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Most Improved Laker: Jodie Meeks

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Jodie Meeks made incredible strides in the 2013-14 season and cemented his value as an NBA role player. Heading into the offseason, the real question is: can the Lakers afford to keep him around?

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When Jodie Meeks signed with the Lakers before the 2012-13 season, most Lakers fans had no idea what to expect. After toiling away in relative obscurity for the Bucks and 76ers for four seasons, Meeks was someone only the most die-hard League Pass observer had watched for extended minutes. The one sentence tag line on him was three-point shooter who went to Kentucky. It even took me a few games to stop confusing Meeks and his shaved head for Kobe when watching games on TV.

Since then, Meeks has worked his way into the heart of many Lakers fans. Although he’s a great fit for the MDA-style offense, it would be a mistake to attribute Meeks’ success to being in the right offensive system. Meeks worked hard to make the leap he did this season, reportedly putting up 500-700 shots a day, practicing a variety of moves, including dribble drives, jumpers, and the pick and roll game. He also worked hard on finishing at the basket, raising his FG% from 46% to an impressive 59%.

While much of the talk of Meeks as a candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player died off early into the season, there’s no doubt that he was the most improved Laker this season. By any measure, he had his best season ever, setting career highs in every statistical category across the board. He nearly doubled his attempts (going from 6.8 to 11.6) while also raising his efficiency. Meeks had a True Shooting % of over 60% for the year and shot over 40% from three. The advance metrics agree, with his PER of 14.75 easily a career high.

Meeks was a pleasure to watch this season, role modeling the unselfish, scrappy ethos of the Lakers’ underdog roster. He worked hard and scrambled on defense, sprinted down court to help set up easy transition baskets, and got his shots off within the flow of the offense. Meeks even provided a few of the nicer highlights of the generally dismal season, including his 42 point explosion in a close victory over OKC in March.

After his 2013-14 campaign, Meeks has solidified himself as an important NBA role player and earned himself quite a raise from the $1.5M the Lakers have paid him annually. As a free agent this summer, there is no doubt that the Lakers would love to bring Meeks back, but the real question is whether or not the Purple and Gold can afford him. In the shadow of Kobe’s extension, there’s a lot of free agent pieces that need to fall into place before a Meeks deal. Kupchak has the task of determining which players to resign in the midst of rebuilding the franchise for the next era. Will Gasol be back, and for how much? Will the Lakers sign a major free agent elsewhere?

Despite his admirable play this year and obvious development, a big annual raise for Meeks will likely be too expensive for the Lakers to afford. In the new CBA, there is so much uncertainty going into each summer that I could easily see Meeks securing a $4-6M average salary or encountering a tepid free agent market that would allow the Lakers to retain him for a reasonable price.

It would be great to have Meeks back again as a reliable back-up to Kobe who can also fill in as a starter. However, the Lakers financial situation will get tight quickly and I’m betting that he’ll be on another roster come October. Jodie, thanks for your hard work and thanks for this: