It wasn't just recently that 76ers guard Jodie Meeks caught coach Doug Collins by surprise.
It was long before Saturday's impressive, 26-point, seven three-pointer effort in a 109-91 win over the Charlotte Bobcats that Collins thought Meeks could help his team.
"He really caught me by surprise in Orlando [in the rookie summer league in July]," Collins said. "He was great this summer. He really gave us a burst of energy every time he played."
That, however, didn't help him in the early part of the season, as Meeks was deactivated for the first six games of the season. He has played well the past couple of weeks when activated, and has garnered a starting spot the past two games. The offense has transformed since Meeks' insertion, as defenses now need to spread out looking for him, opening lanes for the rest of the team to get to the basket.
Though impressive during the summer, the one thing that could have kept Collins from playing Meeks more is his height (generously listed at 6-4) for a shooting guard. But the coach says that wasn't the issue.
"Sometimes you become a victim of numbers," Collins said. "One thing about Jodie is that he can play bigger guys. He's powerful and he's quick and he's fast. The thing about Jodie, too, is that he's probably my best guy coming off screens where you can run plays for him coming off screens and he can catch and shoot.
"A big part of the offense that we don't run is screens where guys are coming off and getting in those shooting pockets. We don't do much of that. We can do it with Lou [Williams] a little bit. We think Jrue [Holiday] eventually is going to be able to do that. Dre [Andre Iguodala], when he curls in there his tendency is to take the ball to the basket. Jodie gives us that guy who pops and gets into those pockets and now he's getting to where he can make a pass when that big guy helps out. He's been good."
Since his arrival at the trade deadline from Milwaukee last season, Meeks has shown himself to be a tireless worker both in practice and in games. He walks on the balls of his feet and always at a "late-for-class" pace. He is never flat-footed on the floor and does a great job of spotting up on the break and taking the ball to the basket when the outside shot isn't open. He is starting to show how he averaged 23.7 a game in his final season at Kentucky.
"I just try to work hard," said the soft-spoken Meeks. "At the beginning of the season I wasn't playing but I kept my mind focused and stayed working hard and waited for my opportunity, and when it came I was ready."
He certainly proved his readiness Saturday, when he scored 20 in the first quarter. Though his role has changed, his approach has not.
"I think I just play my normal game," he said. "I want to come in and try to make open shots, play solid defense and try to help the team as much as possible. We have a core that can score most of our points. I just need to chip in.
"I feel my game is as an all-around scorer. Most people see me as a spot-up shooter, but I can score in a lot of ways. When I come into the game I can do all that."
Meeks has taken rookie Evan Turner's spot in the starting lineup. Collins and Turner talked about the change, and Collins told Turner it isn't a demotion. Rather, it's a way to try to get Turner back to his more comfortable position of having the ball in his hands more.
"We spoke on it," Turner said. "He asked what I thought would be best and he told me what he thought would be best as well. I've just got to get rolling, find a rhythm. The ups and downs, they come with anything, I understand that. But I didn't expect to be trying to figure out where I fit in as much. But hopefully as it goes down the road everything will be all right."
The team had off yesterday and will practice today in preparation for a week that includes home games against Cleveland (tomorrow), Boston (Thursday) and New Orleans (Sunday).
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