Six games and a major injury from Kobe Bryant. Only 10 outings from Steve Nash before lower-back problems and nerve issues put the rest of his career in doubt. A record that has left the team bouncing around at the bottom of the Western Conference standings with the Sacramento Kings and Utah Jazz.
The 2013-14 season hasn't been pretty for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Even after a shocking last-minute victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, L.A. is the not-so-proud owner of a 21-39 mark that leaves it in a three-way tie for the worst record in the Western Conference. The stars are out, morale is low and hope for the future rests on the shoulders of a veteran superstar and the team's chances of luring in big-name free agents.
At least there have been a few bright spots.
Mike D'Antoni is the unquestioned master of milking talent out of mid-level role players, and that's resulted in a few standout performances that fall into the "unexpected" category. But this goes beyond that, as Jodie Meeks has spent the year proving that he can be more than a role player.
And just in case the whole season hasn't been enough, he's been on fire lately.
Torrid Pace Since the All-Star Break
A sprained ankle knocked Meeks out of action against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Feb. 4. Tangential aside, but what is it with the 'Wolves and Lakers guards getting hurt this year?
As B/R's Tyler Conway reported, the injury was to his right ankle and came rather early in the night's proceedings:
Meeks sustained the injury just over a minute into the contest, when he came down on the foot of Timberwolves guard Corey Brewer's foot, awkwardly twisting his ankle. Obviously in pain, coach Mike D'Antoni called a quick timeout to sub Meeks out for Nick Young at the 10:33 mark in the first quarter.
Fortunately, the timing wasn't bad.
Meeks was able to recover during the All-Star break, thereby limiting the number of games he missed. And since he returned against the Houston Rockets on Feb. 19, he's been nothing short of dominant:
|After the All-Star Break, the Meeks Shall Inherit the Earth|
|3/3||Portland Trail Blazers||21||3||1||8-of-16||2-of-6|
That's a pretty impressive stretch of offensive basketball, one that's seen him average 18.4 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game while shooting 53.3 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from beyond the three-point arc.
There was also a fairly historic performance in the mix there.
While playing the Sacramento Kings, Meeks managed to drop a 22-spot without missing a single shot from the field. Basketball-Reference shows that only six players have been able to break past the 20-point barrier on 100 percent shooting during the 2013-14 season:
- Serge Ibaka, 25 points
- Jodie Meeks, 22 points
- Danny Green, 22 points
- Jordan Hill, 21 points
- Chandler Parsons, 21 points
- Chris Bosh, 20 points
But let's make the criteria even stricter so that we can eliminate the interior players from the equation.
Since the turn of the century, only 32 games have been recorded in which a player scored at least 20 points, took a three-pointer and didn't miss from the field. Only 10 players have scored more than Meeks did while meeting all three criteria.
And even that might not have been the most memorable aspect of his torrid run.
That would be it.
Now this is only a seven-game stretch that I'm talking about. The rest of Meeks' season has been impressive, but not quite on the level that he's reached since the All-Star Game—save Anthony Davis—left New Orleans behind.
Of course, that begs the question of flukiness.
Not a Fluke
It's not like this stretch of fantastic play is coming out of nowhere.
If we remove the injury-shortened outing against the 'Wolves from consideration, Meeks was entering the All-Star break with per-game averages of 14.7 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists while shooting 45 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from three-point range.
Those are already quality numbers, ones that showcase the development the Kentucky product has been putting on display ever since joining the Lakers. He's no longer a sharpshooter who has to wait on the perimeter for a feed from a teammate.
That much was especially clear during his perfect night from the field.
"He looked like he really hit his rhythm with his threes," D'Antoni told the Associated Press via ESPN after Meeks sparked a victory over the Kings. "Obviously, he can't go 8-for-8 every night, but he's playing really well. And what he's doing now is adding his drive to the game. He's been strong to the basket, so they don't knock him off. And now it's hard to guard him."
Meeks is still shooting only 43.4 percent when he drives to the basket, per NBA.com's SportVU data, but he at least looks comfortable working off the dribble. And as Basketball-Reference shows, he's taking quite a few more shots closer to the basket this season.
In 2012-13, his first season with the Lake Show, the 2-guard took three-pointers 64.5 percent of the time. This year, that number has dropped slightly below 50 percent. Additionally, he's been a much better finisher.
At the rim, his field-goal percentage has gone up from 52.8 to 66.3, and there's also been a marked increase from three to 10 feet.
It's made Meeks more of an all-around player, which has correspondingly made him increasingly valuable to the LAL cause. But is that enough for him to earn another go-round in a purple-and-gold uniform?
A Journeyman Path No Longer?
Unless the shooting guard gets an inflated idea of his value, he should be an affordable free agent at the end of the 2013-14 campaign.
Meeks is one of the myriad Lakers players currently working with an expiring deal, but he's one of the few who has used this season to prove that he's invaluable to the winning efforts. While he might not be capable of functioning as a No. 1 option on any competitive offense, he'd be a solid role player who both spells and plays alongside Kobe.
Although the 26-year-old is only in his fifth professional season, he's already become somewhat of a journeyman. His rookie campaign saw him spend time with both the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers, and the Lakers are his third team.
But let's not forget that we're talking about a guy with a pretty decent pedigree.
According to Rivals.com, he was a 4-star prospect before he committed to Kentucky, and only six players at his position ranked ahead of him. Jerry Meyer, a national scout for the website, wrote the following about him:
A well built and athletic combo guard, Meeks has a knack for scoring with a smooth midrange pull up jumper and the ability to get to the rim with either hand. Also possessing a high basketball IQ, he does more than score. He defends well, gets in passing lanes and rebounds. Does need to improve the mechanics and consistency of his long range jumper.
His first two seasons with the Wildcats were forgettable, but his junior campaign saw him thrive as the featured player. The highlight of that season was a 54-point torching of the Tennessee Volunteers, a performance that remains one of the most impressive I've ever witnessed.
Fast forward a few months, and it was time for him to be drafted.
"Meeks' statistical production at the highest level of college basketball and perimeter shooting ability are two things that immediately make him a player to keep an eye on," wrote Jonathan Givony for DraftExpress.com. "Though he isn’t an elite draft prospect, he is certainly a player who will certainly be scrutinized by NBA teams. Should the NBA not work out, he is likely to have a very successful career in Europe, where his skills might be better appreciated."
It's pretty clear that Meeks was never thought of as a potential superstar, and that viewpoint hasn't changed. Nor should it have.
However, the perception of this 2-guard is still undergoing somewhat of a transformation.
If the last few weeks have made anything clear, it's that Meeks should no longer be thought of as a transitional stopgap piece, one who can be used now and discarded as soon as the team is ready to start competing for championships once more.
Now it's looking like Meeks should be a part of those title runs.
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