The Los Angeles Lakers have had an up-and-down start to the 2013-14 season, but team struggles haven’t stopped players like Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill from surprising fans with tremendous early-season performances.
The Lakers haven’t been at the .500 mark since Nov. 7, when they improved to 3-3 by beating the Houston Rockets on a Steve Blake three-pointer. They’re currently fourth in the Pacific Division with a 5-7 record.
Provided how well Jodie Meeks has played during the 2013-14 campaign, it’s almost as if the MonStars stole his talent last season and just recently returned it to his body.
Believe it or not, Meeks is the Lakers' leading scorer through 12 regular-season games. He’s doing so with an average of 13.7 points per game. That stat isn’t exactly eye-popping, but his shooting efficiency in the early going has been remarkable.
The 26-year-old is shooting 52.8 percent from the field, which ranks him fifth among all qualified shooting guards. He’s also notched a scorching-hot 49.2 percent clip from beyond the arc, which positions him eighth among all qualified shooting guards.
He joins four NBA players at the same position who rank among the top 10 in both field-goal percentage and three-point percentage: Klay Thompson, Wesley Matthews, Kyle Korver and Arron Afflalo.
Meeks needs to improve his mid-range shooting, but he’s done a phenomenal job finishing at the rim, as Drew Garrison of SB Nation points out via Twitter:
Jodie Meeks' shot chart, his at the rim finishing makes my brain melt : pic.twitter.com/IInf8PXmGW— Drew Garrison (@DrewGarrisonSBN) November 18, 2013
The former Kentucky Wildcat is having a career year so far for the Lakers. He’s experienced a complete 180 from last season, when he shot just 38.7 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from three-point range.
Meeks will undoubtedly see his minutes decline when Bryant makes his return to the court following an Achilles tear he suffered in April. Nevertheless, head coach Mike D’Antoni may have no choice but to find a spot in the rotation for his hot hand.
Jordan Hill notched more than 19 minutes of action just once through the Lakers' first eight regular-season games despite promising per-36-minutes stats and a stellar player efficiency rating.
The big man has had a hard time gaining favor in Mike D’Antoni’s system, which dates back to his rookie year with the New York Knicks. He was traded to the Houston Rockets after playing just 24 games for the team that drafted him after D’Antoni buried him on the depth chart.
Finding consistent minutes in the pros has been a struggle for Hill, but he’s blossomed with more minutes in Los Angeles.
The former University of Arizona Wildcat has earned 30.5 minutes per contest over the past four games. In those four, he’s averaging 18.8 points, 12 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per contest.
Additionally, Hill’s player efficiency rating of 25.21 ranks him seventh in the NBA among players who have played in at least eight games. Only LeBron James, Kevin Love, Anthony Davis, Brook Lopez, Chris Paul and Kevin Durant have been better by those standards.
With Gasol shooting a paltry 39.5 percent from the field and Chris Kaman falling out of favor in the rotation, Hill’s contributions have been huge for a team in desperate need of an impact interior player.
Even though Xavier Henry has been wildly inconsistent during the 2013-14 season, a handful of breakout performances from the 22-year-old have made the difference between a win and a loss for purple and gold.
Henry burst onto the scene in the season opener against the Los Angeles Clippers when he scored 22 points off the bench on 8-of-13 shooting. He added six rebounds, two assists, one steal and a thunderous fast-break dunk after a nice defensive play.
In a home win against the New Orleans Pelicans, Henry once again displayed the ability to pump up the crowd with a monstrous poster dunk on the unfortunately positioned Jeff Withey.
He finished the game with 15 points and three steals.
The Lakers have a 3-1 record this season when Henry scores in double digits. They’re 2-7 when he doesn’t reach that scoring plateau.
Which Laker has surprised you the most this season?
Henry’s inconsistency has hurt the Lakers, but they’re an incredibly tough team to beat when he’s on his game.
Getting the youngster involved early needs to be a priority moving forward because he has the ability to swing momentum in a positive way.
The Black Mamba has reportedly returned to practice, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.
His return is clearly the biggest storyline in Los Angeles, but surprising early-season performances from Meeks, Hill and Henry can’t be overlooked. They’ve provided a much-needed spark for a team with admittedly dire circumstances.