The Barea-effect

JJ Barea, the newest T-Wolf

The Wolves are close to finalizing a deal that would bring J.J. Barea to town. The deal entails four years and guarantees around $19 million.

I couldn’t be more frank by saying this one is a head-scratcher and laugh riot to boot. Kahn has now signed three backup point guards via free agency in three different off-seasons (Ramon Sessions in 2009 and Luke Ridnour in 2010). That just garners we throw a roast in his honor — Maybe that’s been his goal all along? He worked hard to rid the team of the clot at point guard when he found a new home for Jonny Flynn, and allowed Sebastian Telfair to walk.

Starting the season with Ridnour and Rubio seemed like a sure-thing. Rubio, from the sounds of it, has looked good in practice thus far and seems to have won the vote of coach Rick Adelman for the starting spot, leaving Ridnour in that veteran back-up role that he played so well in Milwaukee for Brandon Jennings.

But throwing Barea into the mix knocks everything off-kilter; and I couldn’t love it more. The move may never be justified because, for those of you who think this is a snowball decision that will affect others down the line, I don’t think so; I believe Barea is here to stay.

Barea was a major contributor in Dallas’ title run last season. He’s the stereotypical spark plug off of the bench that injects the game with raw adrenaline. He flies around the court, drives the lane and dishes to open shooters; Kahn’s dream of what Flynn should’ve been. He also hits open shots — Sorry, Jonny. But the number one thing I love about Barea is that he can handle the ball. No, not like Ridnour’s ball-handling, like an actual point guard that secures the ball but keeps things moving. Ridnour often found himself last year in tough spots because he picked up the ball or drove to the hoop and had nowhere to go. Barea doesn’t let that happen.

But perhaps this wasn’t a basketball move at all. Rubio’s move goes beyond the hardcourt and will prove to be difficult. Rubio making the transition from Spain to America also means transitioning from Spanish to English, which is difficult for anyone, especially a youngin’ looking to make a difference in the NBA. With Barea alongside him, Rubio will now have a native Spanish speaker and a more relatable mentor in the locker room. You can still argue that Ridnour could be that guy, but what I’ve personally seen from Ridnour in the past season is that he likes to keep to himself and go about his business. Rubio will take much more mentoring than Jennings needed and Ridnour just might not be up to the task.

So it’s all puzzling. We see Kahn’s third back up point guard signing in three years. We see redundancy all over the board again at an unstable and uncertain position. But does it matter? This time the Wolves went out and grabbed a true winner; he’s a champion. Barea’s style fits the type of offense this team is going to play, and we don’t have to sacrifice much in age to get the effects on the court and leadership from the bench.

Having said that, I firmly believe Barea is here to stay. Ridnour on the other hand? He may now be packaged somewhere — perhaps New York — due to the sheer logjam at point guard; logjams are no-good when you have a young prodigy to mentor. Although we all know how Kahn handles logjams: he doesn’t. He sits on them instead. But I digress.

The Wolves aren’t done in free agency yet. We’re going to see two of three things happen next: 1) The move that sends Ridnour along his way; 2) Barea gets packaged and dealt for a bigger piece, say a starting shooting guard; 3) The Wolves make a minor deal for a shooting guard like Rudy Fernandez or Raja Bell — Barea could be a bargaining chip for Dallas to go after, giving up on Fernandez for less than what he’s really worth. My money’s on options 1 and 3 (Please be Rudy, please be Rudy.)

Stay tuned because things aren’t over yet.

An Unpopular Position: In Defense of Jonny Flynn

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Everybody seems to have given up on Jonny already. Well, everybody except me.

Last season, I was at the Target Center for Minnesota’s game against the New Orleans Hornets. I’ll admit: when opposing teams with superstars come to Minneapolis, during warmups, I often wander down as close to the court as I can get to see Blake Griffin, LeBron James, or Derrick Rose take meaningless, half-hearted jumpshots and occasionally (if I’m lucky) throw down a ridiculous dunk. In this case, I wanted to see the best pure point guard since Isiah Thomas; I wanted to be as close to Chris Paul as possible.

Yeah, I’m That Guy.

But I was attending this game with my sister, who wanted to go watch the home team. *Fiiiiinnneeee.* So we made our way over to the T-Wolves tunnel to watch the players pass below. As Jonny Flynn finished his shoot-around, and walked (was it a walk? Flynn seems more to bounce in his movements) towards us, he stopped to sign some autographs. An adorable little blond haired girl, sporting a tiny Flynn jersey, blue and green hair pieces, and Timberwolves logos painted on her cheeks called shyly “Hi Jonny!” Flynn looked up, slightly startled, then cracked a huge grin and waved, before disappearing into the tunnel.

My sister may or may not have melted and fallen in love with Jonny Flynn from that moment on. And she wasn’t the first person attending a Timberwolves game to do so.

Yeah, I’m looking at you. Admit it. Before it was cool to hate on Jonny Flynn and call him the worst point guard in the league, you loved him too. Remember when we were all excited about him, and the comparisons were running WAY out of control? I heard Kevin Johnson. I heard Tim Hardaway. I heard Chris Paul. (REALLY GUYS?!!) Flynn was young, confident as hell, and ready to take on the NBA from around most players’ navels, and we were ready to embrace him every step of the way.

We were wrong, unfortunately. Flynn was not, and almost certainly will never be a point guard of Kevin Johnson or Tim Hardaway’s caliber. He definitely won’t ever be Chris Paul. In fact, most people are writing off Flynn as a total bust already, despite that fact that A) He’s only 22 years old B) His horrendous numbers from this past year (3.4/2.1 assist to turnover ratio per 36 minutes, 7.1 PER, 36% from the field) can be partially explained by an injured hip and, after his recovery, very bruised confidence and of course C) HE’S ONLY 22 YEARS OLD!

Flynn’s detractors, and they are many, will point to one stat in particular, and it is a troubling one: his turnovers. According to Basketball Reference, Jonny Flynn’s turnover percentage, the amount of times he turned it over per 100 possessions, was 26.5% this season, meaning that when Flynn touched the ball, he turned it over more than a fourth of the time. If you aren’t aware how terrible that is, especially from the point guard position, you should be reading a different blog. But again, this season’s awful numbers can be partially explained by his injury, and by his shattered confidence as Kurt Rambis pushed him deeper and deeper down the depth chart. And looking at Flynn’s ROOKIE season, his turnover percentage was much lower, 17.9%.

Some turnover percentage numbers to chew on:
Steve Nash’s 2nd NBA season: 24.2%
Chauncey Billups 2nd NBA season: 18.1%
Jason Kidd’s Rookie Season: 20.1%

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to say that Jonny Flynn will ever be as efficient as Steve Nash, or Chauncey Billups, or Jason Kidd. We went through that phase as Minnesota fans already. What I AM saying is that it would be ridiculous to entirely give up on a young player based solely off the fact that he had a bad sophomore season…while recovering from an injury. Young players often struggle, especially young players in a bad situation, with the wrong coaching. Ask Chauncey Billups how he fared when he first entered the league, playing under Rick Pitino for a terrible Boston Celtics team. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t pretty.)

So if we can agree, as Timberwolf fans, to move past the unreasonable comparisons, maybe it’s time we hoped for a more feasible ceiling for Jonny Flynn (ie: not Tim Hardaway and not Chris Paul). How does JJ Barea strike you?

Barea is, at the moment, clearly a better shooter and less turnover prone than Flynn. But that’s why it’s called a ceiling: it’s what we would like to see Jonny become. Both players mix passing and shooting well. Both possess excellent athleticism and court vision. Both are dominant ball handlers, who may or may not dribble a little too much. Both players claim to be 6’0, making both more full of crap than a Port-A-Potty at Woodstock.

But lets dig into some basic numbers a little more. Take a look at some statistics from Barea and Flynn’s respective rookie seasons.

Per 36 Min Points Assists Turnovers Field Goal % 3 Point %
JJ Barea 14.7 4.5 2.7 35.90% 28.60%
Jonny Flynn 16.8 5.5 3.6 41.70% 35.80%

The only statistical category in which Barea bests Flynn early in their careers is turnovers, as Flynn averaged almost an entire turnover more per 36 minutes. But with the knowledge that both players have similar athletic skill-sets, from reading those specific statistics, it doesn’t seem to be a stretch to say that Flynn could be as effective, if not more effective, than JJ Barea at some point in his career.

Success in the NBA is all about the situation you are placed in, and Barea has been placed in an ideal situation in Dallas. He has several other extremely dangerous offensive options distracting opposing defenses, including a pack of shooters who effectively spread the floor, allowing him to get into the lane for all those little BS layups he keeps stealing. (Not that I’m complaining, thanks JJ for helping knock off Miami!)

At this point, it sounds very unlikely that Jonny Flynn will be given the chance to find success in Minnesota. Flynn’s name has been thrown around in Timberwolves trade rumors more than anyone else, and if he were to be traded, my sister and a very cute little blond girl would both be very sad. Honestly, I too would love to see him succeed in a T-Wolves uniform. But even more than that, I’d argue that at this point, trading Flynn is an impractical decision. After his abysmal season, Flynn has submarined his trade value so much that the majority of SB Nation sites reporting that their team is involved in Jonny Flynn trade talks are submerged in impassioned requests not to trade for him.

So I ask: considering that your other options for Rubio’s backup this season are Sebastian Telfair and Luke Ridnour, what would it hurt to hang on to Flynn? It could do wonders to give him some healthy, quality minutes (hopefully under a new coach, and in a new offensive system), and try to build his confidence back up. Minnesota (and the rest of the NBA) might find they have a better player than they realized just as Dallas did with Barea’s growth.

And Jonny? Keep smiling. My sister says it’s a very good look on you.