Jodie Meeks’ Thriving Performance Leads to Probable Starting Spot

meeksThe Lakers have won their past three consecutive games, but overall those victories haven’t exactly been pretty ones. However, they are wins nonetheless, and the Lakers need to pile up as many wins as they can to dig themselves out of the hole they built in the Western Conference standings.

Mike D’Antoni’s system is not running on all cylinders yet, to say the least. The absence of Steve Nash, who is the conductor of D’Antoni’s system, has prevented this from occurring. It is in my opinion that I agree with the general consensus that D’Antoni needs to adjust his system in order to use the current players’ strengths to the team’s advantage.

Moving Metta World Peace to the four spot in order to stretch the floor has resulted in Metta World Peace playing like vintage Ron Artest. Metta has been extremely active on both ends of the court, as he has averaged 16.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.7 steals in 36.3 minutes in the last three games, where he has spent most of his playing time at the four. Metta will most likely come off the bench on Saturday (as he did on Tuesday), but we may see an additional adjustment in the lineup since the experiment of starting Devin Ebanks failed.

D’Antoni hinted after Tuesday’s win against the Charlotte Bobcats that there’s a strong possibility that Kobe will be switched to the small forward position and Jodie Meeks would get the start as the shooting guard.

Meeks’ has provided a spark of energy off the bench as a pure shooter, especially at the three-point line (what he was brought to LA for), quite consistently as of late. In a bit of a pleasant surprise, Meeks has showed great hustle and aggressiveness on both ends of the floor. In fact, it was the combination of Meeks, Darius Morris and Metta World Peace’s perimeter defense that sparked the Lakers to overcome an 18-point deficit in Tuesday night’s game. Per Mike Trudell:

“(Meeks) has a little pop to his game, both offensively and defensively,” said D’Antoni. “He spreads the floor, always a 3-point shot waiting to happen. I think he’s playing extremely well; he’s a good player.”

With questions still lingering surrounding a Nash-less Mike D’Antoni system, Jodie Meeks has found his role within the Lakers as of late. With continual challenging and guidance from fellow shooting guard and teammate, Kobe Bryant, Meeks has approached his assignment on the Lakers head on. The following comparisons prove how Meeks has stepped up under the D’Antoni system:

Meeks’ Statistics Per Game Under Mike Brown (5 games)
Points: 2.0
Mins: 7.3 (DNP in 2 games)
Shots Attempted: 2.3

Meeks’ Statistics Per Game Under Mike D’Antoni (16 games)
Points: 11.1
Mins: 21.7
Shots Attempted: 8.4

As described by the OC Register’s Kevin Ding:

And empowered anew by Mike D’Antoni, Meeks has been one of the few Lakers to bring consistent energy, in addition to his magical 3-point accuracy. He has met the challenge so well lately that he is line to be the guy who dislodges Bryant from his long-held post as the Lakers’ starting shooting guard.

It’s a change that is both bold and logical. Moving Bryant is radical, but he played the wing equivalent of small forward in the triangle for years; the goal now is to lessen his ball handling and maximize his scoring anyway. Among the other small forwards, Devin Ebanks is thoroughly undependable, and Antawn Jamison has undermined the Lakers’ defense way too many times already.

NBA: Preseason-Utah Jazz at Los Angeles LakersWhile there are still legitimate concerns regarding the apparent diminishing roles of Antawn Jamison and Jordan Hill, the practicality of going with the hot-hand (Meeks) and exploiting his strengths to benefit the Lakers’ performance seems to be D’Antoni thought here. Fortunately for Meeks, his style play and approach fits very smoothly in his system.

The most promising aspect regarding Meeks and the Lakers is the fact that he has done this well under a version of D’Antoni’s system. The possibility of what an impact Steve Nash can have to Meeks’ contribution once he returns (possibly Saturday) and the system can go to the next level, is exciting.

Lakers Nation Question of the Day: Where did Jodie Meeks attend college? Tweet your answer @LakersNation with hashtag #LNXMAS3 to win!

Spreading the floor with World Peace at the four, giving more court space for Kobe to play with as a small forward and utilizing Meeks’ strengths as a shooter at the two spot opens up the floor and creates spacing on the offensive end. This is just what D’Antoni wants and needs for his system to have a chance of being successful in Los Angeles.

The question that D’Antoni needs to answer is how to use Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol in the best way that utilizes their strengths. We all have our opinions on this matter, but it is ultimately up to D’Antoni to decide. However, it seems that D’Antoni is counting on Nash to solve the majority of that concern, which could be the case as Nash is one of most gifted players in history to make everything easier for his teammates.

As for Meeks, whether he is in the starting rotation or coming off the bench, his shooting, hustle and energy will be a continued need for the Lakers to compete now and in the coming months. Meeks was signed by Mitch Kupchak in the off-season for his tangibles, but it his intangibles that will shift the Lakers to the next gear.

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