Superstars aren't everything, even if you're the Los Angeles Lakers.
While it's easy to become enthralled at and subsequently lost in Hollywood's star power, immediate success is predicated on more than just the team's terrific tetrad.
Enter Jodie Meeks and Metta World Peace.
Neither are what you would consider a star. World Peace has laid claim to one All-Star appearance, but he's been a near on-court afterthought for the past three years.
Much of the same can be said for Meeks. He's never averaged more than 10.4 points per game during his career, toeing the line between afterthought and situational success.
And yet, the operative word here is "afterthought." It's normally a sign of disrespect, yet in the case of World Peace, Meeks and the Lakers, it's nothing short of a blessing.
On a team that consists of more All-Stars than role players, attention will not be paid to Meeks and World Peace on the offensive end. The opposition's focus will be keeping Steve Nash out of the paint, preventing Kobe Bryant from torching them from anywhere on the floor and mauling Dwight Howard until he admits defeat and reluctantly heads to free-throw line.
Meeks and World Peace, though? They'll be the benefactors of the rotations used to impede the aforementioned three, or even Pau Gasol.
Mike D'Antoni's offense relies on 1) A point guard to direct his teammates to a desired location, 2) a talented big man who compresses defenses, thus freeing up his comrades on the perimeter and 3) shooters who can capitalize off said compression.
Remember, upon arrival, the coach himself stated (via Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times) that an afterthought such as World Peace was of the utmost importance to his preferred dynamic:
"He should be wide open every time," D'Antoni said. "I told him he needs to make 4-10 every game, and he can do that. That's 40% and that's pretty good, so he'll do that. I think he'll do that every game. He's going to be up there with 17 to 20 points."
D'Antoni's sentiments then hold still hold true now, regardless of whether World Peace is starting or coming off the pine.
Since D'Antoni wants to leave MettaWP on the bench so he can play PF, D'Antoni doesn't mind starting Kobe/Meeks as the wings.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) December 19, 2012
Because when World Peace scores, when he hits his open shots, the Lakers win.
On the season, Los Angeles is 7-1 when World Peace hits that 17-plus point mark D'Antoni spoke of.
More importantly, the Lakers are scoring at a rate of 111.4 points per 100 possessions with an effective field-goal percentage of 52.8 when he's on the floor. Such marks are higher than what Los Angeles posts with Howard (107.3, 51.4).
Impressed? You should be. Now, get prepared to be amazed.
With him out of the saddle, those numbers fall to 103.3 and 49.6 respectively.
Coincidence? More than 25 games into the season, absolutely not.
World Peace is shooting 37 percent from deep, the fourth-highest clip of his career, while averaging 13.5 points, a level of production he hasn't eclipsed in three years.
I understand that D'Antoni is worried about World Peace's legs and durability in general, but he and the Lakers cannot afford to not utilize the forward extensively. Not when their offense is already so much better off with him on the floor. Not when he's proved to be one of best shooters Los Angeles has.
And most certainly not when he's so valuable defensively.
Bear in mind, World Peace has always been valued for his defense, and that hasn't changed. The Lakers allow just 104.3 points per 100 possessions with him in tow, a number that climbs to 111 when he's on the sidelines.
Who would have thought World Peace would have been so vital to Los Angeles' survival coming into this season?
Better yet, who would have thought that of Meeks? Much of the same can be said for him as well.
Meeks began the season buried on the bench, as in he didn't see 20-minutes-of-action-in-one-game-until-the-14th-contest buried. Yeah, that buried.
That's all changed.
How much so?
To the point where Bryant and D'Antoni, according to Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register, are depending on him now more than he's ever been relied upon before:
And empowered anew by Mike D'Antoni, Meeks has been one of the few Lakers to bring consistent energy, in addition to his magical 3-point accuracy. He has met the challenge so well lately that he is line to be the guy who dislodges Bryant from his long-held post as the Lakers' starting shooting guard.
D'Antoni is suggesting that Meeks will take over that spot and bump Bryant to small forward, with Metta World Peace coming off the bench to fulfill D'Antoni's vision of him handling both forward positions.
Not unlike World Peace, the Lakers have been most successful when Meeks is scoring.
Los Angeles is 3-1 when Meeks hits that same 17-plus point mark World Peace is measured against. The Lakers' offense also scores at a pace of 110.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the hardwood, an increase over the 108.7 they post without him.
How's that for someone who was an in-house "afterthought" to begin the campaign?
Incredible if you ask me, as is his 39.3 percent conversion rate from beyond the arc. It's that very offensive prowess that has rendered him anything but irrelevant.
And the same goes for World Peace.
These two began the season as trifle pieces of a complex and star-laden puzzle.
To opposing defenses, that's still treated as fact. They're still considered insipid assignments that will continue to be overlooked, whose shots will continue to go uncontested.
For the Lakers, though, everything is different. Meeks and World Peace's value is both understood and subsequently embraced.
And as long as that doesn't change, the self-destructive tide in Los Angeles will.
All stats in this article are accurate as of December 20, 2012.
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