For weeks we’ve been discussing the Lakers’ need to find a capable wing player, especially one that could back up Kobe Bryant. There were several capable options on the market but the Lakers were clearly looking for the right fit both in terms of skill set and price. It looks like they’ve found their man in former 76er, Jodie Meeks. Via Dave McMenamin’s report, it’s a two year contract worth $3 million with the second year a team option.
In Meeks, the Lakers have grabbed a player that crosses off several boxes on the wants side of the ledger. First off, he’s young. Meeks just completed his 3rd year in the league and is only 24 years old. Second, he’s relatively inexpensive. After reports that Meeks wouldn’t sign for the minimum, the Lakers dipped into their mini mid-level exception to give him a slightly larger starting salary, but they’ll pay him around what they pay Antawn Jamison next season, so he represents value for someone they clearly see as a rotation player. The fact that the second year of his contract is a team option gives the Lakers flexibility moving forward to decide to move in a different direction should they deem it necessary. Third, Meeks has been a starter and a bench player in his career so he should have few issues adjusting to a bench role backing up Kobe.
From a skills standpoint, Meeks is the exact type of player they’ve sought. He’s known as a shooter and is someone that does his best work off the ball. Via My Synergy Sports, Meeks shot 37.9% on 3 pointers in spot up situations and 37.5% on 3′s coming off screens. Whatever offense the Lakers plan to employ next year, Meeks is a guy that can work off the talent that surrounds him and knock down open shots afforded to him when the defense reacts to his teammates. Playing on the strong or weak side, spotting up or running off picks, Meeks’ ability to catch, shoot, and hit shots will be a valuable asset to a Laker team that possesses so many players that draw defensive attention.
Where there may be some concerns is when digging deeper into his shot chart. Meeks only shot 25.9% on corner 3′s but did hit 39.3% of his 3′s from the above the break in the arc. If these trends continue into next year, the Lakers may find issues with sending him to the corner to simply camp out and provide a threat that will space the floor. That said, if Mike Brown and his coaches can find ways to use him higher on the floor – something that an offense utilizing a two guard front (like the Princeton Offense) would allow more of – Meeks’ ability to hit those shots with consistency would be a big weapon. Time will tell how Meeks is used and on what spots of the floor he’s most successful, but this will be something to monitor.
Defensively, there are also some positives to bringing in Meeks. He has decent size (6’4″), has played for coaches that preach defense first (most recently Doug Collins and before him Scott Skiles), and will give good effort on that side of the floor. Numbers wise, when he played shooting guard he held his man to a PER of 8.5 this past season and the Sixers were a bit better defensively when he was on the floor versus when he was on the bench. Via Synergy, Meeks also posted very good numbers guarding ball handlers in the P&R and when guarding his man coming off screens or receiving hand-offs. His numbers in isolation and in guarding spot up shooters were only average, but with better help defenders in Los Angeles (hello Dwight Howard) the hope is that his numbers in these areas will improve next year.
Of course, not everything is roses with this signing as Meeks does have his limitations and does come with some question marks. He’s not a guy that will create his own shot. He’s got relatively good size but offers little positional versatility and will likely only play shooting guard. In the playoffs, his minutes dwindled and his role was reduced in favor of players that offered more well rounded games. And, though he’s a “shooter” his overall FG% is not eye popping.
But even with those caveats, the Lakers did well here in finding a good role player at a moderate price who can help the team. Meeks isn’t a difference maker as an individual talent, but he’s certainly a quality player within the team structure that the Lakers offer. His offensive skill set and ability to relieve Kobe of playing heavy minutes make his signing worth what the Lakers paid. When you add in the fact that he’s a capable defender, is coachable, and has never seemed to chafe when his role shifted, the Lakers got a very good player to compliment their roster. Considering they’ve already added Nash, Howard, Jamison, and brought back Jordan Hill, this signing caps off a nice off-season for the Lakers. This team is now built to seriously contend and Meeks aids in that pursuit. From that perspective, I’m very happy he was added.
*Statistical support for this post from NBA.com