Rejuvenated Metta World Peace Proving Critical to LA Lakers' New Identity

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Rejuvenated Metta World Peace Proving Critical to LA Lakers' New Identity
Harry How/Getty Images

One of the most polarizing figures in all of professional basketball, Metta World Peace has now become of the most valuable.

While the 33-year-old is far past the form that saw him win the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year, what we're seeing from World Peace this season is truly a transformation.

Spending much of last season trying to get back into shape following the brief lockout, MWP began 2012 at nearly 270 pounds and 13.3 percent body fat.

His play showed, as he looked slow and lethargic on defense, often being ignored by opposing defenders or his own teammates on offense.  Despite playing small forward, MWP was playing at the weight of most power forwards and centers.

His on-court production suffered, and some wondered if the Lakers would use their amnesty clause on World Peace to release him and save some cap space.

While his stats in 2011-12 were the worst of his career (7.7 points, 3.4 rebounds per game), it was clear MWP was starting to work his way back into shape.

By April 30th 2012, MWP had dropped 22 pounds and nearly five percent in body fat.  His movements looked better, as did his overall game.

Going into the 2012-13 season, MWP has looked even fitter and lighter on his feet, and the stats show it.

Averaging 13.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, MWP is having his best season as a Los Angeles Laker since signing with them in 2009.  His field-goal percentage (42.7 percent), three-point percentage (37.0 percent) and free-throw percentage (75.0 percent) are also his highest since joining L.A.

As Steve Nash told Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

I want to say it's inspired, but this is what he's been doing the whole year.  He pounds on the best player on the other team. He gets his hands on a lot of balls. Rebounds. Scores. Makes threes. I mean, he's playing phenomenal, he's a great teammate and he's a huge part of why we're able to win.

While the Lakers' early-season struggles have been well documented, they did recently enjoy a five-game winning streak over teams that included the New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers and Golden State Warriors.

MWP was huge for the Lakers during this stretch, averaging 17.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.6 steals in five L.A. wins.

In 14 Laker wins this season, MWP is averaging 16.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.1 steals on 47 percent shooting from the field.

In 15 losses, those numbers drop to 11.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.3 steals on just 38 percent shooting.

In the same interview with Dave McMenamin, Kobe Bryant said of World Peace:

Metta has been a lot, lot more vocal.  A lot more vocal in helping me with the leadership and making sure guys have that intensity and attention to detail and the toughness. He's been extremely, extremely vocal.

Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Always thought of as a defense-first player, MWP has made a big impact on both sides of the ball for the Lakers.

According to 82games.com, the Lakers score 113.2 points per 48 minutes with World Peace on the floor, compared to just 104.4 without him.

On defense, the Lakers allow 104.7 points per 48 minutes with MWP on the floor.  This number rises to 111.4 with him on the bench.

So is it the weight loss, the infusion of talent on the Lakers or the coaching change that's helped MWP raise his game this season?

Fingers could be pointed to all three for helping Metta World Peace enjoy his best season in years.

A little therapy from some friendly children may have helped as well.

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