Leandro Barbosa takes a healthy lead off of 1st base (Getty Images)
The NBA's flashiest and finest are mostly off representing their country in the 2012 Olympics, but for a goodly chunk of the league's 400-plus players, the rash of "back to school!" ads that they're fast-forwarding through on TV is serving as a reminder that training camp isn't that far away. Autumn beckons, they might have to shave soon, and they definitely have to get back into NBA shape.
For whatever reason, several of the league's more entertaining players have fallen off in recent years. Be it due to injury, confidence issues, rotation frustrations, a poor fit, or general ennui in a profession that can get tiresome, these players have disappointed of late. For the next two weeks, we're going to take a look at a list of familiar names that haven't produced familiar games over the last few years. Or, at least players that have produced games that we don't want to be in the habit of familiarizing ourselves with.
To start, we're looking at Leandro Barbosa.
If Andrew Bogut ticks off all the boxes we obsess over as an NBA freak — a defensive-minded No Stats All-Stars who plays at the toughest NBA position to fill — then Leandro Barbosa flies in the opposite direction. When he succeeds, you know it; because the contribution will come over all obvious and the results will be marked up in the scoring ledger. On top of that, his type is as ubiquitous as they come; while he plies his trade as a scoring guard at a point guard's height. The normal-sized dude that likes to chuck a lot, but can't be relied upon to set up an offense.
This doesn't mean that Barbosa, at his NBA peak(s), wasn't productive. That his work wasn't conducive to winning, and that he didn't help out on great teams. It also doesn't mean that, at those peaks, he wasn't a thrilling watch. He helped, and looked good along the way.
It also doesn't mean, though this is more of a hope than a reflection of his documented work, that at age 29 he can't regain his scoring form as he enters what most players consider to be the perfect mix of veteran-aged smarts and sustained athleticism. Leandro Barbosa, given the right climate, should be able to turn it all around.
Then, he can get back to doing things like this …
… on an NBA stage.
Assuming the free agent can get on an NBA team, by the time the season starts in 2 1/2 months. And that's assuming you — ardent NBA fan reading an NBA blog in August — remember which team he played for last year. It was Indiana. Wait, is that right? Yes. Indiana.
He didn't play particularly well, shooting under 40 percent from the field despite making over 42 percent of his 3-pointers. Nail all the threes you want, but when you're an undersized shooting guard that doesn't get to the line much (despite all that potential for speed and chaos and hackzzz), those in-between shots have to fall. Players of Barbosa's ilk don't age well, all full of speed and nonsense and quick point guards that can switch over to guard them in a pinch. So for Leandro to make one last big splash before those 30s set in (and they will set in, following the 2012-13 season's first month), he'll have to make it soon.
Like, this year. And it starts with making shots.
Because there aren't a whole lot of other missteps in Barbosa's particular timeline. His turnovers haven't shot up. He never was a big assist man, and though his dimes have fallen off slightly, it hasn't truly affected his game (and once you account for pace and caliber of offensive-minded teammates to pass to, through the years, it's debatable as to whether or not Barbosa has fallen off much). It's all about the shooting, marks that have fallen from the mid-to-high 40s (remarkable for a guard of his size) overall to that 39.9 percent low in 2012-13.
He has to find a way to turn those long 2-pointers into short ones, and finish better on those short ones. When all you do is score, you have to find a way to score accurately enough to make up for your other shortcomings.
And a team. Gotta find a team, first.
The Lakers appeared to be interested last week, but we'd assume that Barbosa would have to work for the minimum in Los Angeles following the massive tax bill the team has taken on while it retains Pau Gasol after turning its trade exception into Steve Nash. Even the rumor mill, for a player that might be the best free agent out there, is quiet.
As Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin pointed out, Barbosa is the classic case that we've seen every late summer since the 1995-era collective bargaining agreement was put together — a veteran holdout hoping for more than the minimum contract that he's probably better than, but cannot acquire due to the whims of the market. Despite his faltering of late, Barbosa's play suggests he should make well over the minimum salary, but that's probably what he'll work for because the NBA's middle class remains (even after three subsequent CBA restructurings meant to aid that particular breed of player) hit and miss with what teams will give them.
In the meantime, the Brazilian Blur has to get his Blur back, as a means to add to a 3-point stroke that appears to come and go (Barbosa's career high from behind the arc came at age 23, his career low at age 28, and he nearly matched his career high again at age 29). And then he needs to remind us, one last time, why he was so much fun all those years ago in Phoenix.
If the video evidence above is any indication, it's still in him.
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- Leandro Barbosa