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2015 Pistons preview: Jodie Meeks may be most underrated Piston

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Jodie Meeks enters the season as the team's most efficient wing scorer - and a potential trade candidate.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower dropped some jaws when they signed to a $19 million contract over three years. Who pays nearly $20 million for Jodie Meeks?

With the salary cap set to explode next season, that number looks much more modest. And Meeks earned his keep last year with mostly reliable play off the bench. With a slow start overshadowing a hot finish, Meeks enters this season as perhaps the team's new most underappreciated player.

2014-15 Year in Review

Meeks missed the first 22 games of the season with a back injury that sent the Pistons scrambling. Kyle Singler and Caron Butler had plenty of experience providing time at shooting guard to suitably backup Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but the shift meant more minutes open at small forward to continue playing Josh Smith out of position.

While Meeks was sidelined, the Pistons opened the season 3-22.

Meeks' return helped stabilize the wing position, but it took some time for him to recover his normally reliable outside shooting. In his first 32 games leading into the All Star break, Meeks shot just 30 percent from three compared to the 40 percent he put up in 2013-14 - which was a major reason Van Gundy signed him to such a hefty figure.

With an underwhelming start, it looked like critics of the signing may have been right. But over the final two months, Meeks bounced back by shooting 41 percent from behind the arc to drive a 57 percent true shooting percentage. By the end of the season, Meeks had proven to be one of the team's more efficient scoring threats.

Meeks also provided Stan Van Gundy with some interesting options in his wing rotation. Particularly after the trade deadline deals that brought in Reggie Jackson and Tayshaun Prince, which left the Pistons lean at small forward, Meeks showed some ability to play alongside Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in a smaller lineup.

Quite a bit was expected out of Caldwell-Pope in his sophomore season and second year as the starting shooting guard. Perhaps the most important role Meeks served was to avoid putting too much of the scoring burden on KCP, which seemed to be a major issue during the team's dismal start.

The highlight of Meeks' season came on December 30 in Orlando. Meeks scored his first bucket in the second quarter but went into halftime with 20 points, including 6-6 from three. He went scoreless in the third quarter, but heated back up in the fourth with 14 points to close the game out in blowout fashion. That comes out to 34 points with 9 three pointers, the second-most three point makes in a game behind Joe Dumars' 10 in 1994.

2015-16 Projected Production

Meeks is set to enter 2015 in a similar role as last year - where his importance is most felt if he's gone. The depth at shooting guard is uninspiring, though there are certainly options should either Meeks or Caldwell-Pope miss any time. But when both are available, Caldwell-Pope and Meeks provide a nice compliment to each other.

Like most shooters, the two tend to run hot and cold. But with Caldwell-Pope still developing and learning how to be an efficient player, Meeks will provide a reliable option off the bench who perfectly fits the team's needs - especially off the catch and shoot.

With the offense built around Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond's pick and roll, there are plenty of opportunities for open looks on the kick out. This is where Meeks thrives. He played especially well after the Jackson trade, knocking down 43 percent of his three point attempts off the catch and shoot.

Once again, Meeks' value will come more in his ability to provide a steady and reliable scoring presence off the bench, keeping excessive pressure off the younger players. His minutes will be interesting to watch, particularly with the Brandon Jennings situation. Caldwell-Pope played 31.5 minutes per game last season, and a healthy Jennings will likely expect at least 25 minutes per game. With only 16-18 minutes available at backup point guard behind Jackson, Jennings could dip into the already-lean backup shooting guard time. It could be tough for the team to get him the 24 minutes he averaged last season.

Still, don't count on Meeks as trade bait just yet unless another no-brainer comes along. Perhaps if Caldwell-Pope takes a big step forward and Darrun Hilliard impresses in Grand Rapids the team would feel comfortable moving Meeks. But for now, he's a valuable veteran to have around - even if his numbers don't necessarily reflect it.

Prediction

17 minutes per game, 8 points per game on 58 percent true shooting, 1 three point field goal per game at 41 percent