Coming into the season, I’m not sure anyone had high expectations for Metta World Peace. After a very good first campaign with the Lakers in 2010, Ron saw his production and efficiency decline the past two seasons. Last year, in particular, was as poor a campaign he’d had in some time as nagging injuries kept him from being in peak physical condition and then a late season suspension erased his progress once he did work his way into shape.
This year, however, we’ve seen a brand new Ron. He’s in the best shape of his 4 seasons in Los Angeles, spent the summer working on his outside shot, and has shown a renewed confidence in every aspect of his game. Plus, since the Lakers scrapped the Princeton Offense and moved to a more wide open style, Ron is thriving offensively and putting up his best numbers since he was a featured player in Houston and Sacramento.
Consider the following:
- His 14.0 points per game are his highest since the 2009 season.
- His 43.6% shooting from the field is his highest since the 2008 season.
- His 39.1% shooting from behind the arc is his highest since the 2009 season.
- His 80% FT shooting is the 2nd highest mark of his career and best since he played for the Pacers.
And while those are his season long numbers, recently he’s been playing even better. In the last 5 games (or, the games since Mike D’Antoni has been actively coaching — either on the bench or running practices), Ron is shooting even better from all spots on the floor, scoring at a higher clip (16 ppg), rebounding better, drawing more fouls, and committing fewer turnovers.
The beauty of Mike D’Antoni’s system is that it allows wing players to face off against defenders in space. Most of the time when a wing catches the ball, he’s working from the weak side of the floor where there’s only one other offensive player to take up space. From this alignment, Ron is able to shoot his jumper in rhythm or use his improved first step and his (still amazing) brute strength to power by his man and get shots to the rim.
Looking at Ron’s shot chart, you see this very clearly. Long two pointers and mid-range jumpers have nearly been abandoned for shots in (or near) the paint or three pointers. Because he’s knocking down the long ball at a higher percentage, it’s leading to defenses guarding him more closely which opens up his drives to the rim.
It would be far fetched to think Ron will shoot this well for the rest of the year. But he doesn’t have to shoot 50% from behind the arc (like he has the last 5 games) to be a very effective player in this system. The fact is, just by hitting at the rate he has this season, he’s a legitimate threat that defenses must respect. And with his improved physical condition, he’s now able to put the ball on the floor to get by his man in both the half and open court to create good shots at the rim.
No one is saying Ron is perfect right now. He still has some gunner in him, doesn’t always take shots in rhythm, and will (at times) turn down post entry passes to look for his own shot. But, these negative parts of his game are less frequent this season than at any other part of his Laker career and his production is, at least recently, making up for these less desirable parts of his game.
Coming into the year, Ron was thought to be the weak link amongst the Lakers’ starters but he’s proving — especially recently — that to be a false assumption. Mike D’Antoni’s offense has set him up for success and he’s making the most of his chances. Once the Lakers’ bigs start to play up to their standards consistently and Nash returns, this team has the chance to be as scary — at least on offense — as we all thought they could be.
*Statistical support for this post from NBA.com