Even though they aren’t winning with regularity, the Dallas Mavericks aren’t throwing in the towel. Nightly, they compete, play hard, and make opponents work to beat them. One of the reasons the Mavs are able to push teams is the performance of its playmakers. Harrison Barnes is a consistent workhorse who can score and rebound. Wesley Matthews is a dogged defender with a dangerous outside shot. Dirk Nowitzki still shows flashes of his efficient scoring. Perhaps, though, the reason they find themselves in games is because J.J. Barea plays like he’s the best player on the team.
Barea’s performance nightly shouldn’t come as a surprise to those that regularly watch the Mavs. After all, he’s a fan favorite who helped the team win the title in 2011. He plays hard and gets under the skin of his opponents. What is surprising is that he’s having one of the best, if not the best, statistical season of his career at age 33.
This season, Barea is posting career highs in scoring, rebounding, and effective field goal percentage. He’s averaging 12.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and has an eFG% of .531. In fact, his scoring average is third on the team, tied with Matthews, and he leads the team in assists. Some of the factors leading to Barea’s success, according to head coach Rick Carlisle, are the result of what happened last season and just who Barea is as a player.
“He came into camp in great shape,” Carlisle said recently. “Last year, he didn’t play that many games. While he did have some injuries, there wasn’t a lot of wear and tear in terms of a lot of minutes except for early in the year. I think that may have a little something to do with it. But he’s a worker.
"So much of this is about keeping an edge. A guy like him that has always had to fight for everything is never going to give in and is always going to maintain that mental edge."
That edge is no more apparent than when he’s leading the second unit. One of the reasons that Dallas has been able to be competitive to the degree they have is because of the play of the second unit. In terms of plus-minus, it’s leading the team with a total of plus-95. The next closest five-man lineup is a plus-19. If the second unit is the Mavs’ Formula car, Barea is its Sebastian Vettel. He’s just that reliable.
“J.J. is just one of those guys that he shows up every single day,” Matthews said. “He knows the game, he’s crafty, he’s smart, he can score, he can make plays that you don’t really expect him to make. He’s a solid foundation. He’s one that you can rely on.”
Now, with Dennis Smith Jr. sidelined, the team is relying on Barea more. In the last four games, with Smith out, Barea is averaging 13.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 5.5 assists. He’s also shooting 40 percent from behind the arc. Barea is also playing about three minutes more than his season average. While Carlisle repeatedly states that doesn’t want to over extend his backup point guard, his hand is being forced with so many players out with injuries.
The added pressure of leading a banged up team, albeit off the bench, may be a lot for some to handle. However, Barea is a veteran. He’s not changing how he approaches the game.
“I’ve got to do my same job no matter [who is] in the lineup,” Barea said. “I’m going to come off the bench and do my job and try to do my best every night.”