There is something to be said for having an idol. In a way, it is just as necessary as having a dream. Perhaps more so. Ask Jodie Meeks. Ask him after he is dripping in sweat because for two hours he has been making jumpers in an empty Staples Center arena. Ask Jodie if having an idol made it that much easier to go after what he desired. It is symmetry how it all works. You study someone and then you believe you can become that someone. Jodie Meeks immersed himself in the grace of Ray Allen’s angles and lines as he came off of screens. He studied how he stopped on a dime and shot a three. Jodie watched Ray catch and shoot in the corner. Jodie watched him pull up behind the three point line. And so Jodie, the rookie, who had absorbed the habits of Ray Allen for years put it to the ultimate test. Jodie did what his idol did. He arrived to the arena before anyone else, when it was quiet. He absorbed the habit of Ray by putting up shots, hundreds of them with no one watching. Jodie began training his body and training his mind as he absorbed Ray Allen’s habit of breaking down everything into the sum of its parts. That was the purpose of the routine. You do it every day. You do it even if it does not work. You do it because it will make you better. Or it will make your shot feel automatic. His second NBA coach on his second NBA team, Doug Collins, said of Jodie, “If he can keep emulating Ray Allen then I’m going to be the happiest man in the world.”
It was not that long ago that Jodie decided to enter the NBA draft. He was at Kentucky for three years. He was named to the SEC All-Freshman team. He didn’t play much his sophomore year because he was injured. His junior year all of his hard work paid off. In the season opener he scored 39 points. It was against Virginia Military Institute but it was a turning point illustrating what Jodie was capable of. He scored 37 points against Kansas State. Against Appalachian State he scored 46 points, he had 9 threes. He had 32 points against Tennessee State. Against Tennessee he scored 54 points and broke a record for a Kentucky player: he made 10 threes. He made the game winning shot against Florida and he had 45 points against Arkansas. He had 117 three pointers that season, a Kentucky record. He was a unanimous selection as first team All-SEC. This was his resume coming into the draft. He was a scorer. A deadly shooter who when hot could score in bunches and demoralize a team.
But he was an average athlete without much explosiveness and finishing ability at the rim and he was only six-four. The league is filled with six-six and six-seven shooting guards who could rise up and shoot over Jodie or just drive by him. At best he would fit in as a back up. His lack of speed would prevent him from being a starter and he was drafted 41st. But now we know. He should have gone higher in the draft. Wayne Ellington and Jermaine Taylor were shooting guards selected before Jodie. Wayne Ellington is averaging 4 points this year. For his career he averages 6 points on 41% shooting. Jermaine Taylor is no longer in the NBA. Toney Douglass and Sergio Llull were combo guards selected before Jodie. Toney Douglass is averaging 2 points this year. For his career he averages 8 points on 41% shooting. Sergio has never played in the NBA. Christian Eyenga and Derrick Brown were small forwards selected before Jodie. Christian hasn’t played a NBA game in two years. Derrick is playing in Russia. This year Jodie is averaging 15 points on 45% shooting. For his career he averages 9 points on 41% shooting.
In the middle of his rookie year Jodie was traded to Philadelphia. His first full year there he began to develop into a catch and shoot perimeter player. He started 64 games. He shot 40% from three. He had 17 points against the Thunder where he shot 80% from three. He had 21 points against the Heat and shot 61%. He had 24 points against the Bulls and shot 73%. He made the playoffs that year and played over twenty minutes. In three of the five games against the Miami Heat he shot over 50%.
His first year with the Lakers he struggled. He had 26 games in which he scored five points or less. He had a game against the Pacers in which he played 21 minutes and was 0-7 and scoreless. In a game that depended on playoff seeding, on the last day of the season, against Houston, he was 2-10. The game before that, against Sacramento, he was 3-11. His worst game of the season was against Denver and he was 2-11. Shooters have bad games, that is part of the calculus. But Jodie could never seem to find a rhythm last year which was peculiar given the reality of having Dwight Howard on the team. Dwight opened up space for shooters. In spite of the fact that Dwight was his best friend on the team Jodie never seemed entirely comfortable.
Over the summer Jodie added more to his game. He added a floater. He worked on putting the ball on the floor and getting past the defender at the baseline. He worked on cutting to the basket and finishing with an arcing shot at the rim. It all paid off when the Lakers played Oklahoma City and Jodie had 42 points. Some of his points were catch and shoot. Some were driving to the rim. Some were step back threes. This was no secret suddenly revealed on ABC. Only outsiders were surprised. Jodie has been the Lakers most consistent offensive player. He is shooting 46%. He is shooting 40% from three. He has 29 games in which he has shot over 50%. 2 games in which he shot 70% or better. And one perfect game against Sacramento when he did not miss, he was 8-8. There are only nine games he did not score in double figures. What a difference a year makes. Last year there were fifty two games Jodie Meeks did not score in double figures.
Jodie is an offensive player but has been the Lakers most consistent defender if you are judging by desire, commitment and will. He simply plays harder on defense than the rest of his teammates. Effort counts for Jodie. He isn’t the most athletic. A lot of players can rise up and shoot over him but he consistently tries. His best defensive effort was in Portland, against Damien Lillard. On a possession to win the game Jodie blanketed Lillard so he was forced into taking a terrible shot which turned out to be an air ball, preserving the Lakers victory.
Jodie makes $1.5 million and will be in for a nice payday because every team can use a shooter. Every team can use a player who comes in three hours before game time to work on his shot. Every team can use a player who does not complain and who works hard because he understands that is what he is being paid to do, give effort. Every team can use a hard nose competitor, someone who fights when he is out on the court. Every team can use a great teammate, a friend who can get along with warring superstars. He is as close to Dwight Howard as he is to Kobe Bryant. When the Lakers were beaten by the Clippers by 48 points Jodie was the only Lakers player who said he was embarrassed.
At 43%, Jodie Meeks is the 7th best catch and shoot guard in the NBA. His catch and shoot 3 point field goal percentage is nearly identical to that of Klay Thompson. When this year started Jodie quietly acknowledged that in every game the Lakers would be an underdog and what he meant indirectly was he was an underdog. He was the 41st pick in the draft, a Georgia kid who could shoot but who had always been overlooked. And yet this year has been a revelation. The past does influence the present. It does. Jodie mimicked what he did this summer. He went back to Kentucky to takes classes in order to finish his degree. He worked on his game. And so there it is. The alpha and omega of Jodie Meeks. He took steps to complete his education in Lexington. He took steps to complete his education in Los Angeles. In a few months he will reap his rewards. The Lakers will do one of two things in the aftermath. Say goodbye to Jodie Meeks. Or perhaps they will say hello. Again.