clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

JJ Barea and the last roster spot

New, comments

On the Wolves' final impending roster cut and the possibility of it not being JJ Barea

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Given that the last preseason game was last Friday, it's probably safe to assume the Wolves are still arguing with themselves who the last cut from the roster should be.

Presumably, the debate is about waiving Glenn Robinson III or buying out JJ Barea. An argument could be made that Robbie Hummel might be on the cutting table too, I suppose. But the thing is, if it was as simple as just waiving a player, that player would have been waived along with Heslip and this would be over and done with.

Most of the Wolves beat anticipates GRIII being the last cut.

I hesitantly agree with that, with one caveat. Since Robinson was not cut along with Heslip, I believe Saunders still wants to unload Barea, and hasn't made the final roster cut yet because he's giving himself one last 11th hour chance at finding a trade for him. If he can't find a deal...and can't convince Taylor to spend on that big of a contract buyout...then he will very reluctantly cut Robinson.

Robbie Hummel is pretty much a blend. As Adelman pointed out last year, he's a guy who can take the floor with just about any lineup and make a contribution. There's a lot of value in that. Even though Hummel doesn't excel in any particular area, he doesn't have any glaring weaknesses either (assuming health....) And given that the Wolves signed him to a guaranteed deal early, I'd assume his roster spot is safe.

Glenn Robinson III is obviously a standout athlete. But what has impressed me most in preseason is his poise: GRIII plays like a veteran hand, and was a big stabilizing force in a couple games when the rest of the young kid lineups started falling apart. And while he'll turn heads with some spectacular dunks here and there, the truth is his value...much like Hummel's...is thoroughly understated but incredibly important: Robinson knows his limits as a player. He's a very low-risk option because he's plays a very mistake-free brand of basketball. GRIII makes some good plays here and there with very few unforced errors.

Playing within your limits is absolutely a facet of basketball IQ, and skilled role players who don't try to exceed them often become key components of good basketball teams. Robinson is an anti-McCants, of sorts. And he was able to secure at least a partial guarantee on his contract, which is not the kind of bone Taylor usually throws out just to help a player feel secure.

JJ Barea, on the other hand...well, ok.

The truth is, that in the right role, JJ Barea is a pretty good basketball player. But you have to understand what that role is to take advantage of that. Barea is a 5'11" loose cannon of a shooting guard. He is not a point guard. Let me say that again: JJ Barea is not a point guard. His game demands unstructured freedom to maximize its impact. He can't be the guy calling the plays; he has to be the guy flipping them upside-down when they stop working.

When Barea's shots are falling, he can win just about any team any game, regardless of the opponent. The catch, of course, is that when his shot isn't falling, he will singlehandedly lose just about any game. Regardless of the opponent. But if you know how to utilize the upswing side of his game...well, it'd be a wasteful shame to just throw that away, wouldn't it.

In 2011 the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA Championship, and it can be genuinely argued that JJ Barea had as big a hand in that as any player on that roster.

jj

A monster game to open the Conference Finals against the Thunder, bookended by huge elimination games against the Lakers and Heat. When JJ gets going, he really gets going.

But notice the trend in his playing time. In those big games when his shot was falling, he played 20-30 minutes. When it wasn't going his way, he'd barely break 15. That's how you utilize his scoring binges. On the night's he's a one-man wrecking crew, you let him have at it. When he's more self-destructive than constructive, you bench him.

To take advantage of JJ Barea on the basketball court, you have to be in a position to be able to take him off it.

Rick Carlisle understood this, and was able to work with it because he had two steady, reliable 'structure' guards in Jason Kidd and Jason Terry. On nights when JJ was doing more harm than good, he could simply bench the guy and let Terry play those minutes. He didn't have to play Barea....he was just able to when things were going good.

That's the trap that tripped up the Wolves last season. In his first two years here, Barea got to be Barea because the Wolves had Rubio and Luke Ridnour and a slew of injuries that all but demanded the team play JJ's helter-skelter brand of ball anyways. That was the intent. Barea was brought in to be a sparkplug guy next to Rubio, like Ricky had in Juan Carlos Navarro back in Spain. JJ was supposed to be Ricky's running mate, not his substitution.

But last season, Barea was moved into the primary backup point guard spot, while at the same time Adelman fully implemented his meticulous corner offense. We know the results of that. JJ can't be a structure point guard, but the Wolves couldn't take him off the floor because they had no other options. As Nate said early on, Barea is what he is, and we all knew intellectually that he was not designed to fill that role.

But here's the thing: this season, the Wolves have the ability to put Barea back into the Barea-shaped box, because Saunders went out and got Mo Williams to be the backup point guard (and hopes LaVine can be a lead guard someday too) So now the Wolves have Rubio and Williams, like they used to have Rubio and Ridnour and the Mavs used to have Kidd and Terry.

We've already seen JJ slipping back into his zone this preseason, particularly in that final game against the Bulls when he decimated Chicago's starting lineup (and their lead on the scoreboard) in the fourth quarter.

And likewise, we've also seen that LaVine is still a long ways off from being able to play heavy minutes, so in the JJ-less scenario, Kevin Martin's primary backup is either Mo Williams (a MAJOR injury risk for a team carrying just two point guards to take) or shoe-horning in a small forward like Corey or Chase.

So the question then becomes this: is the possibility of having Good Barea back in the fold worth passing up the long term potential of Glenn Robinson III? If he's kept around, JJ will inevitably win the team a few games that Robinson would not. That probably no one else on the roster would. But Robinson can be a solid rotation player for many years in the future. Barea is almost certainly gone at season's end either way; if he plays well, he'll get a better offer from a team with more to play for. If he doesn't, the Wolves won't want to keep him anyway.

Personally, I still side with keeping Robinson. I like his fit with Rubio and his overall presence on the court, and he doesn't cost nearly as much. As we've said over and over, the way to build a team in a salary-capped league is find two or three max level players, then fill the rest of the roster with as many skilled, cost-efficient guys as possible. And as someone who would spend the season interviewing him, I do rather like how well-spoken the kid is.

But the debate isn't just an "of course" answer for me. It's not GRIII by a mile. The fact is, in this situation, JJ Barea can do a lot of good things for the team. So while I don't think anyone will be particularly torn up to see him go, I'd also say it's not entirely fair to be angry if he stays.