Breaking down #37

Bill Bridges —  July 9, 2009

Can there be yet another post about Ron Artest? Answer: There can never be enough posts about #37! This post will try to find evidence to support some popular hypotheses – some posed by yours truly.

Let’s start on defense.

Hypothesis #1. Ron is an excellent on-ball defender.

Seems silly to doubt this point as Ron has been a Defensive Player of the Year. But let’s see if the numbers back this up.  Of course defensive stats are notoriously hard to quantify.  One stat is opponent’s PER.

We see from that Cleveland has the best PER against small forwards at 12.6 and Houston was second at 13.5. So far so good. Looking into the Cavs and Rockets in more detail shows that Lebron’s defensive PER was a good 13.5. Of course the Rockets also have Battier who was at 12.3. However Artest was even better at 12.2. By the PER-against metric, it is safe to say that Ron is an elite on-ball defender. (Bowen was 16.3 and Ariza 23.0). Versus Ariza, a significant upgrade.

Hypothesis #2. Ron’s true value will be evident against the top teams in the league.

How does Ron play against Lebron, Melo, and Pierce. The three best players on the best teams in the NBA not called the Lakers?

We see that all three performed below their career averages. Pierce came closest to matching his career numbers. Lebron especially has had problems with Artest (No wonder he recruited Artest so hard). James’ 5.1 turnovers per game really stand out. Impressively, Artest’s team has a win/loss advantage against all three players. 7-3 against Lebron is no joke. These records include results when Artest was with losing teams in Chicago and Sacramento. By the way, Lebron’s record against Bruce Bowen with over 50% shooting and at 29 ppg.

Contrast these results with Artest’s record against Kobe.
Kobe has being torching Artest ever since Artest came into the league. 48% shooting, 41% from 3 and a 15-5 record. Are you kidding. No wonder Ron wanted to join the Lakers.

Back to the study. The results seem to support hypothesis #2. Ron seems to be as an effective defender against the big three as there is in the league. check.

What about on offense?

Can Artest fit into the triangle and assume Ariza’s role and possibly even extend it?

Let’s first look at Ariza’s shot chart over the past year. First of all, Trevor has no mid-range or low post game. Almost all of his shots came from the 3 point line or at the hoop via penetration.

Before seeing this chart, I’d thought that most of his threes came from the wing – especially the left. In fact, (by a small amount) Trevor took more corner threes than wing threes. I guess our memories want to retain successful events as his corner 3 percentage was horrible. He shot 31.9% from three point range. But crucially was at 40% from the wing. In the playoffs, it seemed as if Phil tweaked the angle of the triangle to get Trevor wing three pointers rather than corners.

Fortunately Artest has almost exactly the same profile as Ariza from the three point line – but better. Simply great from either wing and straight ahead. The left corner let him down but overall a .399 result is one of the league’s best. He shot alot of wing 3’s and should get wide open shots off of passes from Pau and Kobe – especially on the left wing where he shot 126 3’s and made 44%. Can you picture it? Kobe posts down on the right low block. Double comes. Kick out to Artest for the wing 3…. nothing but net.

That is the good news.

Unfortunately, at least during the last year, Ron was awful shooting from virtually every other location. Most troubling is Ron’s inability to finish at the hoop. A .451 at the hoop is almost Fishesque. Compare this to Ariza’s .619 (Kobe was a stud at .622). Except in Ron’s case, he doggedly takes it to the rim – and misses.  Others have written about these strange numbers. Tom Martin’s hypothesis is that Ron’s ankle injury early in the season eroded explosiveness. This seems to have some validity as previous to 08/09, Artest’s success rate at the rim has been about 55%.

The data indicates that Artest is not a good low post player. Nor does he post up often. This could possibly be due to the systems he played in. In Indiana, O’Neal dominated the post. Sacramento didn’t emphasize it. In Houston, obviously Yao was down low. One thing we can agree on is that if Ron stays on the wing and shoots wide open catch n shoot 3’s we will be happy.

Putting it all together. Artest is a significant upgrade as an on-ball defender versus Ariza. He might not be as effective as a weakside help defender. While data to prove or disprove this point does not exist, his high on/off court differential of +5.9. (Ariza is a -5.3) indicates that Artest is a very good team defender. And as we saw, he is as much of a King-stopper as there is in the league.

On offense he plugs in as the wing shooter. And while we have all seen him bully his way past Walton or Lamar from the low block, the data simply doesn’t indicate that he is effective consistently from there. The key question is whether he can run the pinch post drop pass sequence with Pau and finish at the rim as successfuly as Trevor did.

Finally, will he be a black hole on offense?  Maybe. First why he might actually move the ball; he played the triangle for 3 seasons under Tim Floyd. Second, with Kobe and Pau he isn’t likely to be the initiator. If he remains as the finisher and safety valve the Laker’s highly efficient offense should remain so. With the counter; why might he still dribble for 12 seconds before forcing a contested jumper? He is Ron Artest. #37

Oh and here’s is Kobe’s sick shooting chart.  The man can finish at the rim.

—Bill Bridges

Bill Bridges