Why a Motivated Metta World Peace Is Huge for L.A. Lakers Title Hopes

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistAugust 30, 2012

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 21:  Metta World Peace #15 of the Los Angeles Lakers during Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 21, 2012 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

After an up-and-down season in which it sometimes looked like his best days were behind him, Metta World Peace may just be out to prove that he's still an important contributor to a title contender.

And that he still deserves that starting job.

The Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan reports that World Peace indeed looks to be turning things around:

Unlike last year, I hear very good things about Metta World Peace. He's in shape, lost weight and...surprise!...working a lot on his shot.

— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) August 28, 2012

We'll wait to see that shot before we start believing anything, but knowing the guy's in better shape is reason enough for Lakers fans to get at least a little excited.

After all, as World Peace got into shape over the course of last season, his play improved markedly. He noticed the correlation according to USA Today's J. Michael Falgoust:

"Out of shape early because of lockout. Couldn't get treatment so I took off a flat 3 months. I did nothing," he tweeted with a photo that shows his decline in weight and body fat.

World Peace shows that he was 268.7 pounds and at 13.3% body fat on Dec. 11. By Jan. 2, he'd dropped to 256.2 and 12.6%.

It's not hard to believe that World Peace was a bit fatigued due after using the season itself to get back into shape. The crowded schedule couldn't have helped.

So, his defense suffered, and his atrocious shooting might have had a little something to do with tired legs. He also received treatment for nerve issues in his back that may have contributed to his improved play late in the season.

But, we saw a different player as March rolled around, and there's now some reason to hope that's the same player we see this season.

That player averaged over 14 points a game in April and shot 47 percent from the field, a far cry from the 28 percent he shot in December.

If World Peace can keep that kind of production up, Lakers fans won't even notice that Dwight Howard's missing for the start of the season.

Yes, the small forward is now 32 years old and well-removed from his most dynamic years with the Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings. But, that doesn't mean he's washed up just yet. His minutes have been kept under control for the last three seasons, and no one will fault him for taking on a slightly reduced role during the regular season.

All that really matters is remaining fresh and effective in the playoffs.

More importantly, Metta seems to be as determined as ever to make this season account according to the Los Angeles Times' Mark Medina:

"I'm ready to be a part of something special, definitely ready to play good ball," World Peace said. "It's not going to take me until April to be at that elite level."

Needless to say, Lakers fans are ready for that too.