Monday , Nov , 05 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

José Juan Barea: Puerto Rico’s Next Superstar Point Guard

Backup point guards, especially those born outside of the U.S., represent some of the most unrecognizable faces in the basketball world to the average NBA fan.  In a league that over promotes its superstars and uses them as the main attraction towards their product, the efforts of players with limited playing time tend to go unnoticed.  Despite the ever-increasing number of international players on NBA rosters, Latin American players are still at a minimum in the league.  Those of a Latin background, especially Puerto Ricans, who have found success have mainly been standouts at the guard positions.

José Juan Barea, of the Dallas Mavericks, is a Puerto Rican point guard perhaps best known for being Carlos Arroyo’s backup on the National Team.  In Puerto Rico, fans and analysts have been enthusiastic about Barea for years.  His speed, ball-handling skills, and relentless energy make him fun to watch and easy to root for.  However, the unprecedented success Arroyo found with the National Team meant that his playing time would be limited and he would have to improve greatly to even challenge Arroyo’s position.  While being just as fast as Arroyo, if not more so, his long-range shot, finishing ability, court vision, and leadership have not been as noteworthy. 

After a distinguished college career at Northeastern, Barea declared for the NBA draft, only to go undrafted.  Nevertheless, the Mavericks noticed his potential based on his summer-league performance, and signed him for a year in the beginning of the 2006-07 season.  While he was demoted to the NBDL, he demonstrated that he belonged on an NBA team by reaching the 40-point mark twice in seven games. His first NBA season was hardly impressive, as he failed to average 10 minutes a game and shot an abysmal .359 from the field.  

Shockingly, Barea’s play so far this season has eclipsed Arroyo’s and exceeded all expectations.  In his season debut, he scored 14 points in 9 minutes, making 5 of his 6 attempted field goals.  Two days ago, he shot 9-11 from the field for 25 points in 29 minutes in his debut as a starter for the Mavericks, replacing the injured Devin Harris.  With these performances he has shown that he is no longer a player with unlimited potential, but a valuable asset to any team and a hard worker that continues to improve.  In comparison, Arroyo has shot 3-11 from the field in two games, and it is unclear if he will be relied upon as an important part of Stan Van Gundy’s Orlando Magic team.   

Listed at 6’0, but probably closer to 5’9, Barea is also one of the smallest players in the NBA, and his wingspan is probably equal to Earl Boykins’.  His short and stocky build is far from ideal for a professional basketball player, and I believe it is part of the reason why he is not such a strong finisher.  Perhaps aware of this, Barea concentrated on improving his jump shot in the off-season, and the result of all his effort was on full display on Nov. 3 when he made all four of his three-point attempts.  If Barea can continue playing at a high level throughout the season, it is more than likely that the Mavericks will sign him to an extension, but perhaps more importantly, he will be able to play a more important role on the Puerto Rican National Team.  

While American fans may not have known who he was before this season, he is respected in NBA circles for his tenacity and drive.  After the game on Nov. 3, other players on the Mavericks began shouting that the team should extend his contract immediately.  American fans and coaches place great emphasis on passion and dedication to the game, and José Juan Barea has these in abundance.  With more in-game experience and overall refinement, he would undoubtedly grow into a great NBA player, and into a superstar of the Puerto Rican National Team.