Meeks’ productivity as starter made him even more attractive to Pistons
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Even if Kobe Bryant’s recovery from Achilles tendon surgery hadn’t opened the door to a broader role for Jodie Meeks, the Pistons likely would have targeted the five-year veteran shooting guard. He was one of the elite shooters to hit free agency, and shooting, after all, topped Stan Van Gundy’s off-season to-do list.
But when greater playing time didn’t lead to any dips in productivity, Meeks became even more attractive to the Pistons. Meeks saw his minutes jump by more than 50 percent, but his scoring, steals and free-throw attempts all increased even when measured by per minute production.
“The path you always want to be careful of, as roles increase and minutes increase and expectations increase, that a player can keep pace with those increased expectations,” Pistons general manager Jeff Bower told me recently. “That’s really a test of a young player to develop from one level to the next. That was good to watch his progress in that regard. We had a good comfort level with that and we also had a comfort level that he has the competitive drive and the competitive instincts that he would bring to our team at that position.”
Van Gundy said the Pistons targeted about nine or 10 players after reviewing the crop of available free agents. Barely a week after free agency opened, they had reported agreements in place with five players. Meeks led the wave.
“Stan had discussions with his agent right at the beginning when we were permitted to and let him know our thoughts and plans and explained our roster and the role we had available and that we were looking at Jodie to fill,” Bower said. “That was a real important part of it. The second thing was to hear what Jodie’s expectations were and what he was looking for, because it’s real important to understand. Expectations have to fit from both sides. It’s very important to be candid and clear about what it is you’re looking for and what you expect the player to provide. When everyone’s expectations meet, it’s so much easier to move ahead quickly. That’s when you really have the right fit.”
Meeks’ calling card is his perimeter shooting, the skill that got him drafted 41st by Milwaukee after a junior season at Kentucky in which he averaged nearly 24 points a game. But he’s proven he’s more than a specialist while graduating to NBA starter for three of the past four seasons, coming off the bench primarily in 2012-13 after signing a two-year deal as a free agent with the Lakers.
The Pistons think they’re getting Meeks at the right point of his career, too, as he’ll turn 27 in August. Meeks averaged 15.7 points in 33 minutes a game last season while shooting 40 percent from the 3-point line, taking 5.2 shots a game from the arc.
“The league is all about having a strength, but players like Jodie take a lot of pride in developing other parts of their game. That’s something that’s driven his progress,” Bower said. “He’s worked hard to become an adequate defender. He has an awareness of how important that is to a team’s success and obviously we value that, as well. The ability to make plays and put other people in position to be successful is something his unselfish nature just lends itself to. And, lastly, no dominant inside attack can be as potent without the play in the backcourt, either through spacing the floor or creating an inside-out threat. All of those things aren’t lost on Jodie and he has impact in all of those areas.”
Meeks’ experience as both a starter and coming off the bench will give Van Gundy flexibility in crafting his lineup. Meeks and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who starred in Summer League while averaging 24 points and seven rebounds a game, give the Pistons a fresh look and a diversity of skills at shooting guard. And there will be few worries about Meeks’ willingness to accept whatever role Van Gundy determines will be best for the Pistons.
“The thought process about him throughout the league is high class, high character, wonderful person,” Bower said. “A giver. Someone who is concerned about being a good teammate. Those are all worlds and phrases that don’t get tossed around lightly in basketball circles. You find those qualities on successful teams. The more we got to know who he was and what people had to say about him in background research, the more comfortable and the more we came to the conclusion that he was the type of guy we really wanted to add to our team and it could really help our team move forward.”
Later this week, I’ll have Bower’s thoughts on the two other announced free-agent additions, Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin.