Player Capsules 2012, #133-135: J.J. Barea, Kyle Lowry, Christian Eyenga

Posted on Mon 03 September 2012 in 2012 Player Capsules by Aaron McGuire

As our summer mainstay, Aaron's writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. Intent is to get you talking, thinking, and appreciating the myriad of wonderful folks who play in our favorite sports league. Today we continue with Jose Juan Barea, Kyle Lowry, and Christian Eyenga.

• • •

Follow J.J. Barea on Twitter at @jjbareapr.

Explaining J.J. Barea's strengths and weaknesses is a bit odd, so let's lead in with some interesting trivia -- despite never going to a major university or playing professionally overseas, Barea is one of the few NBA players to have his jersey retired while he was playing. Specifically, for the now-defunct "Fort Worth Flyers" from the D-League. Barea played only eight games with the Flyers, but he made an impact -- he had two consecutive forty point games, and averaged 27-5-8 on 60% true shooting in his eight contests. This sort of speaks to Barea's game, in a roundabout way. Barea has not once posted an above-league-average PER, and on an NBA level, he's a relatively awful shooter. Barea shoots under 30% between the rim and the three, which is simply atrocious for someone who takes almost 4 shots a game from that range in only 25 minutes a night. He's a solid three point shooter, though -- he's good at slipping screens for the open three. Tends to make a better percentage when he's open. Fancy that.

Regardless. Barea's insane D-League stats relative to his awful NBA stats indicate a player who suffers a single overwhelming flaw in the NBA that utterly sabotages his game. That flaw? He's simply too damn small. Sure, there are some aspects of his game that are helped by his size. He takes a few more charges than one might expect. He's a mite bit faster -- without his speed, he might not have that singular burst that takes him past the screener on a slip-screen play (exactly what made him so useful against the Lakers in 2011). As the D-League stats clearly demonstrate, Barea is an incredible player when he's playing against guys his own size, in an NBA-style offense. (He wasn't great in college, surprisingly.) He has one of the quirkiest skillsets in basketball -- who else makes their bread on being the best unassisted at-rim scorer in the league? And yes, I'm serious. This is an actual thing. Not one player in the league creates more of their own at-rim offense than Barea. Combine that with his passing (which is honestly pretty excellent -- he's about as good as backups come in terms of running an offense and generating assists) and you have a great foundational skillset. This speaks to his talent -- he has a lot of weird skills that, in a frame more attuned to the league, would make him a superstar. Unfortunately, his size ends that possibility.

Barea is also a good example of a player for whom situation means everything. Back in 2011, when he was slicing up the Lakers defense on a pinpoint-accurate Mavericks team, everything seemed great. He seemed like a solid free-agent acquisition for whatever team was lucky enough to snag him. Now, in 2012? "Lordy, why did the Wolves give Barea a contract like that?" The funny thing about both statements is how misguided and reactionary they are. Even in 2011, Barea was hardly a great player -- he gave the Mavs 20 or so shaky minutes a night, and at the age of 26, it was unlikely he'd be developing into a better pickup anytime soon. That single Lakers series was probably the greatest series of his career -- beyond that, Barea's only actively positive moments came when Spolestra chose to play Mike Bibby on him in the 2011 finals. Now? He does the exact same thing he did on Dallas (and I mean the EXACT same thing -- in 2011 his regular season PER was 14.8, in 2012 his regular season PER was 14.9) and suddenly he's an awful waste of salary? Come on. He was a shaky contract then and he's a shaky contract now, but he's hardly useless -- he creates offense at the rim as well as anyone, and although his defensive game is essentially focused on flops and charges, it's not wildly ineffective for a guard his size. No, he's not going to be a starter, but he'll be a high-quality backup point guard and a spark off the bench for a very good Timberwolves team. Exactly what he did on the Mavericks, too.

• • •

_Follow Kyle Lowry on Twitter at __@Klow7._

Kyle Lowry is going to improve the Toronto Raptors. A lot, I think. Lowry is a really, really good player. He's effectively the best point guard cover in the game -- no other point guard gets the defensive results that Lowry does, not even Rondo or Paul (both excellent defenders, but both lay off from time to time and take games off when they're feeling under the weather). Here's a comprehensive list of the point guards that have dropped 30 points with Lowry as their primary defender for > 15 minutes in the last three years.

Pretty ridiculous, right? Especially considering the fact that that's only happened on 4 nights out of 190. In terms of defending pure point guards, you can't really beat the skillset Lowry brings to the table. He's tough-nosed, aggressive, and doesn't bite on fakes. He reaches in without overcommitting and changes his balance as quick as any player I've ever seen, allowing him to go from pressuring the ball to taking a charge in basically no time flat. He switches his momentum while moving backwards or to the side beautifully -- simply put, the man has a ridiculously adept command of every single skill that makes a guard a good defender, and he uses them all to their greatest extent. Lowry is a fantastic point guard defender. His lacking height (he's 6'0") hurts him a bit when he's forced to cover larger guards -- he's not nearly as effective on players that are 4-5 inches taller than him, or more. So players like Rondo might be more valuable, defensively, for their ability to shade over to the larger wings without too much trouble. But Lowry's a game-changer for a team defensively, and he roundly mucks up any truly point guard fueled offense his crew faces. (Why do you think the Spurs have had so much trouble with the Rockets the last few years, anyway?)

As for his offense, that's a slightly different story on a personal-to-Lowry level but about the same level of outstanding when you look at the team-centric level. While Lowry is effective, he's not a star -- his offensive game has been much improved by his late-career discovery of the three point arc (roughly a 26% three point shooter pre-2011, has shot 37% each of the last two season), but he still has the problem of his long two and his midrange shot being completely and utterly broken. His shot chart in recent years has actually looked quite a bit like Barea's -- he takes 3 shots a game from the outside-the-rim two range despite shooting around 30% from there, which he couples with below-average (but rarely assisted) forays to the rim and a suddenly effective three point shot. His passing is solid, though -- he runs an offense without complaint and finds guys relatively effectively. He doesn't turn the ball over much, a plus for his game, and he helmed the 12th best offense in the league -- and given that he missed 25 games, it's worth keeping in mind that the Rockets' offense was better with him on the court, too. Lowry is an excellent, excellent player. Combine his offensive instincts and command of the floor with his defensive presence from the guard position, and you've got a player that'll fit in well in Toronto under Dwane Casey. If Valanciunas can give that Raptors team ANYTHING, the addition of Lowry (and perhaps more importantly, the subsequent domination Calderon will exact on every other team's bench unit) should be enough to propel the Raptors into playoff relevance.

While I have a great deal of respect for his game, I personally don't like Lowry a ton, if only because I felt people tended to overlook Lowry's somewhat absurd temper tantrum at a Las Vegas referee during the lockout. After a female ref called a few things Lowry didn't agree with, Lowry proceeded to throw a ball at her torso, tell her that if she met him outside he'd "kick her a**", then after she sat down threw a basketball full speed at her head. I remember hearing some of my friends call it absurd that the referee would charge him with misdemeanor battery, but I don't think it was altogether unwarranted -- according to eyewitness reports, Lowry wasn't just being vicious to her, he was being verbally threatening to every referee at the game. And while throwing a basketball at someone who wasn't expecting it doesn't seem like that harmful when you think about, say, your family throwing basketballs at each other as children... keep in mind that Kyle Lowry is a professional athlete in ridiculously good shape. If he wanted to throw a ball to hurt someone, it'd probably hurt someone. The case was dismissed in mid-February with Lowry sentenced to naught more than 100 hours of community service and goes through an impulse counseling program. I'm glad we get to keep watching his game, because he's a really good player -- but I really hope the impulse counseling is effective. Not just for him, but for the league itself as well -- players blowing their lid like that at referees for no reason whatsoever isn't exactly a good way to attract better referee talent to a league that's sorely needing it.

• • •

Follow Christian Eyenga on Twitter at __@christeyenga8.____

Christian Eyenga isn't very good at this whole "professional basketball" thing, yet. At any level -- Eyenga was drafted straight out of the Congo, and while he spent a year playing in the Euroleague with DKV Joventut in Spain, he didn't exactly light the nets aflame -- he scored a grand total of one basket (a two pointer) and a single free throw in his four-game stint. He came to the U.S. in 2011, playing a supporting role on "one of the worst teams in the history of the human race" and producing tepid numbers in minimal minutes. He was traded to Los Angeles in the Ramon Sessions trade (which actually actively annoyed me -- the Lakers really needed another asset out of the Cavs to make them part with Luke Walton's bloated contract? Really?) and was recently flipped with other flotsam in the blockbuster Dwight Howard deal. Going forward, Eyenga is one of their possible rotation players -- he's clearly behind Redick and Afflalo in the Magic's wing rotation, but if Redick suffers any sort of injury (he avoided it last season, but he's had his troubles before), chances are high for a few games of 15-20 minute stretches for goodly old Christian.

If I had to summarize his game, I'd say he's what happens when a player has too much athletic talent for his own good. Essentially, Eyenga spent years in the Congolese leagues and the Euroleague getting by solely on his athleticism and electric youthful energy. He dunked once, he dunked twice, he dunked some more. He shot the three, every now and again, and he shot long twos because he felt he needed to. But other than hustle rebounds and dunks, there aren't a whole hell of a lot of basketball fundamentals that Christian Eyenga knows how to do. And in a league like the NBA, with viciously talented athletes at every position? Being a pure athletic marvel doesn't get you very far, especially if you don't have any other notable skills. Now, don't get me wrong -- he's an insanely good dunk artist. Just look at this one against Pau Gasol, which ranks among my favorite dunks ever. His nickname -- Skyenga -- was never more evident than that one. I think he'd be a great dunk contest player, sort of like Jeremy Evans. It's not like Evans can actually do much on the basketball court -- he dunks, and that's about it. That's Eyenga, who could win a dunk contest with his eyes closed but couldn't really contribute to an NBA team with double-super LASIK surgery.

Personally, I was hoping the Cavs would keep him. Not because I think he's really got much potential, of course. He doesn't, and chances are high he's out of the league in 2 or 3 years even if he puts together a good stint in his "last chance" years with the Magic. But with his nickname being Skyenga (and his dog to match), I was really hoping the Cavs could develop him into a decent complementary piece, enough so that his "Skyenga" name spread to Kyrie Irving. You know. "Skyrie to Skyenga for the slam!" That kind of thing. It's stupid and gimmicky, but the Cavs are the same way sometimes, so whatever. In any event, he's a fun NBA follow on twitter. Sort of a @horse_ebooks for the NBA. He posts these absurd pictures of himself making angry faces at the camera with no captions, as though he's judging you for the life you never lived. He also asks fans to "keep [him] in your heart." And admonishes bad drivers, too, in phrasing that makes less sense the more you read it. Don't forget game-finding -- everyone knows twitter is where to go when you want to find out how to buy games for different platforms. Christian Eyenga's twitter feed is all at once incoherent, endearing, and obscenely silly. He's the perfect NBA follow for anyone who likes @horse_ebooks, trust me.

• • •

At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next group. Whoever gets the most right will get a shout out at the end of the next post. Tweet me your answers at @docrostov, or post them in the comments. Last time, I apparently picked the easiest riddles ever, because the answers were posted before I'd even had the capsules up for more than a half hour. Quick on the draw, writer-without-a-cause Adam Koscielak (who, I might note, has no access to the final capsule ordering.)

  • Theoretically, Player #136 is the best Dwight-stopper in the league. Realistically, he's wasted salary.
  • This fish-named Celtic has a silky-smooth midrange jumper. Unfortunately for Boston, he doesn't have much else.
  • Someday, the Dwight Howard trade will be known as the [Player #138] trade. (Actually, no. It won't. He's not incredible. He'll sop Dwight's minutes, though.)

For our 2nd anniversary, my girlfriend got me an XBox 360. I have never owned a console before. Suggestions, readers?