirational 5-10 sparkplug. Heck, he was even a starter in Friday's win at Boston and in Saturday's win at Charlotte, too.
With all that on his shoulders, it's easy to blame him when he falls short. Pun intended.
"I think some of the criticism of JJ is unfair,'' Donnie says. "Some of the things he does for us are a matter of function. That is, every team needs somebody to be a backup point guard so he functions in that role. But other things he does, they are particular to his skill set and particular to our needs.''
Donnie lists three examples:
1 "We can do some solid things defensively against some guard combos when JJ and Jason (Kidd) play together,'' Nelson says. "There are times when J-Kidd can guard the 2 and JJ can match up and guard the smaller, quicker guy. That's a pretty standard situation with most other teams (on offense) and JJ helps us match up in a standard way.''
2 "Guys look to him,'' Nelson says. "He draws a charge. He makes a momentum-changing play. He shows emotion, but in a controlled way. This is a really good locker room. Guys are friends. They support each other. JJ's personality, on the court and off, is a big part of that.''
3 "We are a team that relies on the jump shot, there is no arguing that,'' Nelson says. "JJ's perimeter game has really come around, of course. But what sets him apart on our team is that we need the penetrator. It's a little unconventional, but it's the truth: Our littlest guy is one of our best at getting to the rim.''
Barea is now at 8.8 points per game after a surge in which he's scored 19 points in three of the last five Dallas outings, including his
22-point effort in the Wednesday win at New York. He was good for 11 points at Boston (nine of them in the first quarter) and 15 more on Saturday. Naturally, the more time he's allowed to participate with other front-liners like Dirk Nowitzki, the better his numbers
"I love it," Barea said. "They pay so much attention to (Nowitzki) that if I turn that corner I'm going to be open."
Unfortuntely for JJB, surfing off Dirk doesn't complete his job description. He's also needed to maintain leads handed him by KIDDIRK when the two stars go to the bench. Barea did a lousy job of that early in the year when his plus/minus numbers were among the NBA's worst. But thanks to his recent scoring surge – in the last five games he's shooting 64 percent from the floor and is 6-of-11 from long-range – the Mavs' second unit has been much more capable.
Nelson's Roddy B remark suggests that Beaubois will be directly involved in the PG competition once he returns, hopefully next week. Just as notable, the remark insists that Dallas isn't shopping for PG help.
We're not in love with the idea, on two counts.
One, we respect JJB's work in helping Dallas patchwork its way through 82-game grinds. It's almost heroic (in the sporting sense of the word) that he wins his share of battles against players with greater pedigrees and half-a-foot of size advantage. JJB entered the weekend with 33 drawn charges, good for fourth in the league. The kid's got spunk! That unorthodox assortment of things he does well serves the Mavericks wonderfully on a night here when the offense requires a change-of-pace, or on a night there when the opponent features a smallish player, or on a night over there when injuries necessitate an emergency starter, a 20-minutes-of-rescue sub, or a 20-points-out-of-nowhere scorer.
But in the postseason, many of those needs are boiled away – at least as far as backup PG is concerned.
In the last three postseasons, the Mavs have played 21 games. Jason Kidd has played 809 minutes in those games – an average of 38.6 minutes per game. That leaves about nine minutes per game for his caddie.
There won't be too many freakishly smallish opposing point guards. There won't be too many unforeseen emergencies. There won't be the surprises – not in a best-of-seven series.
And most of all, there won't be minutes for anybody to do much more than to make sure they don't goof up whatever Kidd has build before they enter. That means there really isn't any room for streakiness.
And Jose Juan Barea is streaky.
The Mavs believe that what JJB is doing now is the "real J.J.'' But has the last month – 47 percent from the field, 55 percent from the arc, 90 percent from the line -- been some sort of turning point that is taking him places he has never been?
Or is just a roller-coaster than happens to be going momentarily up?
For the season, Barea's plus/minus is -5.81 (adjusted plus/minus is at -3.83) and the strange thing is that it almost all comes from the offensive side. The Mavs score five points less per 100 possessions when Barea plays than when he sits.
So the conventional wisdom – indeed, the Mavs' own wisdom -- that he helps the Dallas offense doesn't bear itself out over the season.
Again, JJB had a rough stretch early on, but with his recent tear his numbers are right where we would expect them based on his career: PER right around 13 (13.4, 12.8, 12.7 the last three years) and shooting in the low 40s.
But the ups and downs are constant. Barea has been extremely streaky in the last couple years. Look at his shooting percentages by the month over the last three years:
Nov 08: 0.432
Dec 08: 0.431
Jan 09: 0.386
Feb 09: 0.487
Mar 09: 0.417
Apr 09: 0.517
Nov 09: 0.402
Dec 09: 0.481
Jan 10: 0.423
Feb 10: 0.383
Mar 10: 0.464
Apr 10: 0.488
Nov 10: 0.374
Dec 10: 0.372
Jan 11: 0.468
Barea is highly streaky and inconsistent. The hot streak is real. But skepticism about Barea should be, too, because history tells us a hard fall is coming soon enough.
DallasBasketball.com has been told (not for attribution) that the organization leans against the idea of spending a ridiculous amount of money on a backup point guard who is eventually going to play those aforementioned nine minutes a game when it matters. That's one of the many reasons we bring up the name of Cleveland's Ramon Sessions, who is making $3.9 mil this year, $4.2 mil next season and $4.5 mil the year after that – but wait. … That's the contract Dallas wanted no part of a year ago, isn't it? That $4.2 mil annually starts to look like a ridiculous amount of money to management when for a fraction of that amount, Jose Juan Barea contributes the positives that he does … and Rodrigue Beaubois seems on the verge of adding even more.
Of course, there are other possible deadline deals that aren't DB.com's idea, but rather the Mavs' idea. If Dallas swaps out Caron Butler's $10.6-million expiring deal, JJB's $1.8-mil expiring might be part of the package – and certainly Barea's inclusion is made even more attractive by his ungraded performance.
We now know Dallas isn't "looking'' now for backup PG help. … but that it might have to come if Caron is moved, in which case the Mavs will be "looking'' for help simultaneously.
And we believe, with all due respect to JJB's roller-coaster ride up, that the Dallas Mavericks ought to brace themselves for when the track curves downward.