Leandro Barbosa returned for a ninth season with the Phoenix Suns last summer, holding a two-year contract in one hand and a championship ring in the other. He might have been brought in as a link to the past who could provide veteran leadership for the young core, but LB proved he could still hoop a little bit, too.
(Note: Deadpoolio uses a different grading scale than the norm. If this bothers you, please keep it to yourself, for Deadpoolio is sensitive and will cry tears of sadness upon learning of your displeasure.)
Barbosa averaged 6.3 points in 14.4 minutes during the 2016-17 season, with both numbers representing the second-lowest averages of his 14-year career. His scoring average improves to 15.7 when looked at per 36 minutes, but even that ranks sixth-lowest of his career. Likewise, his field goal percentage (43.9) and 3-point percentage (35.7) were off his career averages of 45.9 percent and 38.7 percent respectively.
One positive was his free throw percentage, which at 88.9 percent was the highest of his career and highest on the team this season if you don’t count John Jenkins’ 2-of-2 performance over his four games played with the Suns. (I, obviously, do not.)
Barbosa turned 34 years old this season, so no one expected him to turn back the clock to his Sixth Man of the Year days. Still, he managed to do so from time to time, scoring 13, 10, 21, and 18 points over four consecutive games in December while shooting at or above 50 percent from the field in each. All in all, he scored in double figures 19 times, including the final three games of his season before he sat out the last nine games due to a right hamstring injury at first and a tanking strategy at last.
He also used his third go-round with the team to move up the team record books, where he is now 13th in scoring (6,443), 14th in made field goals (2,401), and became just the third Sun ever to make 750 3-pointers.
Barbosa has been able to score since he came into the league in 2003, and while his game has declined some, he proved he can still tap into that well from time to time and provide potent scoring off the bench.
There were many reasons the Suns signed Barbosa last summer. Defense wasn’t one of them.
He averaged 0.5 steals and 0.1 blocks per game (1.2 steals and 0.3 blocks per 36), which weren’t massive departures from his career averages, but he never did live up to the defensive potential young LB possessed, and this was another season of that script.
Even less encouraging, Barbosa was one of the worst offenders on the team at allowing his man to shoot above his percentage. His opponents shot 5.4 percentage points higher than their average from the field against Barbosa this season (third-worst among those on the end-of-season roster) and was leaky from everywhere on the court (less than six feet, less than 10 feet, greater than 15 feet, 2-pointers, and 3-pointers were all net positives for opponents). If you’d like a rosier perspective, he was middle of the pack on the team at defending the 3-point line (+1.0 differential).
That’s probably enough when it comes to Barbosa and defense. No need to waste any more digital ink.
One of the reasons cited by Barbosa, GM Ryan McDonough, and head coach Earl Watson for Barbosa’s addition to the roster was his veteran influence and leadership in the locker room. Barbosa said before the season that he intended to share the lessons he received as a young player and wanted to see these Suns become close-knit like the Golden State Warriors teams he had spent the past two seasons with.
Yet it is difficult to know exactly how much influence he — or any veteran — had on a team that won 24 games and threw in the towel on orders from upstairs for nearly two months to conclude the season. Did he share any tips with Tyler Ulis that he picked up while playing with some of the NBA’s greatest point guards? Did his threat to take Derrick Jones Jr.’s per diem if he didn’t attempt more 3-pointers help build Jones’ confidence in his shot? Was this early celebration by Barbosa meant as a demonstration of what never to do?
A player’s impact as a leader is always difficult to quantify, but what is known is that Barbosa never complained about his limited minutes on a bad team. He was always there cheering on his teammates when not in the game, and when his number was called, he was ready to contribute what he had that night. Barbosa admitted after the season that he didn’t play as well as he would’ve liked, but he quietly set a good example for how to comport oneself as a professional basketball player. That may have been even more valuable than his on-court production considering the direction of the team this past season.
Leandro Barbosa lived up to expectations in every way this season and brought his special brand of joy to everything he did, but if we’re honest, he was wasted in Phoenix. As a player, his role is bench spark plug, and that is something a dedicated tanking team does not need. A number of veteran teams likely could have used Barbosa in a push for the playoffs and beyond. The Suns, meanwhile, shoveled dirt on him to out-tank the Los Angeles Lakers.
Barbosa has stated his goal is to retire as a Sun. Here’s hoping he gets to go out in a more meaningful way than the 2016-17 season offered.
Final Grade: A beautiful painting of Ipanema beach that has been covered with a sheet
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Beautiful painting that serves no purpose