[caption id="attachment_304671" align="aligncenter" width="670"] (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jodie Meeks isn't the first shooting guard you think of when you hear about the Los Angeles Lakers, and he probably isn't the 15th, either.
The Lakers franchise has thrived throughout the NBA's history; 16 world championships and a roster of all-time greats that goes deeper than anyone else will forever overshadow the already forgotten years of the mid-2010s. Questionable roster management and untimely injuries brought down a hammer of mediocrity on the legendary organization. A stretch running from 2013-2017 was, by all accounts, the worst basketball to ever be played in the purple and gold; four of the Lakers' five worst seasons by winning percentage since 1948 all came during this short period. They won a combined 91 games during those four seasons.
But tucked away in the footnotes of those forgotten years was a brilliant display of basketball from one of Kentucky's very own; When you consider the circumstances, Jodie Meeks' performance as a member of the Lakers during the 2013-14 season is one of the most impressive by any former Wildcat over the last 10 years.
Let's preface the situation first. The Lakers were coming off three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals spanning the 2007-2010 seasons. The Kobe Bryant (Rest in Peace)/Pau Gasol combination--along with the addition of Andrew Bynum--continued to hold its own in the immediate years that followed, however, they have yet to make another trip to the Finals since then.
Enter the "Now This is Going to be Fun" tag-team of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, two multiple time all-stars and surefire Hall of Famers with the former still stuck in his class-clown stage and the latter turning 38 years old. Even with Bryant and Gasol in the fold to make up the oddly assembled foursome, misfortune quickly befell the team; Nash never stayed healthy, Howard didn't last more than one season, and the miles on Bryant's body began to wear on him.
Entering the 2013-14 season, Meeks was just 26-year olds, still new to the league, and trying to find a stable home in the NBA. Two moderately successful seasons to begin his career with the Philadelphia 76ers helped land him a tiny deal out West that would eventually prove to be a steal. In the season prior, 2012-13, Meeks saw a decent chunk of court time for L.A., averaging over 21 minutes per game as the full-time backup to Bryant. Meeks was a decent rotational piece, but not a player fans could rely on as a go-to scorer.
Then the stars aligned, due to mostly unfortunate circumstances. Bryant, who was recovering from a serious Achilles injury, played in only six games that season before breaking a bone in his knee. Nash was only available for 15 total games due to various injuries in what ended up as his final season before retirement. Howard was already gone and teaming up in Houston with James Harden. That left a 33-year old Gasol with the impossible task of replacing the lost production. Someone had to step in with the season seemingly lost before November.
Meeks assumed control. In what was just his fifth NBA season, the sharpshooter from Atlanta played at a level no one outside of a small group of people in Lexington believed was attainable. Meeks posted still career-high averages in points (15.7 per game), rebounds, (2.5), assists (1.8), steals (1.4), field goal percentage (46.3 percent), and games started (70). He shot over 40 percent from 3 on a career-high 5.2 attempts per game and was the team's top free-throw shooter at 85.7 percent. While Meeks didn't begin the season as a full-time starter, it only took him nine outings to officially earn that role.
During this odd-ball season, one that saw the Lakers win just 27 games, there were none of the usual expectations that surrounded the Lake Show. With the stars injured and aging along with a lack of clear direction from the front office, Meeks was allowed to play loose and free, a perfect match in head coach Mike D'Antoni's offensive system. Once he gained control as the starting shooting guard, the explosive, point-scoring savant that the Big Blue Nation was lucky enough to witness for three seasons in Lexington, was put on display across the entire country.
Meeks wasn't just spotting up in the corner and scoring when the ball came his way, he was expected to initiate on every other possession. Gasol and Nick Young were the primary scorers, but Meeks was more than involved in D'Antoni's schemes. He dropped a career-high 42 points on the Oklahoma City Thunder (against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook) late in the season, added a 30-point outing a month after that, and posted one of his best all-around games with 24 points, four rebounds, six assists, and four steals in a January matchup with the Dallas Mavericks. Meeks drilled at least five 3-pointers on six different occasions, as well.
The Lakers weren't winning many games, but Meeks was playing like his career depended on it. In some respects, he was. Following a brief five-game absence due to a sprained right ankle, Meeks actually came back even stronger than before. The final 29 games of his 2013-14 season saw him average 17.9 points per game while shooting over 48 percent from the floor.
It wasn't just shooting the ball that allowed Meeks to make an impact. He was a tad
undersized at 6-foot-4 but he made up for it with his speed. He could take the ball to the rim if presented a lane and excelled at stepping in for open shots after a convincing pump fake. Meeks could even spring up for tenacious dunks; it helped that he was adept at cutting behind defenders who were caught following him unattentively.
But when basketball historians look back on the history of the NBA and the Lakers run throughout it, Meeks' name isn't likely to pop up. The 2013-17 stretch for the superior team in Los Angeles has already been forgotten if not by force. Bryant ended his career with a magical 60-point game in his final outing. Anthony Davis and LeBron James are currently introducing the next era of Lakers' greatness.
Meeks managed to parlay his excellent season with the Lakers into a three-year deal with the Detroit Pistons worth almost $20 million. Although he was never truly offered the same opportunity he had in Los Angeles during his future stops in Detroit, Orlando, Milwaukee, and Washington, Meeks should be remembered for providing a glimmer of hope and entertainment to the Lakers fanbases during its most depressing time.
Right now, his future in the NBA is uncertain - as is the entire league's. Meeks hasn't played an NBA game since he was a member of the Toronto Raptors team that won the Finals in 2019. He's 32 years old now and won't be able to sign with another team until next season, plus he's now the new father of a set of twins. Hopefully he can will his way into another shot at making an impact in the league, but he'll always have his season in 2013-14. Meeks even went on to earn his degree from UK roughly one month after that season finished.
Not a bad year for the Kentucky Basketball great.