Metta World Peace has been somewhat of a joke in the league for a little while now, and everything from his ironic and ridiculous name to the laughably bad contract he’s signed to has drawn glee from the masses.
As everyone has taken turns ridiculing the Lakers for failing to reach their lofty expectations before the season, Metta has been almost instinctively consigned to the large group of disappointments and failures on LA’s roster.
The problem is the usual dismissal of his poor play has been unwarranted this season, which, in fact, has been one of his better seasons since coming to LA. However, World Peace’s season may be cut short, as he is expected to miss up to six weeks to undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Unfortunately it will mostly likely take this injury, and the probable struggles the Lakers will suffer in his absence, for most people to appreciate the depth of his impact.
Since his initial arrival in LA, the now posthumous player named Ron Artest was merely asked to be the anchor of an aging perimeter defense and to hit threes. In his first two years as a Laker he did just that, albeit the defense not being as stingy as it was before he hit thirty.
The contract was still a little excessive at the time, but the real Metta World “Amnesty” jokes began with his third season, and were evoked through a simple change in name and play that fell off a cliff. Not only did he struggle to hit even the most wide open threes, his defense was a shadow of its former self and helped crater a team with higher expectations than an almost route in the second round.
This year was a bounce back for Metta, even though it was hard to see through the plethora of other storylines that the team continues to churn out to this day. World Peace was a solid starter for a team struggling to find consistency and had played every almost every game (sat one game out due to a suspension) up until this injury.
In his 34.6 minutes of playing time he was averaging 12.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals. Even more importantly, he was back to being a passable three-point shooter, taking 5.6 a game and hitting them at an acceptable mark of 34.7 percent. These numbers are hardly the stuff of a star. But for a team that struggles night in and night out, against even the dregs of the league, missing Metta’s 8.2% rebounding rate, or a quality three point shooter for a team that takes the 4th most threes in the league, still hurts.
In fact, when Metta is on the court the Lakers outscore their opponents 4.7 points per 100 possessions per NBA.com, which leads the team. When he sits the Lakers plummet down to being outscored 4.8 points per 100 possessions. That 4.7 net rating when he is on the court would tie LA with the New York Knicks for 7th best in the league, and when he is benched the -4.8 would put them just below the New Orleans Hornets for 27th best in the league. Much of this deferential has to do with the Lakers maligned defense, as they become respectable (just outside the top ten) on that end when Metta plays and horrific (tied for third worst) when he doesn’t.
This is not to say that he is the single biggest determining factor in the Lakers’ success, context is needed and a lot of those positive net ratings, at least offensively, have to do with him being part of usually solid lineups. But the defensive impact is real and despite his age and the loss of a couple steps he remains LA’s lone above average perimeter defender.
Per 82games.com, World Peace has held the PER of opposing small forwards to the average mark of 15.3, and when asked to take on the opposing power forward, kept them at the below average mark of 14.3. The Lakers are now forced to throw either the undersized Jodie Meeks, the perpetually horrific defender in Antawn Jamison, or the work-in-progress Earl Clark at all opposing wings and smaller bigs. With the Lakers holding onto that eight seed for dear life and a three game slate of Dallas, Memphis, and the Clippers on the horizon, the LA Lakers might end up appreciating Metta World Peace’s essential value in the worst possible way.