In one corner you have flash, exuberance and high-arcing shots. In the other corner is steadfastness and a knit brow…and high-arcing shots.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most valuable of them all? Nick “Swaggy P” Young or Jodie Meeks?
There’s no argument when it comes to who’s more popular. One lights up the room with effervescent cheer after a high-scoring game, while the other drowns in copious flop sweat when required to give an interview.
One gets all the love—from fans, the media and even ownership.
“I, like so many fans, fell in love with Nick Young and his swagger on the court and his love for the game, the way he plays.”
Hey, that’s not fair! Jodie probably gets some management love too, right? Maybe it’s just buried in the files somewhere—that place where search engine optimization doesn’t live.
With the end of a failed Lakers season in sight, Young continues to hint that he’ll opt out of his contract and test the free-agency waters, while Jodie Meeks says he wants to remain a Laker.
Per Scott Howard-Cooper for Sekou Smith’s Hang Time Blog, Young was asked recently if he had made up his mind about opting out of his contract at the end of the season. The response was classic Swaggy:
“A little bit. It’s a mystery, though. I’ve got to keep y’all on your toes. That’s what Swaggy P does.”
And when asked if he wants to have teams chasing after him, Young continued in his typical third-person narrative:
“Yeah, he most definitely does. And I believe a lot will. That’s a solid answer right there.”
Meanwhile, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, Meeks is taking a more reasoned approach—he wants to stay with the team while acknowledging the realities of the business:
"Definitely, I want to stay, but it's a business. So, both sides of the party, it will be interesting to see what happens. I'll just kind of play the waiting game."
To be completely fair, it’s not as if the Swaggy one and Meeks are rivals—despite the fact that only one has a cool nickname.
In the same article from McMenamin, Young heaped praise on his more low-key teammate:
"He's got that consistent jump shot. He's been knocking down 3's all year. He's unbelievable. We're all proud of him. It would have been better if we would have been winning with what we're doing, but he's still going out there and playing his best, playing his heart out."
Personalities aside, who puts up the best numbers? They’re fairly evenly matched actually.
Young is currently the league’s leader in points off the bench and is edging out Pau Gasol as the Lakers’ top scorer at 17.5 points per game through 60 games. Young is also averaging 2.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists.
Meeks, on the other hand, is scoring slightly less at 15.6 points while starting in 66 of 73 games. He has the same rebound rate as Young and a minuscule advantage when it comes to assists at 1.8 per game. Meeks definitely has the quicker hands, however, leading the team at 1.4 steals per game.
And, when it comes to efficiency, Meeks also holds the edge. He’s shooting 46 percent overall and 39 percent from behind the arc to Young’s 43 and 38 percent, respectively.
Those aren’t major differences, but they at least bolster one of the endorsements that you’ll commonly hear—that of consistency. After a season-high 42 points in an unexpected win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 9, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said this per Dan Arritt of NBA.com:
“Jodie Meeks has been our most consistent performer all year.”
He’s also a lot fleeter of foot than many realize. Doug Collins, who coached Meeks for two seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers, was doing color commentary that day for ABC and described the gunner as “one of the fastest players in the NBA, end line to end line.”
Meeks is fast? It’s of the deceptive variety—he gets up court by just doggedly running, while Young’s quickness is more akin to street car racing—all drift and flash and taking and sometimes making the impossible shot.
Collins also coached Young for the 76ers and has seen the shot-making abilities of both players up close and personal.
The question of value is always subjective, and during a rebuild period when every dollar counts, management will be looking at numerous factors.
Young is glitz and ticket sales and merchandising. He plays with charisma and won’t back down. He’ll shoot you into games and out of games, and he’s got Jeanie Buss talking about falling in love.
Meeks keeps his head down, plays hard and works on his game over the summer.
One is Swaggy P while the other is merely good at basketball.
Young could accept his player’s option and come back next season for $1,227,985, but he probably won’t. He’s looking for a payday, and it’s really a matter of the Lakers finding that magic number—a salary that both sides can live with.
Meeks doesn’t have an option. He’s a free agent and will go where he’s paid to go. And while he won’t command the same amount as Young, he has made his presence known this season, and he will land somewhere.
Neither of these guys holds a candle to the Lakers’ reigning King of Contracts of course—Kobe Bryant earned over $30 million this season, not counting endorsements, and played just six games. If his body is right next season, Bryant will chew up a lot of the minutes that Young and Meeks would be looking at.
And, while Bryant’s $23,500,000 next season will reflect a pay cut, it will still take the fat off the Lakers’ salary-cap bone.
If the Lakers can bring both Young and Meeks back for a reasonable price, they will.
But if the sticker price on a showboat gets too steep, they’ll choose the economy car—more miles to the gallon and less maintenance for Jodie Meeks—your value model of the year.