Jodie Meeks' Breakout Season Proves He's A Keeper For Los Angeles Lakers

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Jodie Meeks' Breakout Season Proves He's A Keeper For Los Angeles Lakers
Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

With in-the-gym shooting range and an unwavering competitive spirit, Jodie Meeks has gone from being a placeholder for the Los Angeles Lakers to a pivotal piece of their rebuilding effort.

If the fifth-year guard isn't draped in purple and gold next season, it won't be because the Lakers have a found a better option—it will be because he's priced himself out of their plans. He won't stay at the bargain rate of $1.55 million he's making this season, via ShamSports.com, and could command something near a $3 million annual salary on the open market.

"Jodie has been our most consistent performer," coach Mike D'Antoni said, via Joe Resnick of The Associated Press. "It's really fun to watch someone get better."

If that's the case, D'Antoni has been having a lot more fun than his team's 22-42 record would indicate. Because Meeks has been getting better all season long.

A lot better.

Making His Mark: Meeks' Rise to Relevance
Season PPG FG% 3PT% PER
2009-10 4.7 38.8 31.8 10.8
2010-11 10.5 42.5 39.7 12.6
2011-12 8.4 40.9 36.5 11.5
2012-13 7.9 38.7 35.7 11.4
2013-14 15.3 46.3 39.9 14.4

Basketball-Reference.com

Meeks is the rare volume scorer who added some decibel levels to his workload and found efficiency along with them. A quantity-over-quality contributor in his past, he's managed to make marked improvements in the latter despite shouldering a dramatic increase to the former.

A consistent scoring touch has eased his ascent, but he's relied heaviest on a time-tested training method all too often overlooked in the world of professional sports—hard work:

The basketball book was supposed to be out on the 26-year-old.

He could put up points in bunches (23.7 in his junior, and final, season at the University of Kentucky), but he'd give them away just as quickly at the opposite end. He could (and would) shoot from anywhere with the same chance of success you would have at finding good music on the radio.

At his best, he was a floor spacer, a specialist you hoped could give you just enough of his strengths to compensate for his weaknesses.

That manuscript has officially been scrapped.

After watching him put up more points (42) than three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant (27) and hold perennial All-NBA performer Russell Westbrook to 20 points on 23 shots as Meeks did in LA's 114-110 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday, it's hard to say if he's started a new chapter or a new book entirely.

That win was a microcosm of his 2013-14 campaign.

His Lakers, riddled by injury, were heavy on-paper underdogs. After Oklahoma City built up an 18-point advantage, LA had every reason to wave the white flag and toss some more kindling on one of the league's worst tire fires.

The Lakers didn't. Meeks wouldn't let them. He single-handedly outscored the Thunder, 20-19, in the third frame, pouring in 18 points over the first eight minutes of the period.

"The most important thing is you keep going out there and fighting, not giving up, because we could easily give up," he said after the win, via Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers aren't a franchise that gives up, not even when rolling over would seem to be in their best interest.

That type of approach perfectly suits Meeks, who's embraced the never-say-never mentality of a certain hobbled Lakers' icon:

Having the right mindset helps, but it can't make up for a lack of ability. Luckily, Meeks doesn't have to worry about that.

There's still some streakiness to his production (12 games with 20-plus points, nine with single digits), but he's controlled some of that volatility by decreasing his reliance on the three-point shot.  Nearly 49 percent (48.9 to be precise) of his field-goal attempts have come from distance, but that's still considerably below his career average (56.5).

With an uptick in aggressiveness, he's seen his effectiveness inside the arc soar.

A 45.9 percent shooter on two-point field goals in his first four seasons, he's made 52.4 percent of those attempts this season. He's made his biggest improvements within three feet of the basket (66.9 percent, compared to 58.2 before this season) and from 16 feet out to the three-point line (39.3 up from 35.2), via Basketball-Reference.com.

As a result, he's become one of the more efficient offensive weapons in the game. He's converted his 821 offensive plays at a rate of 1.08 points per possession, the 18th-highest mark in the NBA, via Synergy Sports (subscription required).

His overall production is no doubt impacted by the expanded look he's gotten from LA, but there's nothing fluky with his added efficiency. Taking on a bigger offensive role should hurt his percentages, not help them. 

What he's shown is simply growth, the result of blending sweat equity with the determination to improve. Each strong slash to the basket sees a few more drops of elbow grease puddle up on the Staples Center floor.

He's a team-first player with an expanded arsenal of two-way weapons. He'll never be a superstar, but he's quickly becoming an ideal glue guy to support the white-collar talents that are based in (or will inevitably be coming to) LA.

The fact that he's a perfect fit for D'Antoni's perimeter-based system? All the more reason for the Lakers to make sure that this part of their painful present becomes a piece of their grandiose vision for the future.

 

Unless otherwise specified, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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