Thursday night against the Suns, the Lakers will have Andrew Bynum back in the lineup (no Pau Gasol yet, but people Phil was joking about Christmas), which means we can expect a healthy dose of Kobe in the post, Bynum in the post, Lamar Odom on the boards and — hopefully — continued solid bench play.
But the key to it all may be Ron Artest. To this point, Artest has blended in with the Lakers better than even Shin Shin could have hoped. It was expected on the defensive end, but on offense he is starting to really find his way. To get an idea why, I rewatched some recent games and focused on Artest, plus looked at some numbers.
Here are a few highlights.
• Artest leads the Lakers in +/- so far this season — LA is outscoring opponents by 13.5 points per 48 minutes when Artest is on the floor. LA is being outscored by opponents by 20.2 points per 48 minutes when Artest is NOT on the floor. That is a 33 points per 48 minutes swing he is creating.
• He is relentless. He hustles when others slack. A simple example: Remember the first play of the Hornets game, where New Orleans won the tap and Kobe stole the ball from Devin Brown out high and had a virtual break away dunk? Artest was the only Laker to get back down for a potential rebound. Nobody else runs after Kobe on a breakaway (because, well, why would you?) but Artest did.
• He makes good entry passes (this came up time and again in the video). With no Gasol (or Bynum of late) the Lakers are posting up Kobe a lot more, which puts Artest on the wing. He did not come here with the reputation of a good passer, but Ron makes smart, well placed entry passes to the post. With how often the Lakers plan to go to the post this season, that is no little thing.
• He finds the open man and makes the extra pass. Remember Fisher’s buzzer-beater to end the first half against the Hornets? Assist from Artest who had a man running out on him (Fish was totally wide open, like any receiver running through the Notre Dame secondary, damn Charlie Weis). Then with 1:45 left in the third quarter against the Hornets, Artest drove the lane from the top of the key and when the defense collapsed he made an impressive “hook pass” over his head to a wide open Luke Walton for the corner three. He shows court vision and awareness.
• To sum up those last two notes: 18% of the possessions Artest uses end in an assist, a great number for a forward.
• He is getting his shots at the rim or from three. He is taking 4.3 threes per game (and shooting 36.7% so far). He is getting 3.4 shots per game at the rim (and shooting 50%). He has shown some midrange game, but that is not where the shots are coming from at this point, he is attacking the rim or finding places he likes to spot up. Both good things.
• He has held opposing small forwards to 31.5% shooting (eFG%),
• The Lakers offense is 14.4 points per 48 minutes better when he is on the floor, the defense is 21.1 points per 48 better when he is on the floor. Bottom line, both ends of the court are better for the Lakers when Artest plays.