You may think of Metta World Peace as the guy the New York Knicks passed on for Frederic Weis in the 1999 NBA draft. Perhaps you think of a Defensive Player of the Year or a champion with the L.A. Lakers. Some think of the “Malice at the Palace” brawler with the Indiana Pacers.
However, if it were up to World Peace, when all is said and done he’d like to be remembered in a much simpler way.
“Just a kid from the hood, ghetto as f—, and loves to have fun; it’s pretty simple,” World Peace told Basketball Insiders with a smile and a laugh at the end of his answer.
Born as Ronald Artest in Queensbridge, NY, World Peace attended St. John’s University for two years before declaring for the 1999 NBA draft. The Knicks held the No. 15 overall pick in the draft and selected Weis, who is most famously known as the big man Vince Carter leaped over for arguably the greatest dunk all-time in the Olympics. Weis ultimately never played a single minute in the NBA.
Instead of going to his hometown team, the Chicago Bulls selected him one pick later. World Peace reflected on what could’ve happened in New York if the Knicks drafted him.
“Obviously I wanted to go to the Knicks, but St. Johns was the closest that I could get to bringing that fire back to New York City,” World Peace told Basketball Insiders. “As a kid, New York was in my blood, and that was it. I got a chance to play for the Knicks, so it was cool, but it was towards the end of my career. It wasn’t when I was the best defender and everything. But that was my goal, man: to bring a championship to New York City. It just didn’t work out that way.”
World Peace was then traded from the Bulls to the Pacers with Ron Mercer, Brad Miller and Kevin Ollie in exchange for Jalen Rose, Travis Best, Norm Richardson and a 2002 second-round draft pick (Lonny Baxter) on February 19, 2002.
In 2004, World Peace endured the highest and lowest point of his career with the Pacers.
That year he became an All-Star, won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award and was voted as an All-NBA Third Team member.
Then, at the height of his career, things went spiraling out of control on November 19, 2004. That’s when the “Malice at the Palace,” one of the darkest days in league history, took place.
The Pacers were leading the Detroit Pistons, 97-82, with 45 seconds remaining when Ben Wallace took exception to a foul under the basket and shoved World Peace all the way near the three-point line on the wing. The two teams exchanged shoves before things briefly settled down. However, it was the calm before the storm. Wallace then threw a towel at World Peace. Moments later, a fan in the stands threw a drink at World Peace, which hit him in the face while he was near the scorer’s table.
In the blink of an eye, World Peace made a decision that would change his life forever. He ran into the stands after the fan that threw the drink. Stephen Jackson and other players from both teams joined World Peace in the stands. Fans punched World Peace and Pacers guard Fred Jones.
Two fans with Pistons jerseys went onto the court near the Pacers’ bench and approached World Peace, who punched them. Moments later, Jermaine O’Neal also joined the scene and punched a fan.
As the Pacers attempted to leave the court, fans threw a chair, liquid, popcorn and clothing as the players went into the tunnel to avoid danger.
The league suspended World Peace for the remainder of the season, including any playoff games. Ultimately, he missed 86 games during the 2004-05 season, which was the longest on-court suspension in league history.
World Peace reflected on how the “Malice at the Palace” affected his career and the perception of him as a person.
“Well, I don’t really look at the perception from another person,” World Peace told Basketball Insiders. “The viewpoint of me is all about, how does the Earth kind of feel about you? How do the animals and the trees and the environment, how do they feel about you? That’s what’s most important, the connection that you have with all the good things about life, which is obviously the thing that provides us the most happiness probably. That would be the air, right?”
The following season, World Peace was traded to the Sacramento Kings for Peja Stojakovic. World Peace ended his Pacers tenure with averages of 16.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Most of all, World Peace and the Pacers ended his tenure asking themselves what could have been during a lost 2004-05 season.
World Peace became more of an offensive presence with the Kings, averaging 18.9 points per game during his two and a half seasons in Sacramento. World Peace made one trip to the playoffs with the Kings when he was acquired, but the team lost to the San Antonio Spurs in a five-game first-round series in 2006. During the next two seasons, World Peace and the Kings failed to make the playoffs.
The Kings then traded World Peace, Patrick Ewing Jr. and Sean Singletary to the Houston Rockets for Donte Greene, Bobby Jackson and a 2009 first-round draft pick (Omri Casspi). World Peace averaged 17.1 points per game and shot a career-high 40 percent from beyond the arc during his lone season with the Rockets. The team lost Game 7 of the 2009 Western Conference Semifinals to the Lakers.
World Peace signed with the Lakers in free agency. In his first season, the Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in a seven-game series to win the championship. During the final two games of the series, World Peace played a vital role – as he averaged 17.5 points on 45 percent shooting from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc, as well as 5.5 rebounds in 39 minutes per game.
World Peace has fond memories of those times in Los Angeles.
“For me, it was great because something I always wanted [was] a ring, and I got it here,” World Peace told Basketball Insiders. “That’s pretty much all I was playing for; I didn’t really care about nothing else. I got it with the Lakers and they gave me an opportunity to play for probably one of the best franchises in the world: Maccabi, Lakers, Yankees, Cowboys.”
World Peace returned home to fulfill his dream of playing for the Knicks after a four-year tenure with the Lakers.
After a 29-game stint with the Knicks, World Peace went overseas to finish the season in China with the Sichuan Blue Whales. The following season, World Peace played in Italy for Pallancestro Cantu where he went by the nickname, “The Panda’s Friend.”
After his stint overseas, World Peace returned to the Lakers as a veteran mentor.
These days, he’s older than his rookie head coach Luke Walton – his former adversary and teammate over the years. Walton gave an interesting answer when asked if he could’ve envisioned World Peace as a veteran mentor after playing against him.
“No. But when I played with him, yes,” Walton replied. “He’s done an incredible job of evolving and being the person that he is today. He deserves a lot of credit. He’s openly said he works with a shrink or what not. He’s great in the locker room. He’s great talking to the young guys. He’s great with the way he works, and he takes care of himself. I saw that in Metta when I played as his teammate, but when I played against him, I probably wouldn’t have guessed that would be the case.”
In the aftermath of becoming an All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year and “Malice at the Palace” brawler as Ron Artest, playing overseas as “The Panda’s Friend,” and returning to the Lakers to be a veteran mentor as Metta World Peace, the 37-year-old claims he’s never changed.
“It’s no different,” World Peace told Basketball Insiders. “I’m still very much in love with the streets, very obsessed with the streets. Like, I’ve always been the oldest, I’m a little bit more mature, but that same kid that loved the streets back in the days when he came in, I’m the same exact person.”
What We Learned: Western Conference Week 4
It’s only been a month, but the NBA season has already seen plenty of ups and downs. In the Western Conference, especially, the 2020-21 season has been a smashing success for some, but a complete and total slog for others.
But which teams have had it the best in the West so far? The worst? Let’s take a look in the latest Western Conference installment of Basketball Insiders’ “What We Learned” series.
The Clippers Hit Their Stride
Los Angeles’ holdovers from a season ago have often pointed to their regular season complacency as to why they fizzled out during last year’s postseason. And, because of that, they’ve made a concerted effort to play hard on every possession so far in the 2020-21 season.
So far, the results have been good. More than good, even; the Clippers, tied for the best record in the NBA with their in-house rival, the Los Angeles Lakers, are on a six-game win streak. Paul George has played like an MVP candidate, while Kawhi Leonard has looked healthy and at the peak of his powers. Offseason additions Nicolas Batum, Serge Ibaka and Luke Kennard have all made strong contributions as well.
With so many versatile players and a roster as deep as any in the NBA, anyone can be “the guy” for Los Angeles on any given night. And, tough to guard because of that versatility, they’ve managed the NBA’s second-best offensive rating through the first month.
After last season’s let-down, the Clippers have played without much pressure this season — and it’s showed. Still, with Leonard a potential pending free agent (Leonard can opt-out after the season), it’s paramount that the team play hard and show him they’re good enough to compete for a title in both the short- and long-term.
So far, they’re off to a great start.
Injury Woes Continue in Portland
Portland’s been bit by the injury bug. And badly.
Already without Zach Collins, the Trail Blazers have lost both Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum in recent weeks. They couldn’t have come at a worse time, either; Nurkic had turned a corner after he struggled to start the year, while McCollum, averaging 26.7 points on 62 percent true shooting, was in the midst of a career year.
It would seem, once again, like Portland has put it all on the shoulders of Damian Lillard. But, in a brutally competitive Western Conference, he may not be able to carry that load alone. They do have some solid depth: more of a featured role could be just what Robert Covington has needed to get out of a rut, while Harry Giles III, the former Sacramento King that was signed in the offseason, has a ton of potential if he can just to stay on the court. Carmelo Anthony, Gary Trent Jr. and Enes Kanter should see expanded roles in the interim, as well.
But will it be enough? We can only wait and see. But, if that group can’t keep the Trail Blazers afloat until Nurkic and McCollum can return, Portland could be in for a long offseason.
Grizzlies Are Competitive — With or Without Ja Morant
Memphis, on a five-game win streak, is just a half-game back of the West’s fifth seed. And they’ve managed that despite the sheer amount of adversity they’ve had to deal with to start the year. Jaren Jackson Jr. is expected to miss most of if not the entire season, multiple games have been postponed due to the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols and Ja Morant missed eight games due to an ankle sprain.
However, head coach Taylor Jenkins has the Grizzlies playing hard, regardless of who is in the lineup. They have the third-best defensive rating in the NBA at 106.1 and have managed huge wins over the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns.
Of course, Memphis is glad to see Morant over his injury and back in the lineup, but they might be just as happy to see how their entire core has progressed. Their success this season has, in large part, been a group-effort; rookies Xavier Tillman and Desmond Bane have been strong off the bench, while youngsters Brandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks and Grayson Allen have all proven integral pieces to the Grizzlies’ core for years to come.
As the year carries on, Memphis might not stick in the playoff picture. But, if their young core can continue to develop, they might not be on the outside looking in for much longer with Morant leading the charge.
What’s Going On In New Orleans?
The Pelicans have struggled and there wouldn’t appear to be an easy fix.
5-9, on a three-game losing streak and having dropped eight of their last nine, New Orleans just can’t seem to figure it out. The rosters fit around cornerstones Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram has proven awkward at best, as the team ranks in the bottom-10 in both offensive and defensive rating. Lonzo Ball has struggled offensively to start the season while JJ Redick can’t find his shot. Newcomer Eric Bledsoe has been fine but, as one of the team’s few offensive creators, his impact has been severely minimized.
Despite their stable of strong defenders, Stan Van Gundy’s defensive scheme, which has maximized their presence in the paint but left shooters wide open beyond the arc, has burned them continuously. Williamson’s effort on the defensive end, meanwhile, has been disappointing at best; he hasn’t looked like nearly the same impact defender he did at Duke University and in short spurts a season ago.
They still have time to work it out, but the Pelicans need to do so sooner rather than later. If they can’t, or at least establish some sort of consistency, New Orleans might never see the heights many had hoped to see them reach this season.
Be sure to check back for the next part of our “What We Learned” series as we continue to keep an eye on the NBA all season long.
NBA Daily: Lonzo Ball Presents Difficult Decision For Pelicans
Lonzo Ball is struggling early in his fourth NBA season, leaving the Pelicans questioning whether he will be a part of the team’s long-term plans moving forward.
Lonzo Ball and the New Orleans Pelicans failed to reach an extension prior to the deadline entering the 2020-21 NBA season – which made this season an important year for the former second overall pick to prove his worth.
But things have not gone according to plan for Ball. Originally acquired by the Pelicans in the Anthony Davis trade, Ball has failed to get going early in the current season. After a few years of what seemed like positive progression in the guard’s shooting stroke, this 2021 has brought up the same questions that surrounded Ball in his earlier scouting reports.
In his first three seasons, Lonzo saw his three-point accuracy increase each year. It started at a 30.5 percent accuracy rate and had jumped to an impressive 37.5 by his third NBA season, 2019-20.
Now well into his biggest campaign yet, he sits below 30 percent for the first time in his career, though there is a lot of time left to see that number increase. If Ball expects to be part of the Pelicans’ long-term plans, improvement is absolutely vital.
Obviously, shooting is a key part of the NBA game today, especially as a guard. Simply put, a player needs to give his team the proper floor spacing needed to maximize their scoring output in an offensively driven league.
That point is especially true for Ball, who needs to prove he can play alongside franchise cornerstones Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. Both players are showing the skillset to be a dominant one-two punch for years to come, and the biggest need around them is proper floor spacing.
So even with all the positives Ball brings to the defensive side of the floor and as a playmaker, he cannot fit alongside Williamson and Ingram unless he’s a threat to hit shots from behind the arc. He’s obviously trying to prove himself in that regard as he has never averaged more three-point shots per game than he currently is – and yet, the result has been concerning.
When the two sides failed to reach an extension this offseason, it was abundantly clear that the Pelicans needed to see consistency before they’d tie long-term cap space to the guard. In the early going of the season, Ball is perhaps playing his most inconsistent basketball since his rookie campaign with the Los Angeles Lakers.
But will the Pelicans benefit from not signing Ball prior to the season? Maybe even by getting him to agree to a team-friendly contract if his struggles continue all year?
That seems highly unlikely. First off, not all teams are as desperate for a good shooting guard as the Pelicans are. As previously stated, Williamson and Ingram are in place as the franchise cornerstones. That means every player brought in on a long deal from here on out is brought in with the plan to fit alongside the forward combination.
Most teams with cap space don’t have the luxury of already having two franchise cornerstones in place. That means they are more likely to build around a player they sign – that’s especially true for a player that will hit free agency at a young age as will be the case with Ball.
While there’s almost no way the Pelicans won’t make a qualifying offer to Ball this offseason, it becomes a whole different question when pondering if they’ll match any contract he signs, depending on the financials involved.
He’ll offer significantly more value to another franchise than he might to the Pelicans because of the fit. The New York Knicks, for example, will be among the teams with cap space this offseason, they could see Ball as a player they can build things around moving forward.
That instantly makes him much more valued by the Knicks than he currently would be by the Pelicans. Of course, New Orleans would maintain their right to match the contract, but what good would it be if he isn’t going to fit next to the stars of the team? At no point will he be prioritized over the likes of Williamson and Ingram, which means he’s on a ticking clock to prove he can play alongside them as the team continues its ascension.
The first step could be adjustments to the rotation that sees Ball play more of the traditional point guard role with the rock in his hands. This isn’t easy for head coach Stan Van Gundy to do though as Ingram and Williamson thrive with the ball in their hands.
In all likelihood, Ball’s future in New Orleans will hinge on his consistency as a shooter, which, contrary to popular belief, he has shown the ability to do in the past. First off, confidence and staying engaged are keys; while Ball has struggled with both of those things in his early NBA seasons.
The second is an adjustment to his tendencies. Instead of settling for the spot-up opportunity every time it is presented, Ball would benefit from attacking the closeout more often and maximizing the chances that come from doing so.
Those options are in areas like finding the next open man for a three-pointer, getting to the free-throw line and finishing at the rim instead of hitting the deep shot. If he does these things, he’ll quickly find himself facing less aggressive closeouts and will be more confident in his game. Naturally, those things could lead to a more successful shooting number as the season continues on.
Ball is as talented as they come and it’s understandable why the Pelicans want to slide him in behind the two franchise forwards they have. The unfortunate reality is that time is running out on pass-first guard’s big chance to prove it’s the right move for the Pelicans moving forward.
NBA Daily: What We Forgot
With the NBA season now a month old, Matt John looks into no what we have learned, but we had previously forgotten.
With every new NBA season, we tend to forget a few things here and there; players or teams that go through a down year are often, warranted or not, cast aside for the next best thing, only to resurface in the NBA’s collective conscience later on.
Like last season, for example, Dwight Howard was regarded as a nothing-addition for the Los Angeles Lakers, a gamble that they may have been better off not taking. However, Howard played an integral role in the Lakers’ run to the NBA title and reminded everyone that, when he plays without distractions, he’s one of the league’s fiercest around the basket.
But that’s just one example. So, who or what has been re-discovered this season? Let’s take a look.
Stephen Curry: Still Phenomenal
Nobody’s forgotten that entirely. It’s just been a while since people have seen Curry at the peak of his powers.
Sure, it was easy to be skeptical of what he was capable of coming into this season. But, with Kevin Durant gone, Curry had free reign to score and shoot as much as he desired. And, with that freedom, Curry’s put up his best numbers since 2016, his second MVP season. In 15 games, Curry’s averaged 28.2 points 5.5 rebounds and 6.1 assists and shot 45 percent from the field, 37 percent from three and 93 percent from the line. He’s reminded everyone why he’s one of the games best and that he can accomplish anything or score on anyone on any given night.
Of course, the absence of Durant, as well as the loss of Klay Thompson and others, has led to another atypical season for the Warriors. Their 8-7 has them tied for seventh in the Western Conference and, while they have certainly improved on how they looked to start the season, they have a long way to go before they’re back in title contention.
The Warriors may never again reach the heights they once knew, either before or with Durant. But, until Father Time dictates otherwise, Curry should long remain a nightmare for the opposition.
Tom Thibodeau Can Get It Done
What can you say about the New York Knicks? Unironically, a lot.
Not only have they shown themselves to no longer be the butt of the NBA’s jokes, but, compared to the last decade-plus of Knicks’ basketball, the 2020-21 season might be their brightest yet.
Julius Randle’s transition into more of a point forward-type has generated a career-year and All-Star buzz. RJ Barrett has continued to improve rapidly, while rookie Immanuel Quickley has “quickley” become a fan favorite. Most impressive of all, however, is that New York has allowed the fewest points per game (102.7) and the fourth-fewest points per 100 possessions (106.8) in the NBA.
In other words, they finally look like a competent basketball team. But what’s changed? Two words: Tom Thibodeau.
The players have bought in to Thibodeau’s scheme and, clearly, it’s had a positive effect. Of course, the disaster that was his Minnesota Timberwolves tenure made us forget just what a proven head coach Thibodeau could be, but he’s put it all together in the past and, in New York, he would seem to be doing so once again.
Of course, there is plenty left to do. The Knicks’ spacing is a joke — and a bad one at that. In fact, their entire offense could stand to see some of that energy they bring on defense; the Knicks are dead last in the NBA at 101.3 points per game.
Still, at 8-8, New York is no longer a doormat and, given the last few seasons, that’s probably the best they could’ve hoped for. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Knicks won’t be either, but the franchise looks like they may have finally turned a corner toward relevance.
Maturity Issues Loom Large
Like the Knicks, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been another NBA-darling this season. And again, like New York, their players have bought in; head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has everyone playing with energy on defense and, while their offense hasn’t quite reached the same level, they’re competing to the best of their ability.
Of course, the progress of Kevin Porter Jr. could have been the cherry on top of it all. But that ship has sailed.
After an outburst directed toward general manager Koby Altman, Cleveland has since moved on from the young forward. Of course, the Cavaliers knew Porter came with baggage when they selected him with the last pick of the first round in the 2019 NBA Draft, but his potential was salivating and Cleveland had hoped they could help him grow — not only as an NBA player, but as a person. There have been success stories in the past, troubled players that have come in and shut out the noise and become both respectable characters and NBA players. DeAndre Jordan, a former lottery talent, dropped in his own draft due to similar concerns, but overcame those issues and has since gone on to play a long career.
Unfortunately, it just hadn’t gone that way with Porter and the Cavaliers, as the noise became too much to bear for a team with a long road back to relevancy. It’s reminded everyone just how hard it can be, both as a player and as their team, to deal with those issues and, regardless of the talent or potential, the headache sometimes just isn’t worth the risk.
Luckily for Porter, it’s not too late; a fresh start with the Houston Rockets should do him wonders. And, hopefully, the Rockets can help him overcome that baggage, his maturity issues and whatever else he may be dealing with.
But even if they don’t or can’t, Porter must wake up and seize his opportunity while he still can; if he sees another falling out in Houston, there’s no telling if he’ll ever get another chance elsewhere.