Over the offseason, the Washington Wizards added a number of veterans in an effort to improve the team’s depth around their talented starting lineup of John Wall, Brad Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat. Washington signed Jodie Meeks, Mike Scott and Tim Frazier among others.
Through 23 games, the Wizards sit just one game above .500. Wall has been sidelined with discomfort and inflammation in his left knee and Morris missed several games as he recovered from sports hernia surgery (while also experiencing some issues with his knee). This has forced the Wizards to start players like Frazier and Kelly Oubre Jr., which weakened their second unit. However, Washington is hoping to turn the corner and once again finish as a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference.
Meeks is currently averaging 7.8 points off of the Wizards’ bench and he recently had his best two-game stretch of the season in a back-to-back. Last week, he dropped 21 points against the Philadelphia 76ers (on 5-11 shooting from the field and 3-6 shooting from three-point range) and 12 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves (on 4-6 shooting from three).
In recent years, the 30-year-old shooting guard was sidelined for extended periods due to injuries to his right foot and right thumb, but he has stayed healthy this year. While his shooting percentages have dipped, he has shot 37.4 percent from three throughout the course of his NBA career and has finished above 40 percent from long range in three of the past four seasons. He remains a threat to get hot from beyond the arc on any given night and his percentages should creep back up as the season progresses.
HoopsHype recently caught up with Meeks to discuss why he signed with the Wizards over the summer, how he managed to put his injuries behind him, his long-time friendship with Wall (whom he hosted during the point guard’s recruiting visit to Kentucky), what it’s like playing with such a talented backcourt and much more.
What was your focus during offseason workouts as you entered this season with the Wizards?
Jodie Meeks: For me, personally, I took the summer to just kind of step back a bit and get a little bit more rest because the past few seasons have been frustrating for me due to injuries. I did work out hard and focused on things like my core stability and flexibility. I wanted to get stronger in my core, so that way I can try to prevent some injuries. Now, you obviously can’t prevent all types of injuries, but this should help me maintain my strength throughout the season.
I know the last few seasons have been difficult for you because of the injuries. You played just three games for the Detroit Pistons in 2015-16 and just 32 games for the Orlando Magic last year. How frustrating was it to be sidelined for such a significant amount of time?
JM: It was very frustrating. I wasn’t able to play the game that I love. And prior to me getting to Detroit, I had never really been injured during my career, so it was hard. But that’s why it’s important to have good people around you; they help keep you sane and make sure you stay positive. The biggest thing for me was that I felt it made me a better person. I try to appreciate the small things more, like just being out there playing now. I appreciate it all so much more. Even if I have a bad game or an off shooting night, I’m excited to be out there on the court. I don’t take it for granted… This season, I have a lot to prove. I have a lot to prove on the court, and I just want to show people I’m healthy and not injury prone.
You shot over 40 percent from three-point range in three of the last four seasons. With the three-point shot and spacing becoming even more important, it seems like your game fits really well in today’s NBA.
JM: Yeah. I mean when I first came into the league, it was more of an inside-out game; there were a lot more big men and [dominant] centers. It seemed like guards were sort of an afterthought. Now, it’s kind of the opposite. I definitely like the way the game is growing and every team needs shooters, so regardless of my situation, I know that’s a premium in the NBA and I’m always going to be needed.
What factors did you consider in free agency over the summer and what made you decide to join the Wizards?
JM: For one, I wanted to be on a playoff contender. On younger teams that I’ve been on, it’s hard because guys are still trying to establish themselves and they don’t really understand winning yet. They’re talented guys, but it’s hard. Now, I’m on a playoff contender and that was appealing to me. Obviously, John Wall was a factor as well. He’s my young fella. During college, I was his host during his recruiting visit to Kentucky. Now, he’s a superstar and an All-Star, and we’ve grown close over the years. Finally, I liked Coach [Scott] Brooks’ coaching style. He gives players a certain freedom. Whether you’re starting or coming off of the bench, he lets you do what you need to do to be successful.
I didn’t realize you hosted John during his visit to Kentucky! What do you remember from that and what was your pitch to sell him on the program? He was one of the top players in the country, right?
JM: It’s funny because at the time of that visit, he hadn’t blown up yet. Some schools knew about him, but everybody didn’t know about him yet. He was shorter; I think he was only 5-foot-11. He was coming from a small school too. Then, the next year, he blew up. It was funny to see this kid’s evolution as he gained confidence and got better and better. It was nice to see, and now he’s so mature. It’s been fun for me to watch [his development].
Where’s your comfort level at with this team and your responsibilities?
JM: My job is just to come in and be the utility man. People know I can score, but it’s not going to be like that every night. As a veteran in this league, you understand that. When you’re younger, you want to score 20 points every night and if you don’t, you’re upset. But the longer you’re in the league, the more you understand that every night isn’t going to be your night and you have to do the little things each game so that you’re helping the team. I definitely feel comfortable. I just want to do what I can to help us win… This team is filled with guys who have a chip on their shoulder and that’s what I like to see.
Have you embraced a veteran leadership on this team? I know it’s tough when you’re new, but I know you’ve emerged as a leader on other teams you’ve been on.
JM: I think as a veteran, you want your teammates to respect you and I think the guys respect the fact that I’m a hard worker. I try to lead by example. And on this team, John is a leader and Brad Beal is a leader. Those guys have had great success too. As the new guy early on, I was still trying to figure things out and fit in. But as the season goes on, I’ll get more opportunities to share things with guys and help where I can.
When John Wall and Brad Beal are healthy, most people agree that they’re one of the best backcourts in the league. Last year, they both averaged 23.1 points per game and they’ve played well this season too. Now that you’re in Washington and witnessing their talent and hard work firsthand, what have you seen and how special is this duo?
JM: They’re very special. Both guys are still young, but they’re very mature. This is John’s eighth year [in the NBA] and Brad’s sixth year, so they’re veterans who are in their prime, but they’re also still pretty young. Both guys work really hard too. As a veteran, you love to see guys who are extremely talented but at the same time are hard workers. That tells you they want to be great and they don’t take this for granted. Those are our main two guys, so we follow them.