Although the Lakers have struggled this season, there have been a few bright spots. Ryan Kelly was drafted late in the 2nd round, currently leads all rookies in 3-point shooting percentage, and has certainly shown promise for the future. Xavier Henry and Jordan Farmar have shown flashes of brilliance when healthy. Robert Sacre has grown into a very serviceable backup big man, especially considering his price. And then there’s been Jodie Meeks.
Let’s rewind back one year. Meeks was not favored by Lakers fans at all. When signed, he was touted as a scrappy defender and three point marksman. What the Lakers actually got was an average defender, an average three point shooter, a sub-40% shooter from the field, a terrible transition finisher, and a guy whose scoring had dropped two straight seasons. Fans destroyed Meeks and some of the criticism was certainly valid.
Back in the present day, Meeks is arguably the MVP for the Lakers this season and I believe should be a serious candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. Let me make the case:
2012-13 Meeks: 21.3 minutes per game, 38.7 FG%, 35.7 3PT%, 2.2 rebounds, .9 assists, .7 steals, and 7.9 points per game.
2013-14 Meeks: 33.1 minutes per game, 46.1% FG%, 39.6 3PT%, 2.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.4 steals, and 15.6 points per game.
Take a look at his short charts (via Vorped.com) from last season and this one:
Although there are many improvements this season, none is greater than his ability to finish at the rim. Last year, Jodie’s combined shooting percentage at the rim was only 47.9%, which isn’t a good mark at all considering you’re at the rim. This season he has improved that mark to 62.4% on over double the attempts! Not only has he improved his efficiency, but he has done so with substantially more shot attempts – a very difficult accomplishment.
Currently, players like Goran Dragic and Gerald Green of the Suns, DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers, Lance Stephenson of the Pacers, and Anthony Davis of the Pelicans have all received some sort of media attention regarding their campaigns for the award. Due to the Lakers lack of team success Meeks has been left in the dust, despite his improvement being as dramatic as some of the others I just listed. The good news for the Lakers? The less media attention Meeks receives nationally, the less money he will end up costing the Lakers if they choose to retain him.
In my opinion, Meeks will end up as a top-5 candidate for this award. While he certainly has a solid argument to win the award, it probably isn’t in the cards for him this year. Despite his massive improvement, he has been left in the dust regarding national attention. The only NBA writer (non-Lakers) who has acknowledged how much better he has been was Zach Lowe of Grantland who sent out a tweet a few hours ago mentioning him as a sneaky candidate for the award. Even if he doesn’t win the award, Lakers fans certainly appreciate everything he has done for the team during this difficult season. He is definitely the most improved Laker and hopefully the front office will reward him for his hard work.