Is J.J. Barea the X-Factor for the Timberwolves?

Photo Credit: Tyler Parker

Photo Credit: Tyler Parker

Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman demands his Pups to run the Princeton Offense like a high-powered engine. Head mechanic Flip Saunders has made quick work installing a Kevin Martin turbo, patching the transmission with Corey Brewer while changing the oil with Chase Budinger’s new contract. Ricky Rubio sits behind the wheel and Kevin Love rides shotgun as the rest of the Wolves-Wagon idols patiently waited for Nikola Pekovic to climb aboard. The grueling NBA highway is conquered by a steady, and more importantly, healthy, pace. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. With no more Luke Ridnour or Malcolm Lee, who keeps between the lanes when Rubio needs rest? Alexey Shved is still adjusting to driving in the right-lane, leaving J.J. Barea responsible for keeping alignment steady to help drive the Wolves to the desired destination: the postseason.

Barea was a few nonsensical shots away from acquiring the label of a ‘chucker’ last season. He struggled to play within Adelman’s system, taking below average looks at inopportune moments, either in critical possessions or too early in the shot clock. Playing an expanded role on a roster ravaged by injuries, Barea tallied career highs in minutes, FG and 3PT attempts, turnovers and points last season. These numbers, to me, show he left it all out on the floor. He didn’t quit. It’s easy to look for scapegoats, but Barea shouldn’t be knocked for trying to do everything he could to try and help win games.

With the team’s newly acquired depth, Barea returns to a role we are comfortable seeing him in. He’s a phenomenal sixth man, a pure scorer and relentless worker on both ends of the floor. Where Barea lacks in size, he makes up for in heart and hustle.

In his final season playing for the Dallas Mavericks, Barea was everything that Mavs fans hoped he would be as an instant offensive boost from the bench. He even recorded his career high in assists en route to the Mavericks eventual claiming of a World Championship. Barea hasn’t had a chance to be the player he was in Dallas so far playing for the Wolves, but he will get the chance, at least early on, this season.

During the offseason, rumors surfaced that Barea could potentially be traded. Speculation landed him in either Dallas or Brooklyn, where he would reunite with former teammate, and now Nets head coach, Jason Kidd. JJ is owed $9,206,500 over the next two seasons and it’s almost certain, in my opinion, his name will swirl in discussions as the trade deadline approaches. Barea is set to become an unrestricted free-agent prior to the 2015 season.

I am concerned that the Wolves are not deep enough at point guard to make Barea expendable. Barea is currently second on the depth chart behind Rubio and in front of rookie Lorenzo Brown (who is not guaranteed to make the final roster). I’m not going to ignore the idea that Rubio could get hurt at some point during this season, it has happened before. In many ways our tiny point guard’s skill set is that of a shooting guard, although his stature demands that he play as a point guard. Meanwhile, Brown has no NBA experience other than Summer League in Vegas last month.  Shved is also not a natural point guard but can handle the ball respectably when asked to do so. Barea’s role significantly changes if Rubio becomes unavailable for periods of time this season, this much is certain.

It’s impossible to ignore trade rumors and one should never expect a roster to stay 100% healthy for a complete season, but until either become an obstacle I’ve defined Barea’s role to this team as such: He needs to provide between 15-23 quality minutes off the bench, playing with, but not limited to a scorer’s mentality that will put himself and his teammates in positions to score points. He’s a smart, hardworking and dedicated player who will do whatever is asked of him to win. When Rubio steps out and Barea is given the keys to the offense, sure, he may drive recklessly and aggressively at times, but he would never steer Adelman’s vehicle off-course or run it into the ground. He’s a T-Pup, and I’m glad to have him aboard.

Timberwolves 2012-13 Player Grades: Guards

Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved at the 2013 Rising Stars Challenge (NBAE/Getty Images)

Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved at the 2013 Rising Stars Challenge (NBAE/Getty Images)

Following a disappointing 2012-13 season in which the Minnesota Timberwolves amassed a 31-51 record, it is time to individually break down the contributions from each of the Timberwolves’ guards over the past season.

 

Player: Ricky Rubio

Position: PG

Season Summary

After having his impressive rookie campaign derailed by a torn ACL and MCL, Ricky Rubio missed the first 20 games of the 2012-13 season and made his much-anticipated return with an epic performance on December 15 against the Mavericks, playing 18 minutes while recording 8 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals.The expectations for Ricky this season were relatively low as few people expected him to have an Adrian Peterson-esque return from ACL surgery. As the season crept on and the injuries compounded – including Kevin Love’s twice-broken hand – the fans focus for Ricky became centered around a cautious approach for the young Spaniard given the future health implications that come from knee surgery. As the playoffs became a pipe dream to even the most hopeful Timberwolves fans, we got much of our satisfaction watching Ricky make small, yet incremental improvements in his game before finally getting back to full speed for the final two-ish months of the season.

Despite playing without K-Love, Tricky Ricky showed us that he can be a game-changer by himself even if he is not an efficient scorer. Playing on a surgically-repaired knee, Rubio proved that he is back to where he was last season as a perimeter defender. In fact, the Catalan point guard recorded the most steals (43) in a ten game stretch since Ron Artest in 2002. Rubio’s length – 6’4″ with a 6’9″ wingspan – paired with his defensive instincts make him one of the top perimeter defenders in the NBA, and he should be a major contender to make one of the NBA All-Defense teams next season if he can stay healthy for most if not all of the season. [Read more…]

Timberwolves Summer 2012 Recap

Since David Kahn took over as President of Basketball Operations in May 2009, we have heard the continual promotion of flexibility, youth, rebuilding, cap space, etc. etc.  Shortly after Kahn was able to convince Kevin Love to sign an extension back in January, this all changed, as Love started to provide his own thoughts to the media on how the Twolves needed to start showing improvement and to get to the playoffs.  With a decent amount of flexibility and the added pressure of appeasing one of team’s core pieces, Kahn and the rest of the front office had their work cut out for them this offseason.  To Kahn’s credit, at least he didn’t take a month off to go fishing …

Here’s my take on the Timberpups offseason.

NBA Draft

Heading into Draft week, the Twolves held the 18th and 58th picks.  Two nights before the draft, Kahn sent the 18th pick to Houston for Chase Budinger.  In general, I hate seeing trades like this.  If you have something like this lined up, why not wait until draft night?  I understand that Houston was looking for ways to get Dwight Howard, but I still hate the notion of giving up your pick so far in advance.  I would like to think there will be a time when the Twolves actually take advantage of someone else’s panic move over the course of a draft night.  When this happens, I’ll immediately drive to Shop Rite to stock up on their can-can special.

As for the trade itself, I like Budinger as a complementary wing / role player at SF.  If nothing else, he’s competent and that is more than what we can say about any wing on last year’s roster.  As an added bonus – based off of his Twitter feed – he seems to have a great personality.

With the 58th pick, the Twolves selected Robbie Hummel, who has had quite the busy summer.  Given the moves that the Wolves have made since (we’re getting there, promise), Hummel decided to sign with a team in Spain (Obradoiro).  I think that was a wise choice for Hummel given the team’s other moves and the lack of PT that would have come his way, if any at all.  More than likely, he would have wound up in the D-League.  However, since going over to join the team in Spain, Hummel has since torn his meniscus again and will be out for several weeks.

I had high hopes going into the draft; A. trading Derrick Williams and filler for MKG or Beal and B. trading Wes Johnson for Crowder / anyone worthwhile.  The DWill moves were a bit of a pipedream.  However, Kahn technically had 34 chances to find a way to get Jae Crowder and trading Wes to anyone in the late first round / early second would have been a fantastic move.  Alas, no avail.

This wasn’t the start of the offseason that I was looking for.  Beyond Ricky Rubio falling into Kahn’s lap with the fifth pick in ’09, his draft night performances have been 50 shades of abysmal.  (See what I did there?  Building your female audience 101)

My draft grade: C-
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