Metta World Peace is having his best season as a Laker, plain and simple. After two seasons of not playing near expectations and only showing brief glimpses of true skill, World Peace spent the off-season getting into shape, losing weight and improving his shooting form. He entered training camp appearing 10 years younger, healthy and with a new, dedicated focus and attitude.
Thus far in the season, World Peace has played like vintage Ron Artest. His hustle, energy and drive on the court was one of the very few consistencies for the Lakers during their pre-Nash return struggles. It has been World Peace’s offensive and defensive plays that often times sparked a comeback or allowed them to remain in the game. It’s truly amazing what a difference a year can make.
World Peace remarked how his commitment to his improved play has affected how he plays and how others play him:
“Usually (when opponents) put guys on me, they’re able to take a break,” World Peace said. “I’m just not used to guys trying to take a break on me. Over my career, they always put the best defender on me. Now, lately guys have been trying to put the worst defender on me and take a break, but no, I got to make these guys work and actually give them work. Not even make them work, just give them work.”
World Peace has shown fresher legs, which has a lot to do with his commitment to getting healthy and in shape, that have affected his ability to knock down shots by creating space or by quickly aligning his body with the basket on catch-and-shoot plays. Additionally, another positive affect to his conditioning is his ability to get to the rim, which was essentially non-existent last season. He is willing to drive the ball and take contact in order to get a higher percentage shot.
After Kobe Bryant relayed to the media that it was up to him, Pau Gasol and World Peace to lead the team through their time of real struggles a couple weeks ago, he had the following to say of MWP:
“Metta has been a lot, lot more vocal,” Bryant said. “A lot more vocal in helping me with the leadership and making sure guys have that intensity and attention to detail and the toughness. He’s been extremely, extremely vocal.”
It would be very hard to argue against Bryant’s point here. This especially holds true when you consider that Metta has transitioned from a starter to a bench leader. In most circumstances, this would signify a demotion, but that is not the case here. Under Mike D’Antoni’s system, World Peace is more than D’Antoni could want for a forward. D’Antoni doesn’t pay much attention to position titles or status designations as he does to roles types and player profiles.
In that sense, Metta offers a huge plus to D’Antoni because he certainly can excel as a three with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol on the floor as the same time (especially to close games) and he can also excel being used at the four position to stretch the floor and play smaller ball. The decision to use MWP off the bench was a way to maximize his value, while actually increasing his minutes on the floor with different rotations.
Since coming off the bench, MWP has posted 16.8 points, 6.3 rebounds on 41.8 percent shooting in 36.5 minutes per game. where they Lakers have gone 3-1. His defensive effort has been once again a source of comfort for fans to depend on. In fact, his defense on MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony on Christmas was stellar, as he did as much as anyone could do against Anthony. While his defense has improved in stability, the balance that he is offering on both ends of the court are proving to be essential for the Lakers’ ability to have success.
New teammate Steve Nash added:
“I want to say it’s inspired, but this is what he’s been doing the whole year,” Nash said. “He pounds on the best player on the other team. He gets his hands on a lot of balls. Rebounds. Scores. Makes threes. I mean, he’s playing phenomenal, he’s a great teammate and he’s a huge part of why we’re able to win.”
Metta World Peace coming off the bench had added another threat to the Lakers while making the Lakers deeper without adding anyone new to the mix. However, it will be important to use Metta’s strength as a defender against players like Kevin Durant and LeBron James as a starter. However, I have a feeling that lesson was learned by D’Antoni against the Knicks.
With all the drama that has surrounded and affected the Lakers so far this season, it has been a welcomed and long-awaited experience to watch Metta World Peace perform as he has. Metta is reminding us that we cannot disregard or forget about his impact, regardless of the media attention over Howard and Nash. His role on the Lakers is just as crucial, as it will take the entire team’s effort to achieve success.