Good intentions between player and team are wonderful and all, but J.J. Barea’s NBA future is entirely fluid. His ability to stilt opposing defenses with his dribble penetration gave Dallas’ playoff offense a valuable dimension; his stock skyrocketed with each high pick-and-roll and every improbable layup. Never has the basketball world thought more of this particular undersized scoring point guard than in the months fresh off of his team’s triumph, and though Barea Fever has dimmed slightly since he sliced through the Lakers’ defense in May, he’s still a valued commodity.
Barea is not just a quaint little player. He’s an NBA champion, and on some unknown timeline, an NBA free agent. He’s available for any team that’s interested, so long as they can convince him that he can find the same success with their club as he did in Dallas. The Mavericks are the handicapped favorites to retain J.J.’s services, but Barea is free to explore his options, and ultimately, to leave the Mavericks without any semblance of creation off the dribble in their regular rotation. Neither Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, nor any of the Mavs’ spot-up shooters did much to overtly attack the defense from the perimeter last season by way of their own creation. Terry and Kidd can run basic two-man action with Dirk Nowitzki or another Maverick big, but neither is a consistent threat to get into the lane and score.
Should Barea go, the Mavs would be at a bit of a loss in terms of replacing his contributions with the players in last season’s rotation. Which isn’t, however, to say that they would be completely without the means to replace such skills and production internally. What Barea offers the Mavs is not terribly unique, even if it may seem so in the context of the Mavericks’ regular 2010-2011 backcourt. Other players are theoretically capable of replacing him, and one such player happens to already be in a Maverick uniform, even if he rarely saw the court during Dallas’ title season.
Before we continue, let’s dispel one notion immediately: Rodrigue Beaubois, in the varied forms we’ve seen thus far, is not such a player. Beaubois may be the Maverick most likely to remind of Barea’s footspeed, but he lacks the basic drive-and-kick sensibilities that would make him immediately suited for such a role. Barea is a scorer first and passer second, but he still has a sense of how to use his own drives to set up his teammates. His vision isn’t remarkable, but Barea’s able to execute the kind of basic offense necessary to overcome his other limitations. The lanes and shots won’t always be there for Barea, but he generally — and there are certainly exceptions — has the good judgment to dig himself out of trouble with a kick to the corner.
Discretion isn’t exactly the backbone of Barea’s game, but he does have enough of it to thrive in his role for the Mavericks. If Beaubois were asked to fulfill a similar one, I worry about his ability to create for others. We know that a healthy Beaubois can hit from outside and drive to the rim. What we haven’t seen from him is a successful evolution of his passing game — even to Barea’s level. Beaubois’ basketball instincts guide the ball through the net, but only with his fingertips acting as the direct vehicle; his playmaking demonstrations have been rough up to this point, and unless he’s spending the off-season by drastically improving his passing and re-crafting his playing sensibilities, Beaubois would remain ill-suited to act as a Barea replacement for the immediate future.
Dominique Jones, on the other hand, could be up for the task. Jones’ cameo last season wasn’t exactly a resounding success, but his college career and NBA trial give plenty of reason to have more faith in his ability to create than Beaubois’. Jones would struggle in the NBA as a primary playmaker, but he’s more than capable of executing the same basic reads that made Barea a dual scoring/passing threat. The contrast would come in style more than substance; rather than darting around or between defenders, Jones combines bursts of speed with a solid frame and great positional strength. Not only can he finish after contact (or, could he finish after contact — the NBA learning curve made completing his drives a bit more difficult than it should have been last season, a flaw I anticipate will be corrected), but also effectively bull through defenders and draw in the entire defense’s attention. Jones would definitely bring a different approach to the same role, and unlike Beaubois, currently has all of the tools to pull it off.
This isn’t to say that Jones’ integration would be easy; retaining Barea provides the simplest way to preserve this type of overt offensive weapon, and throwing a second-year player into the fire so soon — particularly after playing so little during his rookie season — always comes with implicit risk. But should Barea leave, Jones would be the most natural internal replacement, and possibly even the most sensible one when cast alongside potentially pricey free agent alternatives.