This is the ninth in a 17-part series profiling each player on the Timberwolves’ roster leading up to training camp.
There are certainly less enviable scenarios a veteran NBA point guard could find himself in.
J.J. Barea enters the eighth year of his career as the favorite to back up Timberwolves star Ricky Rubio. The 6-foot, 175-pound Puerto Rican is due a nice chunk of change this season and looks both sharp and healthy coming off a strong international showing this summer.
But two years ago, Barea showed his team, the league and himself he’s capable of more.
His breakout performance in the 2011 NBA Finals with Dallas remains Barea’s claim to fame. If he’s able to recapture more of that off-the-bench 3-point shooting and energy, he could create another in the Twin Cities.
Last year: Barea maintained a steady stream of contribution in his second year with the Timberwolves, putting up the exact same scoring numbers he had in 2011-12 after signing with Minnesota as a free agent.
He did so while riding a convoluted carousel of guards, sharing time at the one spot with both Rubio — once he was healthy — and Alexey Shved. Despite the Timberwolves’ many injury issues, Barea’s minutes actually dipped by about two per game as coach Rick Adelman tried to create some minutes for Shved, a rookie.
A scoring point guard in contrast to Rubio, Barea was the best 3-point shooter on the league’s worst team from beyond the arc. He could be counted on for 1.3 made 3s per game.
Not exactly the stuff prolific scorers are made of.
But Barea’s M.O. is more of an offense manager and shot chooser who can pop off the occasional big bucket. Never was that more evident than the 2011 championship series in which he hit 4-of-5 3-pointers in Game 5 against Miami and scored 15 points in the Game 6 clincher.
During the offseason, Barea was brought up as a possible trade piece that could help alleviate the team’s point-guard logjam. But that asset wound up being Luke Ridnour, who was dealt to Milwaukee in the three-team deal that brought Kevin Martin to Minnesota.
This year: While he resonates as the primary candidate to spell Rubio, Barea will have to beat out Shved for reserve point duties. Shved may play some two, and Barea could, too, given his ability to hit from outside.
But president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said the team plans to give Barea a more distinct role than the ambiguous one he had last season. He’s too good of a ballhandler and distributor (4.8 assists per game for his career) to spend too much time on the wing or wonder where he stands on the depth chart.
So behind Rubio it is, then.
Saunders expects a raring-to-go Barea when training camp opens in Mankato Oct. 1. He already appears in prime game shape, having played 14 international contests in less than a month.
Barea earned MVP honors in the Tuto Marchand Cup, then scored 14 points per game and dished a team-high 3.8 assists per game as Puerto Rico finished second in the FIBA Americas Championship, which features international teams from all over the Western Hemisphere.
From the front office: “I think he’ll be more identified. He’s gonna be able to get more comfortable, do the things that he can do and be effective like he was when he was in Dallas where he’s a main reason they won a championship, because of how he played. A lot is going to get him to that comfort role. Your team gets better also … whenever the second unit gets better. The players and the depth that we’ve added has made our second unit better.” — Saunders