The Lakers faced a ton of criticism and questions during the off-season and through the first week of the regular season. The team is aging and there are some definite weaknesses without question. Since the starting line-up is primarily comprised of the same players that Laker fans have been accustomed to for the past few years, one of the main causes of concern is how the bench will perform.
The biggest personnel change new head coach Mike Brown made prior to the pre-season was to move Metta World Peace from the starting small forward to the leader of the bench. Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks have both slid into World Peace’s former starting spot, splitting the minutes with the first team. Upon hearing this roster change, Laker fans, including myself, were hesitant to call this a good or bad move.
At this stage of the regular season I am still unable to answer this question. Laker fans’ first look at the new bench leader during the two pre-season games against the Los Angeles Clippers was less than encouraging. World Peace shot for 4-12 from the field and 2-11 from the three-point line. He seemed out of sync with his new role to say the least.
The Lakers’ season opener against Chicago saw a similar Metta World Peace to the one that appeared in the pre-season. He shot 2-6 from the field for just four points in their loss to the Bulls. Then the Lakers traveled to Sacramento the next night and World Peace seemed to flip the on switch. He shot 8-14 for 19 points, earned mostly in the paint. Despite the loss against the Kings, World Peace looked comfortable on the court and wasn’t shooting desperate three-pointers, which he had gained a habit for.
In their wins against the Jazz and the Knicks, Metta World Peace scored a combined 23 points on 8-16 shooting. More importantly, he limited his three-point attempts to three, in which he came through on one. During the Kings, Jazz and Knicks games, World Peace appeared as he had accepted his new role off the bench and was beginning to flourish in it.
Then came the first game in the back-to-back Denver games. World Peace shot for 0-8 from the field, including 0-3 from the three-point line, scoring zero points and committing four turnovers. Although he earned 10 points on Sunday’s game against the Nuggets, his shot selection was poor as he went for 1-4 from beyond the three-point line.
It is rather frustrating for Laker fans to witness Metta World Peace’s up and down performances. World Peace will be under a thicker microscope this year because he will be the leader on the floor for a good portion of the game, which is something he hasn’t experienced in quite some time.
As written in the Los Angeles Times, “World Peace never held that influence with the starting lineup. He often mentions how he deferred to Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, but World Peace also often remained unsure where to cut on the floor. He insisted on maintaining an indifference toward his scoring average, but he appeared unengaged when the offense didn’t involve him. In turn, many of his Lakers teammates remained hesitant to pass him the ball, fearful of the consequences.”*
With the Lakers bench having many fresh faces that are coming into a new system with Mike Brown, World Peace must face the challenge of not only performing on a consistent level but be a source of leadership and support for the new players coming off the bench. World Peace needs to step up now more than ever to relieve Kobe Bryant from having to perform at the max level the entire game in order for Kobe to rest his ailing wrist.
We have already witnessed that World Peace is capable of this. As Mike Brown stated, “At the free-throw line, Metta is calling them together and they have their little college huddle going on and then they break and then they go play great defense. So, Metta is taking on a leadership role with that second unit.”*
What is reassuring to Laker fans is that World Peace is echoing this sentiment. He recently remarked concerning his new role, “That’s the good thing about me. I’m ready to adjust. I can be a starter and put up buckets, I can be a bench player or a role player. That don’t matter.”* As long as Metta continues to drive the ball, shoot in the paint and avoid the three-point line, he will fit well into this new role.
*Source: LATimes.com | Round-The-Clock Purple and Gold