This is the ninth in a 14-part series evaluating each Timberwolves player’s performance during the 2013-14 season. Find the entire series here.
Sporadic and erratic.
Although he occasionally exhibited the brilliance that made him a hero with Dallas in the 2011 NBA Finals, Timberwolves point guard J.J. Barea’s 2013-14 season was characterized much more by the maddening inconsistency that has his future with the organization in potential question.
After arguably his worst season statistically since he was a rookie, the diminutive, fiery backup to Ricky Rubio looks like a prime candidate to be traded away — if Minnesota can glean anything in return. Not only did Barea fail to score efficiently or pass with notable aplomb, but he at times was portrayed as a locker-room agitator that didn’t mesh well with All-Star Kevin Love and some of his other teammates.
Signed during the 2011 offseason, Barea has one year left on his contract. He may or may not spend it in the Twin Cities.
There was a time when Barea, an eight-year veteran, was revered as a dynamite 3-point threat that could come off the bench and make unsuspecting defenses pay. As recently as last season, he solidified that reputation with 11.3 points per game — which matched his scoring output during 2011-12, his first year in Minnesota. But this time around, part of a fully healthy lineup and often overcome by negative emotion as he’s wont to be, Barea took significant regressive steps. His shooting percentage (38.7) and 3-point percentage (31.6) were both the lowest since his rookie season in 2006-07, and his scoring average dipped to 8.4 points per game. Even worse, he often missed costly shots with time ticking down. During the final two minutes of games when the score was within four points, Barea went 1-for-11 from the field.
Barea always has been a completely different point guard than the man he’s backed up here, Ricky Rubio. With a superior ability to finish at the rim and — before this season — a more reliable 3-point shot, Barea is a score-first point guard. But he’s still a point guard, which means part of his job is facilitating. On that front, Barea wasn’t awful, nor was he all that excellent. His 3.8 assists per game were about on par for his career average, but the issue is he didn’t always make the players around him better. Partially due to playing on an up-and-down second unit that regularly yielded game-turning runs, Barea finished the year with a -96 plus-minus mark — the worst of his career.
As aforementioned, Barea was brought on to do little more than provide some scoring insurance. He’s never been much of an on-ball defender, often sagging back far enough to let his charge shoot over his short, stocky frame or beat him vertically on a drive to the basket. Last season, he averaged only 0.8 steals per game and didn’t block a shot for the third straight campaign. But moreover, he continued to be a defender that’s incapable of winning many one-on-one matchups.
Whether it was failing miserably on an important 3 or pouting at the end of the bench during timeouts and drawing public criticism from Love, Barea drew far too much negative attention toward himself last season. He also, admittedly, let the fire he plays with burn too wildly at times, causing him to force plays and become upset at a noticeably frequent rate. Nevertheless, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman trusted him over Rubio in several late situations, a decision that many observers found puzzling. But Barea didn’t deliver, and the franchise now must decide what to do with him. If president of basketball operations Flip Saunders thinks whoever Minnesota’s new coach is can coax a turnaround season out of Barea, they can hang onto him before he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer. Or, if Saunders has seen enough, he can shop him — though Barea’s trade value looked a lot higher this time a year ago than it does now.