I think one thing most Lakers fans agree on is that the small forward position will be key for next year’s Lakers. Where the disagreement is exactly how to deal with that. But some think they have the answer.
On this blog, in Lakers forums all over the Internet, on talk radio, seemingly everywhere there is a fascination among some Lakers fans with bringing Ron Artest to the LA. And I don’t get it. I understand being unsure how well Odom will do as the small forward, it’s a legitimate question and concern.
But Ron Artest is not the answer.
Let me give you my thinking on this. And to start I’ll grant two points to the pro-Artest fans:
1) Artest is a better defender. He is. But not by as much as you think. Last year opposing threes guarded by Ron Artest shot 51.5% (eFG%) and had a PER of 16.4 — those are not great numbers. Odom spent far less time matched up against threes, but he held them to 45.5% and a PER of 14.6. I don’t think those numbers would bear out if Odom spent more time guarding threes, like I said I’ll grant Artest is a better defender. But the gap is not as big as most think, Odom’s length creates problems for opposing threes.
2) Artest is a better three point shooter. Artest shot 38% and 35% from three the last two years, Odom shot 29% and 27%. Artest would be better at stretching the defense in the half court. That said, Artest is not the three point shooter many think he is. Go look at Artest’s hot zone shot chart at NBA.com — Artest shot 47% from three from the top of the arc, but no higher than 30% anywhere else on the arc. He can shoot the three from “his spot” but is not a classic three-point shooter. (If you look at Odom’s Hot Zones chart you’ll see he was 11 of 22 on corner threes this season — if he works on that this offseason could he keep up that pace over more attempts?)
To me, there are far more negatives than positives with Artest.
1) He is a worse shooter than Odom. Last season, using traditional FG%, Odom shot 52% and Artest 45%. Use eFG% (to account for three point shooting) and Odom is still 5% higher. The reason is Artest takes a lot of jumpers (66% of his shots last year) while Odom gets to the rim (44% of Odom’s shots are jumpers). And, on all those jumpers, Artest shoots just 3% higher than Odom. Look again at Artest’s hot zones shooting chart — he is not a good midrange guy at all. Bottom line, Artest is like Iverson in that he takes a lot of shots to make his points, he is not an efficient scorer.
2) Artest is not someone who has played well inside an offensive system. There are things he does well, but what are the Lakers going to do when Artest decides he should just take his man (on the post or on the wing) and steps outside the offense? The Lakers offense was impressive last year because everyone played within the system. Do you really think Artest is going to do that for a season and playoffs, when that has not been his MO in the past?
3) Lamar Odom is a much better rebounder than Artest. I don’t think anyone would question this — last season Odom grabbed 15.6% of available rebounds when on the floor, Artest was at 8.6%. You can say that a healthy Bynum will soak up some of those, but for a team that wants to get out and run having control of the boards will be key. Odom led some of the best Laker breaks this year by grabbing the board and bringing the ball up himself, and we need more of that not less.
4) If you think Odom takes games off…. Artest is worse. Far worse. It is not a crunch time thing with him, it is a week at a time thing. He does not bring it every night. Ask Kings fans about this. And this brings us to….
5) So this is the veteran image you want in the locker room? The Lakers are still a young team, a team that by all reports bonded more last season than any Laker team has at least since the three-pete era, and maybe longer. And into that you do want to bring in a true wild card? Some will make the argument that Phil has dealt with these types of personalities before, he kept Rodman in check in Chicago. But he had Jordan ad Pippen and other veterans (plus Jack Haley) to keep him in line. Who in the Laker locker room is going to step up to Artest? Kobe, Fisher and……
The bottom line for me is that the slim advantages you gain from Artest in a couple areas are far outweighed in other areas. He has the chance of being a big problem, if you don’t think so look at his track record. Do you really want to take that risk?
I’m not sure Odom is the answer. I’m in the camp of keeping the roster largely intact, starting the year with Odom at the three and seeing how it works out. If it does not, see who is available at the trading deadline. Or, even let him walk and see if you can save the money (if someone like Ariza really steps up). Any of that is better than bringing in Ron Artest.