“Probably every game that J.J.’s played in a Mavericks jersey, I’ve seen highlights of it,” said Larkin, who made his NBA debut Monday night after recovering from surgery to repair a fractured ankle suffered before summer league. “I’m looking at tape and just trying to become that type of player for the team.”
That kind of player is a pint-sized pain in the butt for opponents, a change-of-pace guard who creates problems for opponents by pushing the tempo and getting into the paint, often as a pick-and-roll ballhandler. Carlisle’s orders to Larkin: “Mess the game up.”
Barea filled that pest-off-the-pine role extremely well during the Mavs’ championship season and played an even bigger role in the NBA Finals, starting the last few games of that series at shooting guard.
Barea, the shortest 6-footer in NBA history, averaged 9.5 points and 3.9 assists in a little more than 20 minutes per game that season. It remains to be seen if the 5-foot-11, 176-pound Larkin can carve out that big of a role as a rookie, but the Mavs are impressed enough by his rare quickness and ACC player of the year pedigree to give him opportunities to prove himself worthy.
A big part of Larkin’s preparation while he was rehabbing from injury was studying how Barea succeed in Carlisle’s system, focusing particularly on the former Mav’s knack for getting in the paint and either finishing in traffic or kicking to open shooters.
“I think there are things about Barea’s game that every sub-6-foot point guard can learn from,” Carlisle said. “I want to be clear about this: The plan is not to clone J.J. Barea into Larkin, because they are different players and they’re different people with different personalities. But [the film study was] just to show the things that he is capable of and situations where he can be effective the way J.J. was.”
Larkin would love to earn a role similar to Barea’s as a rookie. However, he has his sights set much higher, so to speak, for the future.
The point guard Larkin prefers to compare himself to is Denver’s Ty Lawson, another former ACC player of the year who was picked 18th overall and now is knocking on the door of the league’s elite playmakers.
“No disrespect to J.J – he’s a great player in this league, but Ty was a borderline All-Star last year,” Larkin said. “That’s the kind of player I want to become. He was draft the same number as me, we have the same agent, all that kind of stuff, so I can see myself being kind of like him.
“But J.J. for this team was an awesome player, one of the best players in that Finals when they won it. If I can embrace that role and become just like a J.J. Barea for this team this year, that’d be good for me.”
That’d be great for the Mavs.