Metta World Peace: The Forgotten Man

Lost in the hoopla and frenzy over the off-season additions of Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Antawn Jamison, and Jodie Meeks is the fact that Metta World Peace is not only in fantastic shape (reportedly 249 lbs. or less), but MWP is also more focused and eager to start the 2012-13 NBA season than I’ve seen in years. Let us not forget the excellent month of April (14.1 ppg, 4.2 rebs, 2.9 asts, 1.6 stls) MWP posted prior to the suspension. Not only was MWP able to post such numbers largely in Kobe Bryant’s absence, but he was able to do it without any other discernible play-makers in the rotation.

His detractors would point out the fact that he entered the 2011-12 season closer to 270 lbs. and had to battle nagging injuries throughout the season as a result, not to mention the unfortunate momentum-killing incident with Oklahoma City’s James Harden.

In fairness, I can’t rightfully argue with that, but I will say the frustrations of last season seem to have motivated World Peace to come back with a ‘return-to-form’ mentality. In fact, in his new-found role as the ‘forgotten man,’ it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to hear his name mentioned in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion at year’s end.

A feat, by the way, he’s mentioned wanting to obtain.

With MWP, as is the case with so many of us, health and continuity seem to breed confidence and self-assuredness. This may be why he’s gone on record in stating his desire for the Lakers to set the All-Time winning percentage record with a 73-9 season.

Unlike ESPN’s First Take, I won’t lambaste him for the bold prediction. The man is feeling confident about his team, and I can’t fault anyone that believes in his squad. Plus, let’s be honest, this isn’t the first (nor likely the last) time MWP has said something that elicited a “WOW” from us.

Personally, I highly doubt the Lakers will be focused upon breaking such a record once the season begins. This is a team built for a title run (or two), and with the age of some of the stars (not to mention Howard’s healing back), Coach Brown will likely be inclined to focus on team health and rest heading into the post-season. I couldn’t fault him for taking that approach, as I would much prefer a healthy and rested team attempting to overcome the multiple landmines (OKC, SAS, DEN, LAC) before even considering facing whichever Eastern Conference foe qualifies for the Finals.

While I won’t currently make any predictions about final win totals, I will predict a positive season for MWP. Much like during that stretch in April, I expect to see a far more athletic/explosive MWP. He’ll rarely (if ever) have plays specifically drawn up for him, but I don’t think he’ll be relegated to merely standing in the corner for open three pointers.

The addition of the Princeton offense will help, as well. I look for World Peace to benefit from a few backdoor and baseline cuts per game. Plus, he will be able to crash the pinch-post from the weak-side of the floor with complete impunity. While his shooting percentages were dreadful for the majority of the 2011-12 season, I expect a total turnaround with Steve Nash running the offense, and with Dwight drawing defenders away from the perimeter.

Much like my prediction of Kobe Bryant having his most efficient season since 2002, I think MWP could have his most efficient season in several years. That said, I should also acknowledge that you can’t measure or tally many of the intangibles a healthy MWP can bring to the table. If all shakes out as I believe it will, we could potentially be referring to the Los Angeles Lakers as the ‘Fantastic Five’ rather than just the ‘Big Four’.

This week’s edition of Locker Room Talk discusses who defenses will double-team this season.

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