The Recent Struggles of Ron Artest

Darius Soriano —  March 10, 2010

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Lately, the Lakers have not been playing that well.  We all know this.  They’re 5-5 in their last 10 games and, against a middling team from the East, needed a game winning jumpshot from Kobe to avoid a four game losing streak.  Typically, I don’t blame individual players for poor play or losses and I won’t do so now.  Basketball is a team game where all players and coaches contribute to what happens on the court.  However, when the team is playing poorly and losing games there are two points of view – the macro and micro.  We’ve focussed a lot (and will continue to do so in the future) on a lot of macro issues – the team’s performance on offense is the most recent example.  However, the individual performances of the players make up the team dynamic, so it’s also appropriate to discuss what is going on with the guys that make up the team.

I say all this because Ron Artest is struggling right now.  His offensive game is off and it’s affecting his status as a viable player on that side of the ball.  In recent games, Ron did have a solid FG% against both Indy and Miami shooting 9-17 in those games and totalling 21 points.  But when you dig a bit deeper in those games and look at the total 5 game stretch in the first part of March, there is a bigger problem – his overall shooting and, more specifically, his three point shooting has been well below his season standard.  This month, Ron has shot 4-18 (22%) from three point range.  And when you look at his total field goal shooting numbers from just the last three games he’s 4-24 (17%).  Granted this is an extremely small sample size and any statistician would tell you that these numbers should and will normalize soon.  But, it is worrisome.

We should note, though, that there are some reasons behind this.  First, Ron does have a hurt left thumb that is heavily wrapped during each game.  You may question how much a left thumb injury should affect Ron’s shooting, but Ron is a player that loves to finish in the lane with his left hand and his jumpshot is also one with a lot of guide hand influence (to my eyes).  Plus, anyone that’s played basketball with a hurt hand (whether it’s their strong hand or not) understands that your ball handling is compromised and that reduces your comfort level on offense overall.  I mean, you lose the ball more when dribbling, you don’t get a good grip on the ball when elevating to shoot your shot from the perimeter or in the paint, and it all conspires to make you less confident when on offense (Kobe’s struggles on offense are another example of everything just stated about dealing with a hand injury – save the confidence part).

And to me, this is the biggest key – confidence and comfort level on offense.  When the Lakers first acquired Artest, I was a person that questioned if he would fit in.  I wondered if “ball stopper” Ron would surface and if he’d buy in to the offensive principles.  I’m happy to say that I was completely wrong about that as Ron has proven more than accepting of his role and position within the team structure.  But, with his recent shooting woes, what I am seeing is indecisiveness.  Ron looks unsure as to whether he should shoot or pass.  He’s second guessing himself in instances where he should show no hesitation.  A percect example occured in the Orlando game where Ron received a pass in the corner and was pretty much wide open for a three.  His feet were set and any confident player would have just fired away (not to go off tangent here, but any of our guards would have surely shot in that instance).  But instead, Ron brought the ball up in a shooting motion and stopped, then ball faked and allowed the defender to recover.  Then, with the defender now close enough to contest the shot, Ron took a side dribble and shot the ball – almost as if he knew that he was open and that he should shoot.  It was in that moment (removing the shooting numbers for a second) that I really thought something was not quite right with Ron’s offensive game.

I also think that Ron’s got some weary legs.  With the injuries to Sasha (and especially) Luke, Artest has logged long minutes on many nights and spent those minutes defending the other team’s best offensive wing.  Some may say that this is his specialty, and I would agree with that.  But only to a point.  Because when looking at how he’s been used recently, I question the wisdom of throwing Ron out there to play 45 minutes against Dwyane Wade or 38 minutes on Vince Carter when those players are guys that play Kobe’s position and guys that #24 would typically mark.  Even though Ron did well in both of those matchups, I think he could have spent more of those minutes on Barnes or Richardson.  I mean, even last year Ron split time with Battier on the league’s toughest wing scorers and surely didn’t log as many minutes chasing around the best of the best on the perimiter for almost every minute he was on the court.  So, while I understand wanting to take advantage of Ron’s defensive mindset while also giving Kobe a breather on D, I do think that Ron needs a bit of a rest at times too and should not be using up all of his energy on defense – and especially not against players that do have quickness advantages over him like some shooting guards will.

Again, I’m not trying to disparage Artest.  I think his defense has been a key component in our high defensive ranking this season.  His intensity and determination on that side of the ball have truly been invaluable.  And in a year where most of our shooters are performing below (and some well below) their career averages in three point accuracy, Ron’s ability to hit 38-40% from downtown has been crucial to the (some would say limited) success on offense that we have experienced this season.  And when you combine that with his ability to make plays for others, I don’t think anyone can question his value to this team.  But, that’s why his recent funk is concerning.  Ron may be the 4th option and all his offensive numbers may be down this season, but he’s an integral part of our schemes and team structure.  So, here’s hoping that Ron’s struggles end soon.  Because right now, in a time that our offense could use a bit of a pick me up, an effective Artest would really help.

Darius Soriano

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24 responses to The Recent Struggles of Ron Artest

  1. Good write up. Ron does look unsure of himself out there on offense. He tends to be aggressive when he shouldn’t be, passive when he shouldn’t be. And yes, nagging thumb injuries are awful (talking from experience).

    Never mind the fact that he often looks tired in the 4th quarter and he’s clearly lost a step on defense.

    It’s reason to be concerned.

    http://balmer.typepad.com/keithsmooth/
    The Next Sportswriter

  2. I’m not sure what to add Darius, you’ve pretty much said it all. Phil needs to integrate Sasha in ASAP, if only to provide some relief for Ron and Kobe.

  3. This is a side note, but it does tie into the topic of Artest. Saw this on TrueHoop about the Lakers missing Luke Walton:

    http://bit.ly/9QGB02

    Update: I should say that one of the conclusions of the article is that the Lakers, based off a lack of ball movement, could be missing Luke Walton.

  4. Yes Artest has been struggling, but the way he defended Melo and Wade in the past 2 weeks, Artest would not be the first of my worries. He does look a little tired and his shots aren’t falling. But most of his shots are good shots. They are wide open shots and shots that he’ll keep getting and eventually start making with consistency again. He’s look hesitant to shoot because he’s been struggling so much. That will work itself out.

    I would be more worried about Brown who’s been shooting just as bad, but his shot selection has been far worse. He almost never passes the ball and just launches up shot after shot.

    My main worry would be Pau. His defense has been below average at best over the past few weeks. The lakers have given up a lot of offensive rebounds when he’s at center (They gave up 3 within 2 minutes after he checked in the 4th quarter yesterday). And his offense has been okay at best. He’s been unable to score in the post versus Micheal Beasley and Haslem, Rashard Lewis, Boris Diaw, and Bargiani. Come on he should have 25 points in each game. Instead he’s been a bit scorer, meaning getting points by tip-ins and wide open lay-ups. Something you would expect from DJ Mbenga. If Pau can play like we know he can, Ron Artest struggling would be an afterthought.

  5. I think the post was dead on. I would also add that I think part of Ron’s indecisiveness is due to trying to fit in and not be “ball stopper” Ron. He is finally on a team where he respects the coach and alpha dog enough that he is willing to play this role. And that is a tough adjustment for him – to know when to shoot and when not to.

  6. It just takes an adjustment period with hand injuries. I’d hate to make a comparison to the inhuman Kobe Bryant, but Kobe’s shooting seemingly has come back in the past few games after being atrocious with his hand injuries.

    Pau’s footwork has been off ever since his hamstring injury. He’s rushing half a step and releases the ball without squaring. He’s also forcing his quick baseline turnaround move instead of reading the defense or making them commit to one side. And of course he’s not hitting the 10 foot jumper. Again, I’m not very concerned with this problem as it is a matter of playing through it and getting more touches.

  7. If 2010 Ron and 2010 Pau were playing like 2009 Ron and 2009 Pau, we wouldn’t be having any of these discussions. It’s pretty much as simple as that.

  8. If we had 2009 Ron, we might be ranked 20th in offensive efficiency

  9. I can’t keep up with all the new posts, but I think it’s worth noting that one of the reasons this game took yet another buzz-beater from KB24 is that Chris Freakin’ Bosh hit his second three-pointer (of two attempts) with 8 seconds left. Maybe it still shouldn’t have been as close as it was, but that shot was pretty ridiculous.

    It reminded me of the falling-down three-pointer Tim Duncan rattled in right before Fisher’s infamous 0.4 shot. (ETA: The falling-down shot might not have been the same as three pointer, but I remember that Duncan hit a rare three-pointer in the last minute to keep the Spurs’ chances alive.)

  10. Its hard for me to take any write up seriously if the words “missing… Luke… Walton” are strung together in that order. He was playing like 3 minutes a game in close contests this season.

  11. #9. Alex,
    I still remember Shaq’s one liner when asked about Duncan’s fade away and Fisher’s 0.4 shot – “One lucky shot deserved another.” Ha. Man I loved Shaq for stuff like that.

  12. These issues with Pau and Ron’s injuries are true, but also exacerbated by our outside shooting – sorry about the broken record. If we could hit outside shots, the people in the middle would have more room to make moves that got them back into the shooting groove. I don’t think Luke will help with that.

  13. “Our disposition as a team gives like some of these dudes, they feel like they have the right,” Odom said about the Raptors. “The way we’re playing as a unit, they got dudes on their team that are talking …. They are like .500.

    “But our aura comes off like ‘soft’. This was the second game I almost got thrown out. So I see one coming. I’m just going to take one, like, ‘hold up?’ Our energy, we are so laid back right now that these teams are like…

    “That … that [Orlando’s] Matt Barnes pulled, that ain’t never going to happen again,” Odom said. “He’s lucky it was a close game.”

    anyone else find this beautiful? I don’t know, it seems like forever since someone said something like this.

  14. 13. raw

    Teams are pushing us to the brink because LA has allowed too many teams to hang around that only on their best night should have a chance to win. The numerous close calls and the L’s to top competition has allowed LA to lose that mental edge that every great team has over the competition.

    The battle lines have been drawn in the sand. Lets see if LA stands up as a team, not just #24, and rallys around the situation at hand. It will take this type of mindset to get through the remaining 17 games, because 10 of them will be against teams fighting for playoff postions.

  15. L.O. hasn’t exactly been the paragon of assertiveness and force. Is he going through another cycle, or is this some fundamental change? I tend to be cynical, but perhaps…

  16. If you ever want to fully appreciate the NBA’s “enforcement” of the travel rule, watch Duncan’s shot in the 0.4 game. It was more than just a “lucky” shot.

    Darius, you are very right about that type of Shaq quote. Although I doubt I would’ve found it as amusing if it was not one of our team saying it!

    And raw – I am right with you. Those quotes are a pleasure to read. Here’s hoping that they signal some intensity to come for the remainder of the regular season & the playoffs.

  17. well atleast bostons getting trashed by the grizzlies at home :]

  18. I love the one-on-one defense Artest has been playing lately, but I’m a little worried that he’ll burn out. I mean, go for it on ‘Melo and Wade, but maybe hold off a bit when it’s Danny Granger. You have to give him credit for not trying to “flip the switch”, though.

    Bonus (happy) thought: I’m not nearly as worried about Artest as Cleveland fans must be about LBJ.

  19. Just a heads up, the site will be down for 2-3 hours tonight for server maintenance starting around 10pm Pacific time. Sorry for any inconvenience that this may cause.

  20. Bosh has the ability to hit three pointers, he doesn’t do it often tho. He’s 8/18 on the season. (44%)

  21. Hate to break the news guys but Ron is shooting 41% this year which is 1% better then he shot last year with Houston. Two years ago was the last time he could shoot which was 46% for Sac. Only one who is a worse shooter is Fisher at 38%.

    If we need to wait for Ron to save our outside game we are in trouble.

  22. The reason why Ron’s shooting has been so poor as of late.

    TIRED LEGS: Ron has had 2 log alot of mins this year because of Luke’s injuries. With a healthy Luke, u figure Ron probably playing anywhere between 28-30 mins a night. But due 2 the injury, he’s on the court ‘tween 35-40 mins a game. Even when Luke came back from his initial injury, Phil rarely played him. Phil has also been apprehensive when it comes 2 playing time 4 Sasha (a legit 6’6/6’7), which further damages the substitution pattern & basically accounts 4 more mins 4 Ron. This, on top of the fact that he’s guarding/chasing the opponent’s best perimeter player every night, is beginning 2 take it’s toll. Keep n mind that he didn’t have 2 do that last year while with Houston because of Shane Battier. Also, a point 2 take into consideration regarding his tired legs, is the fact that he’s been doing alot of running recently on his own time (stated by Phil X) because he wants to get his weight down 2 gain more quickness/speed 4 defense.

  23. Injuries, age, and shooting concerns: something that link Pau, Ron, Kobe and Fish right now which wouldn’t be so problematic if that weren’t four of our starters

    Not much to be done there except to hope they get healthy (other than increase rest)

    One problem may be in how unreliable the young guns have been. If they could just get it together our vets could rest more and all would be well.

  24. English Teacher March 11, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Tra – Insightful analysis but can you please say “two” instead of 2 and “four” instead of 4. Much easier to read and not like your cutting out tons of keystrokes!