Top 10 Former ‘Cats in the NBA: Jodie Meeks (No. 8)


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From veteran role players to up-and-coming superstars, the Kentucky Wildcats are well represented in the NBA. Over the next month I’ll be ranking the ten best former ‘Cats with a quick breakdown of each. It will be a bit different from your typical top 10 list, though, as what each player has already accomplished in the league won’t factor in as heavily as what they can potentially offer down the road. In short, think about each player’s upside when critiquing these rankings (Sorry, Tayshaun).

10. Brandon Knight; 9. Patrick Patterson; 8. Jodie Meeks

Jodie Meeks provided the University of Kentucky with one of the few bright moments during the forgettable Billy Gillispie coaching attempt. On Jan. 13, 2009, Meeks rained in 10 3-pointers on his way towards 54 points and a victory over Tennessee. His impressive shooting translated to the free-throw line, too, as he connected on all 14 attempts. Meeks simply won the game for the Wildcats that night — he scored the last nine points and no other Kentucky player was able to reach double-digit scoring.

“This year it’s his team, and he’s playing like it is and he’s going all out,” then Tennessee player Wayne Chism said after Meeks’ 54 points. Meeks did play that season like Kentucky was his team, like the line between winning and losing balanced on his performance each night. Many college players who carry offensive loads on average to below-average teams usually struggle to translate that scoring to the next level. That was the case for Meeks. After being drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the 2009 Draft, he found himself on the Philadelphia 76ers later that same season. It took his third team and fifth year in the NBA to finally find his niche, where his shooting was maxed out in Mike D’Antoni’s “pace and space” offensive system.

Meeks had his best season to date in 2013-14. He shot over 40 percent from the 3-point line on roughly five attempts per game and even flashed some ball-handling ability that got him to the free-throw line more than his previous seasons. Meeks has always been known as just a shooter at the pro level, but last year he began to shake that stereotype.

Meeks parlayed his 2013-14 season into a 3-year, $20 million contract with the Detroit Pistons this summer. Detroit’s new head coach Stan Van Gundy clearly made him a top priority heading into free agency as Meeks signed early in the process. Van Gundy has been known to be fond of 3-point shooting and it doesn’t look like that will change in Detroit. The Pistons are a team that needed it, to say the least, and they have a young promising big in Andre Drummond that needs shooters spaced around him. Obviously Meeks fits that criteria.

Many questioned the deal Detroit handed Meeks, citing a possible overpay. While that might be the case considering Meeks can’t defend most wings and doesn’t play point guard well enough to cover players his size, the salary cap in the NBA is set to rise over the next few years and Van Gundy has had success with similar players in the past. One in particular is J.J. Redick, who Van Gundy helped maximize his talents while hiding or improving his weaknesses at the same time. Don’t be surprised to see Van Gundy use Meeks in a similar role to how Redick played with those Orlando Magic teams — shooting 3s, catching off off-ball screens and, to put it simply, working tirelessly on the defensive end to become a respectable defender.

Now Meeks is heading into his 6th professional season and it will be with arguably the best coach he’s ever had. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him improve at age 26 and undergo his best season. While another 54-point outburst is unlikely, the same talents that produced that game in 2009 will be on display — just in smaller doses.