Every year around the start of training camp, there are countless stories about how great a player looks. Go around the web and you’ll read how player X looks great; how in shape player Y is; how much player Z has improved some facet of their game. This is the time of the year where optimism reigns, even for teams that aren’t expected to be that good. It’s just the way it is.
That said, there’s usually some truth behind these stories and with that comes a sense that things really can be better for a player in the season to come. These guys do work hard and when you’re starting with the talent base of “NBA player” the odds that you can make progress to improve really is there.
Enter Metta World Peace.
Last season, MWP showed up to training camp out of shape. He knew it, the team knew it, and fans knew it. He was carrying excess pounds, suffering from nagging injuries, and physically wasn’t the same guy. It wasn’t until the tail end of the season that he finally started feeling good enough physically that he could execute his normal workout regimen, drop the extra pounds, and return to the physical condition he was used to being at.
What followed was some of the best basketball he’d played the entire season. Unfortunately for him (and James Harden and the Lakers and…this list could get long, I’ll stop now) he lost his head in the heat of the moment, got suspended, and didn’t really recover to that level of play to during the playoffs. Before we knew it, the Lakers’ season was over and Ron had to stew over what had happened and how he could rectify it.
It’s seems he’s done his best. This training camp he’s come back in the best shape he’s been in since he joined the Lakers. He reported to camp nearly 10 pounds lighter than he finished the season and nearly 30(!) pounds lighter than he was at the beginning of last year. He is, by all accounts, looking fantastic and ready to perform.
And perform he must.
You see, Ron’s in the unique position of being both the player opponents probably won’t really worry about and the player they should probably worry about the most. No he’s not part of the fearsome foursome, but his impact can be felt just as much based off the role he’ll be assigned the attention the opposition will pay him.
On a nightly basis, he’ll be asked to cover the other team’s best perimeter player — duties that were passed to him from Kobe the minute he became a Laker. From LeBron to Durant to Pierce to Carmelo to Ginobili to…the list goes on forever. On top of that, he’ll moonlight defending players ranging from Chris Paul to Blake Griffin and be expected to get the key stop the team needs. Dwight Howard may be the team’s most important defensive player, but Ron is a close second. The Lakers will only reach their peak on that end if Ron is at his best.
Offensively, he’ll never be more alone while also being as important. You see, double teaming the Lakers will be nearly impossible when their starters are on the floor. Leaving Nash or Kobe open is a death-wish in today’s NBA. Doing the same to Dwight or Pau only invites smart cuts to the paint where easy baskets and offensive rebounding chances will be pounce on. The only player left is Ron and they’ll leave him without second guessing.
This is where he must make them pay. Is he capable? In recent years he’s proven not up to the task more often than not (with some high profile exceptions, of course).
It will need to be different this season. I think it can be. With less weight still buoyed by incredible strength, he should be able to better cut to and establish positions on the floor where he can be effective. With hours in the gym dedicated solely to shooting jumpers, he can (hopefully) find the rhythm that evaded him last year. Familiarity with the Lakers new offense (remember he played in Rick Adelman’s corner offense with the Kings and the Rockets) and a coach that believes he is a prototypical forward for their scheme gives me more confidence.
It won’t be easy, of course. Ron, like the rest of the players on the team, will need to carve out his niche and find his way on an entirely new roster. And, right now, as many are fond of saying, the expectations for success are paper based; the team will have to go out and do it on the floor when it matters. Ron will need to go out and do it. But he’s in a position where he can be the difference maker on a team that has so many others used to carrying that mantle (and, to opponents, still will). This opens up endless opportunities for the Metta Man, a position he’ll need to capitalize on for the team to reach its goals.
Thanks for this write-up and your work on this site Darius. I have high hopes for Ron this year and I believe that he is as mentally prepared as he is physically. Nevertheless, that may not be enough to contain LBJ & KD at crucial times.
My question for you is whether or not Brown might occasionally have Dwight guard those guys for key possessions this year?
With everyone saying Artest is in the best shape he’s been in since Indiana…I’m thinking this is the first year we get the star player on both ends of the court we were expecting when the Lakers signed Artest a few years ago.
to leave MWP/RA out of the conversation of the “fearsome four” is just dumb. All these writers write him off like he’s a non factor. We have a big 5, i don’t care what annyone says. They use his past as a way of downplaying him. In fact, most of the close games we won by a few points or when it came down to the wire last season- MWP was a game changer with steals and pestering D for perimeter shooters. Do you even watch or do you go by what people are saying. MWP is the factor that has always been our plus side for close games. To not include him in some sort of Big 5 is just plain dumb and not remember that he shot a dagger to seal the deal on for a championship-people need to stop snubbing his place on this team. he’s a starter for a reason. Kupchak/Buss gave him a chance for a reason and we should respect that.
That’s an interesting question LakerKev, has D12 guarded perimeter players on key possessions?
bryan S says
Fantastic write-up, Darius. I love Ron. Truly a warrior.
I’m actually not sure Don. But he is so fast and agile that I think he could. And with Gasol at our disposal to guard other bigs, I can envision DH being a great stopper for bigger perimeter players, on a limited, judicious basis, of course. I would like to know what a more knowledgeable basketball mind than mine thinks about it.
Kenny T says
Moments after MWP electrified the Staples crowd with a soaring dunk against OKC, he may have thrown away the Lakers’ season with his still inexplicable elbow on Harden. There are two sides to Metta…good Metta really solidifies the Lakers. Let’s hope MWP gives the team his best all year long.
Kenny T says
We keep hearing about D12’s ability to erase his teammates’ defensive liabilities with his shot blocking prowess. And we all hope it proves to be true. But, the Lakers need to develop a consistent team defensive personality that doesn’t put Dwight at constant risk of accumulating fouls.
Craig W. says
D12 will be less likely to accumulate fouls this year precisely because Kobe and MWP are on the team. He only has to worry about his space – there is a forward (MWP) out there to take care of in-between and a guard (Kobe) out there to handle the perimeter. This means each position has less to worry about.
It is more about how the three of them communicate and divide up the duties.
Simply put, Metta is the most important player on the roster – if for no other reason than the fact that the drop off from him to his back-up (I’m assuming Ebanks) is much more than any other position on this roster.
Yes, Kobe can play SF, but if our perimeter guys are Kobe, Nash and Meeks, we will have a hard time stopping anyone.
Wait a minute, I forgot about DH12. I take it all back – don’t you love our team this year?? 🙂
I am counting on MWP to have a huge year, I am also counting on the Lakers having a huge defensive year. We need to be the best defensive team in the league and I think we will be. KB needs to return to 1st Team D, DPOY for D12, and 2nd team for MWP. We have the best team. Our entire focus should be to stop KD and LeBronze. It is the key to our title. Which of course – we are “entitled” to : )
John Do says
Open MWP 3’s wil be the difference between a championship or no
I consider it the BIG 5and certainly include Ron. At least 2 and maybe 3 of the 5 have to be on the floor at all times. Still don`t fully trust any of the reserves including Blake,who Brown raves about to reporters.
Edwin Gueco says
An effective MWP or the Artest of the yesteryears would open up the low post. Chances are, he will be the go-to-guy not because he’s the best player on the floor but the player that opposing team would leave open. They will double Nash, switch the double to Kobe, slides down to Howard and maintain a space for MWP. This is where he would make a living in the perimeter or overpower depleted guards in the posts who are concentrated on Dwight and Gasol, here comes now MWP bulldozing his way to the basket.
OK, Lakers got their offensive trap with sure two, question is will MWP fast enough to get back to defense in the back court?
P. Ami says
I am definitely in the camp that thinks Metta will be a huge factor for the good of this team. The biggest thing is always health, but after that, if he can be anywhere near 40% from the 3, we should have 3 guys shooting high quality 3PT. Meanwhile, Metta Dwight and Pau will be getting a ton of rebounds using their various combinations of length, strength and high energy (with Hill thrown in considering his O Rebounding rate). Ultimately, Metta’s D is game-changing. I would only count on Kobe to be solid, not all-NBA as a defender. With Pau’s length, Dwight and Metta’s other-worldliness on D, and a proper system to help the team play to it’s strengths, I agree the Lakers can be the best defense in the league. Nash is a bit underrated as a team defender. I may have read it here, but PHX team D was negatively impacted by Nash’s time on the bench to something like 3 pts PER. Winning is about team D, and Nash can play that. None of this speaks to how the offense seems poised to be much more effective then in the past and how many fouls they will be drawing. Teams that are in the penalty tend to need to go deeper into their bench and playing D against 2nd and 3rd string players is lots easier then playing it against the starters.
Can’t wait to see tonight’s game (hope to find a bar that had TW) and from there out, I can’t wait to see how this team gels with Dwight manning the middle. He and Metta are going to be a unique blend of defensive disruption.