Why Metta World Peace's Defense Is Hidden Key to Elevating NY Knicks

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJuly 16, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 25:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks looks to drive to the basket against Metta World Peace #15 of the Los Angeles Lakers in the first half during the NBA game at Staples Center on December 25, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

There's more to Metta World Peace than puzzling name changes and sexy felines.

The New York Knicks got a steal when they signed the recently amnestied World Peace. Not to be confused with a superstar or even the second- or third-best player on the team. Just a steal.

He doesn't come with any guarantees of an NBA championship, nor does he fill a gaping hole at point guard. Eccentric on his most sane days, he doesn't bring an air of order with him, either. 

To this day, 14 years into his career, there's still no telling what Metta will say or do off the court. Part of the player you see on the court is just as unpredictable (shooting).

But World Peace also comes with a promise, a pledge to consistently defend.

With the exception of Iman Shumpert, persistent defense is a foreign concept for most of these Knicks, former Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler included (see the playoffs).

Defense is what World Peace knows. His attention to detail on that end of the court is almost boring by his standards because of how constant it is.

It's the most calculated aspect of his game and exactly what the Knicks need to help them contend in what has become a rather top-heavy Eastern Conference.


What He Can Do

I'll stop short of saying there isn't a position World Peace can't defend because I have my doubts about his ability to keep up with point guards, and not even his propensity for contact can bridge the gap between his 6'7", 260-pound frame and a towering seven-footer down low.

The three slots in between are all Metta.

World Peace is a rare combination of inside-out savvy. He's better at defending off the dribble than most will give him credit for. Quick hands allow him to force turnovers, and he has a knack for poking the ball away from his man's body with such force that any steal he snags is liable to turn into a transition opportunity.

Crowding the ball is also a specialty of his. Again, he's not the most agile of athletes, but the steps he takes and stances he assumes are so deliberate.

Think of him as a more physical (and volatile) Shane Battier, who doesn't always rely on athleticism. A lot of what he does is laced with superior intellect and will. He fights through screens, swarms the ball and, yeah, he pushes back. 

That's the thing about World Peace. For all the intentional elbows he's supposedly thrown, he's genuinely tough.

New York's only enforcer last season was Kenyon Martin, who spent only part of the year on the team and appeared in 18 games.

Now the Knicks have World Peace, for a full 82 games, health permitting. They'll value the grit, the intensity he brings to the defensive end. 

That raw emotion—the kind Carmelo Anthony shows after a pull-up three, Chandler displays after an alley-oop conversion, Amar'e Stoudemire has when he realizes he can still touch the rim and J.R. Smith oozes when he realizes it's dollar-beer night at his favorite watering hole—World Peace bleeds on defense.

Mike Woodson is going to love it. Metta's teammates are going to adore it. Ask Kobe Bryant. Or even (the treacherous) Dwight Howard. They'll tell you.

Don't ask those whom World Peace will go up against, because they hate it.

Such is the mark of a great defender.


The Numbers

Emotion is, of course, nothing if it doesn't yield results.

Rarely do you see a player pump his fist in enthusiasm after a missed free throw. Colorful displays can't be empty or just for show. They have to be for something.

Metta's certainly aren't for nothing.

The Los Angeles Lakers' defense allowed 3.6 extra points per 100 possessions when World Peace was off the floor last season. While that won't seem like much, L.A. ceded a whopping 109.4 points per 100 possessions when he was off the floor, the equivalent of the fourth-worst defense in the league. 

Though the Lakers struggled to achieve competence on the defensive side of the ball, World Peace had no such troubles. He found success within his individual defensive sets.

Per 82games.com, World Peace held opposing forwards (power and small) to an average PER of 14.4 last season, below the league average of 15. 

According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), he also gave up just 0.85 points per possession while on defense, a better mark than both the Lakers (0.89) and Knicks (0.88) put up as a team.

Individual stats like these can sometimes be misleading. World Peace's are impressive, but we pine to see what they mean in the grand scheme of things.


Overall Impact

More important than anything else, than even the defensive backbone World Peace provides, is what he does with all of it.

The Knicks finally have someone equipped with the tools to defend the Eastern Conference's toughest forwards. They didn't have that before.

For all 'Melo is capable of doing, his commitment to defense has always been suspect at best. Shumpert is willing to defend anyone, but doesn't have the strength to make up the gap in size.

Someone needs to guard the LeBron Jameses, Paul Georges and Paul Pierces of the East. And someone needs to do so without New York's fanbase shedding collective tears of regret.

I don't know about you, but I grew sick of watching Raymond Felton trying to contest The Truth's jump shots in the first round of the playoffs. Seriously, it was nauseating. Then again, watching Felton struggle to leave his feet always is.

To know that the Knicks have someone who is capable of holding his own against the most dynamic of forwards is a relief.

Here's a look at how World Peace, in the past, has fared against some of the most dangerous players New York will face regularly:

Luol Deng126.914.647.422.
Paul George35.313.739.
LeBron James1810.120.848.328.

None of those averages really scream "star-stopper," but none of them suggest World Peace was dominated, either.

Check out how Deng, George and LeBron have fared against World Peace over their careers compared to their 2012-13 season averages below:

When looking at the Knicks roster, there's no one better to go up against premier forwards than World Peace. He won't take LeBron, George or Deng or even Pierce completely out of the game, but no one can.

What he does is give New York a willing, able defender prepared to frustrate those who have haunted the Knicks in the past.

With only part of their mini mid-level exception to play with, they couldn't ask for anything more.

Come playoff time, when the Knicks are going up against any number of dominant forwards and defense is at a premium, they won't need to.


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