Metta World Peace was brought to New York to be a leader both on and off the court.
As Bradley Beal drove for what proved to be the game-winning basket during the Washington Wizards’ stunning 102-101 win over the New York Knicks, a helpless Beno Udrih turned his head to behold every beaten player’s worst fear: a complete lack of help defense.
The two players in the best position to help, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, chose instead to shadow their marks—Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza, respectively—while Carmelo Anthony and Andrea Bargnani remained bolted to the perimeter.
Amidst the feeding frenzy of coaching criticism that followed, one question in particular seemed unceremoniously buried:
If you’re not going to play Metta World Peace in that situation, why is he on your team at all?
After the game, Knicks head coach Mike Woodson intimated that his now infamous refusal to call a timeout after Beal’s bucket was actually intentional. The reason? To give his offense-first lineup the best chance to catch the Wizards napping.
Considered in that light, Woodson’s curious decision makes at least a modicum of sense.
Considered in the light of winning basketball strategy? Not so much.
At 34 years old, World Peace is no longer the demonically possessed defender of a decade ago. Such is the toll exacted by 33,000-plus minutes over a 13-year NBA career.
Still, it’s easy to imagine an alternate universe where World Peace rotates down to meet Beal’s drive with a well-timed swat or hard-nosed foul.
Had he been assigned to Webster—he of six three-pointers on the night—World Peace might well have rolled the dice on a possible three, rather than surrender a guaranteed two.
That’s smart basketball—a commodity the Knicks haven’t exactly been trafficking in of late.
All the while, one of the team's biggest brains has remained mysteriously bolted to the bench.
When the team announced this past summer that they’d signed World Peace to a two-year, $3.3 million deal, the consensus was that the cash-strapped Knicks had found a bona fide bargain to bolster their top-heavy roster.
Indeed, he was coming off something of a bounce-back year for the Los Angeles Lakers, with statistical upticks near-across the board. Even if he could somehow manage to split the difference, the thinking went, the once-maligned Metta would be seen by most as found money on a team with little to spare.
So far World Peace’s tenure has looked less like a happy homecoming and more like a fading star’s farewell.
|Minutes||3P%||Offensive Rating||Player Efficiency|
Not only is World Peace tallying the fewest minutes of his career (15.7 per game—less than half his 13-year average), his numbers have regressed well below last season’s mini-renaissance nearly across the board.
Of particular concern has been World Peace’s three-point shooting, a skill he honed to steady consistency throughout his league-trotting travels.
Through the first quarter of the season, Peace’s prowess from deep (30.4 percent) has plummeted to just slightly above where it was in 2011-12, when sinking statistics sparked the first rumors of an imminent amnesty.
That doesn’t bode well for the Knicks, who entered the year scrambling to replicate an offense that finished the 2013 campaign first in the NBA in three-pointers per game (10.9)—a number that’s cratered to 8.7 in this season’s early going.
Such disparity has typified the Knicks’ offensive woes, highlighted by an overall efficiency (101.3) far below last year’s third-ranked juggernaut (108.6).
All the while, the team has struggled to cobble anything resembling a rotational consistency. Out of that concerning context emerges World Peace, whose woeful offensive rating (94) would mark his lowest since 2001, his second year in the league.
Not even during his darkest days in Tinsletown were Peace’s individual struggles paired with such a poor rotational fit across the board.
Of course, the signing of World Peace was never solely basketball-driven.
After losing Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby to retirement, the Knicks were desperate to duplicate the quartet’s grizzled brand of basketball leadership.
Enter World Peace, the Queensbridge native who the Knicks notoriously passed up with the 15th pick in the 1999 NBA draft. With temper in check and his most infamous episodes behind him, World Peace promised a return more professorial than prodigal, while giving Knicks fans a dash of closure on an all-time draft-day blunder.
But Metta’s brand of leadership—though well intentioned—has thus far been much more about breaking tension than demanding results. While coaches and teammates struggle to explain away the mounting losses, Metta’s newfound court-jester persona has routinely succeeded in stealing the headlines.
Given how deep beneath the playoff landscape the Knicks have dug themselves, World Peace’s comedic currency will only be good for so long—particularly with New York’s exacting brand of media change-makers.
Sooner or later, World Peace is going to have to shelve the nice-guy theatrics and dust off the fierce, fiery competitor NBA fans have long loved to hate. As the team’s co-elder statesmen—along with Kenyon Martin—Metta’s pull and influence are considerable, even while his game heads south.
Fool me twice
Then again, it’s hard to take your employers too seriously when even their nods to a New York son so quickly quake beneath the rumors du jour.
According to multiple sources, the team is once again exploring a trade that would send a slew of players—including Raymond Felton and World Peace—to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for point guard Kyle Lowry.
Speculations as to whom the Knicks would deal have fluctuated seemingly by the day, with World Peace’s name included in most scenarios.
Even for a guy who’s been around the trade block more than once, the idea that you owe somehow your latest employers something above and beyond the leadership standard must ring pretty hollow indeed.
Particularly when the employer in question once chose this guy over you.
However, if New York is in fact World Peace’s last stop, rather than a luxury layover, his role going forward will be one well-worth keeping tabs on.
By all accounts—and according to more than a few statistics—World Peace can still do a pair of things better than the league-average player: defend one-on-one, and hit the open three. A steal here, a block there or a deft defensive rotation when the chips are down: all the better for the battered Knickerbockers.
Should the Knicks bounce back and begin their long climb back to playoff contention—in the face of equal parts maniacal management and mounting injuries—Metta World Peace will most certainly be in the mix.
If it can be as both a locker-room leader and rotational leavening agent, Mike Woodson might rest a little easier knowing last season’s veteran verve hasn’t disappeared completely.