Metta World Peace knows a thing or two about greatness and what it can mean for a team's championship hopes in the NBA. He spent three seasons playing alongside (and sucking up to) Kobe Bryant, the first of which yielded a title for MWP and the Los Angeles Lakers.
It's no wonder, then, that the New York Knicks snapped up the Basketball Player Formerly Known as Ron Artest after the Lakers slashed his salary via the one-time amnesty clause this past summer. Nor should anyone be surprised if/when World Peace turns out to be not only the Knick's most important acquisition of the 2013 offseason, but also the team's biggest X-factor.
Sure, the MWP signing made sense for reasons beyond his bedazzled ring. World Peace was born and raised in Queensbridge, was a high school legend at La Salle Academy in New York City, made a name for himself at local playgrounds and national AAU tournaments, and starred at St. John's before his hometown team passed on him during the 1999 NBA draft.
And who, pray tell, was New York's choice at No. 15 that year? Frederic Weis. You remember him, don't you?
The Knicks, then, had every historical incentive to sign the 33-year-old forward this past summer. It gave them an opportunity, however belatedly, to make up for one of the myriad draft-day mistakes that mark their mediocre past.
Not that World Peace's arrival wasn't and isn't vastly more important to New York's present.
He's already proven to be a pleasantly productive member of a roster stacked with big names and even bigger bank accounts than his. In his first three games as a Knickerbocker, World Peace averaged 11.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists while knocking down 37.5 percent of his threes.
To be sure, the Knicks aren't exactly hurting for scoring options. Carmelo Anthony is off to a relatively slow start, at 21 points per game, but is coming off the first scoring title of his illustrious career. Once J.R. Smith, the league's reigning Sixth Man of the Year, returns from his five-game suspension, New York should get back to scoring at or near the top-three rate it enjoyed in 2012-13.
The Knicks don't really need MWP to torch the twine from deep, either. Anthony and Smith are both capable (if not the most accurate) outside shooters, with plenty more spacing to be gleaned from the flinging efforts of Andrea Bargnani, Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni.
That being said, the Knicks certainly won't discourage World Peace from providing a scoring spark off the bench, nor should they. He may not be the spry, young All-Star he once was, but World Peace's career scoring average of 14 points per game (and two seasons of better than 20 points per game) should be reminder enough that this guy is more than just a physical presence on defense.
Which, admittedly, is what the Knicks need him most to be. New York fell from fifth in defensive efficiency in 2011-12 to 16th last season, per NBA.com.
To be sure, the Knicks had their moments on the defensive end. Among the handful of highlights, they held the Miami Heat under 100 points during all four of their regular-season meetings with the defending champs.
But with Tyson Chandler struggling with injuries all season and Shumpert working his way back from a torn ACL, the Knicks defense took several significant steps back. The Knicks were all but doomed come playoff time, when 'Melo and Smith went cold against a stout Indiana Pacers defense and the team, as a whole, struggled to stop the likes of Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert.
In World Peace, the Knicks now have one more player who, at the very least, can be counted on to play tough, competent defense, be it individually or within the greater team concept. He may not be as quick as he once was and has never been particularly athletic, but MWP will always be bigger and stronger than the average wing, regardless of his legal moniker.
Those attributes have come in handy in the past for the teams on which World Peace has played. He's gone toe-to-toe with Paul Pierce, flustered Kevin Durant, bumped and bruised LeBron James, and (yes) angered Carmelo Anthony. World Peace figures to be even more valuable in that regard for New York, considering the gaggle of gifted swingmen slashing through the Eastern Conference these days (i.e. LeBron, Pierce, Paul George, Josh Smith, Luol Deng, etc.).
But World Peace needn't wait to face multifaceted superstars for the crux of his impact to be felt. Heck, the Knicks weren't even out of training camp before Metta established himself as a key asset to this team's immediate prospects.
As The New York Post's Marc Berman reported back in October, World Peace has been battling Anthony in practice, thereby forcing the perennial All-Star to step up his game at every turn. Said Metta:
It's more about we got to make each other better. We don't want to come out here and kill each other, especially in front of the media and fans. That's not what we're here for. This is what we do in practice.Elsa/Getty Images
Melo had great days in practice, but we try to go at it. It's the only way we can get better. If we push each other, try to make it hard on him, so when we get out on the floor [in a game], it'll be easy and he can be the leader in scoring and be the leading guy. I want Melo to be the leading guy. But we got to do that together.
See, Metta understands that he's not trying to challenge 'Melo's primacy or authority on this squad whatsoever. On the contrary, he's trying to boost all of his teammates, Anthony included, by showing them the effort, intensity and dedication required to play championship-caliber basketball.
Chances are, World Peace picked up some of his tips and tactics from Kobe, to whom he helped deliver a Larry O'Brien Trophy with a brilliant effort against the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals.
J.R. Smith, for one, was impressed by and appreciative of what World Peace brought to the party:
Which newcomer will be most vital to the Knicks' success this season?
Just to see Metta guard Melo in practice, it's the first time I've seen him in the years we've been together, get a real challenge for him almost every day. Melo's taking it head on. Defense is what we preach and [taking] pride in on our team. Hopefully Metta keeps doing what he's doing and gets guys into it.
So, too, was head coach Mike Woodson, whose job may be riding on the Knicks' ability to keep pace with last season's 54-win result:
I'm impressed with everything [World Peace has] done. I'm going to be honest with you. He's a guy we had to make take days off and take a game from him. He was there early. He's go, go, go. I like that. He's a tough kid. There's nothing he can't do on the basketball court.
All those things are great when you're talking about trying to win at a high level. He does all the little things to help you win as well. I can't wait to really get started when it counts and he'll be a big part of what we do.
Those little things may not have been the main motivations for the new union between World Peace and the Knicks. But that doesn't at all diminish just how important they'll be as Metta becomes a key cog in New York's machinery over the course of the current campaign.
He didn't go to New York just to be a feel-good story for Knicks fans, just to jack up some threes or just to bully some big names on defense. Rather, he returned to the Big Apple to do all of those things—in pursuit of victory.
Which is to say, he went to New York to win, above all else. He learned how to succeed whilst in the proverbial "fish bowl" during his time in L.A.
Now, he's doing everything he can to impart those lessons on his new 'mates at home, to keep the Knicks from falling behind the pack in the crowded Eastern Conference.
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