WASHINGTON - For the Washington Wizards, the biggest area of concern has centered around their bench. Last season, the Wizards ranked 29th in bench points per game (26.6), 29th in bench assists per game (5.3) and 28th in bench rebounds per game (12.4).
This summer, with limited spending money, the front office acquired Jodie Meeks (along with Tim Frazier, Mike Scott, and Donald Sloan), to bolster a lackluster bench. After three preseason games, Meeks appears to be the Wizards’ most promising signing.
Washington was in desperate need of a perimeter shooter to provide spacing behind Bradley Beal. Last season, Meeks shot 40 percent from long distance in 36 games with the Magic, and over his NBA career, he’s averaged 38 percent behind the arc. The Wizards didn’t have a single bench player who shot over 40 percent from deep last season.
He had about as good a debut as one could ask for against the Guangzhou Long-Lions last week. He was instant offense, shooting 7 of 9 from the field and 4 of 5 from long distance, finishing with 19 points in just 16 minutes of action.
In his next two contests against the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks, he played fewer minutes but still made an impact with his shooting, going 6 of 12 from the field and 5 of 8 on threes. In all, he’s scored 40 points in just 43 minutes of action.
“He’s an elite three-point shooter,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said after Sunday’s game against Cleveland. “He’s been like that his entire career and hopefully he doesn’t change with the way we play. But every day in practice, every time I throw him on the court in the preseason games, he’s been a factor, he produces. He’s one of the best three-point shooters in the league.”
Brooks knew plenty about Meeks before the Wizards signed him last summer. He was coaching the Thunder in 2014 when Meeks dropped 42 points on them as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers to lift Los Angeles to a surprise win over Oklahoma City. Last December, he saw Meeks go 4 of 5 on threes and finish with 18 points in his third game back after foot surgery as he helped the Magic defeat Washington, despite a career-high 52 points from John Wall.
“Many times, he has made big threes,” Brooks said. “He’s a big-time three-point shooter who can get hot and stay hot.”
He has developed a sterling reputation as a shooter despite never playing with a distributor like John Wall during his career. He could be in store for a nice uptick in shot attempts and efficiency if he continues to get chances to play with Wall like he has in the preseason. Plus, Meeks alongside Wall and Beal creates a unique lineup Washington can use to their advantage.
“Yeah, we definitely will use that lineup throughout the season,” Brooks said. “I mean every team is doing that, you have three-point shooters on the floor, with Brad and Jodie’s ability, and then you have John’s ability to make the defense make some tough decisions, with his speed and quickness and his ability to finish around the paint. So, we feel like we have a lot of different guys to throw out there, we feel like they can all play with one another.”
The problem is the Wizards can’t bank their money on his health. Injuries have limited his playing time in each of the past three seasons. Brittle bones have caused him to miss a majority of the last three seasons — he’s only appeared in 99 of 246 games in that span.
His health will play a critical role in Washington’s success this season. If he can stay healthy, he can be a dangerous sixth man for the Wizards as we’ve seen in the preseason, but if he struggles with the same injury issues he has faced in recent years, Washington could be doomed to face the same bench issues as last season.