Before I get into why I think Ron Artest is the Defensive Player of the Year, allow me to throw out this disclaimer: I am biased. Now, before you stop reading, let me explain. I’m not biased because I’m a Lakers fan (necessarily), I’m biased because I’ve seen nearly every minute that Ron Artest has played this season. This is something that I can not say about the other top defensive players in the NBA. So, because that is the case, I’ve seen first hand and game after game the impact that Ron has on the defensive side of the ball. I can not make this same claim about some of the other elite defenders around the NBA. Some may say that fact makes my views distorted or slanted. And that is a solid argument. However, I will also say that this fact makes me informed about the guy that I’m watching. And the guy I’m watching is a fantastic defensive player that is playing some of the best defense, night in and night out, that I’ve seen in a long time from any player.
I understand that there are several other strong candidates for this award. Reigning DPOY Dwight Howard is a fantastic defensive player in his own right and if he took home the hardware, I would applaud with little to no complaint. Besides Howard though, there’s players like Lebron (he of the chase down blocks and low foul rate), Andy Varejao (a great big man in P&R defense, drawer of offensive fouls, and overall defensive pest), and even defensive stalwarts KG (when healthy) and Tim Duncan (no explanation needed). So why do I choose Artest? Take a look at that list of contenders and tell me what you see. That’s right, save for Lebron, that is a list of big men. The guys who get loads of credit for blocked shots and rebounds (and to the more astute watcher hedging/recovering on pick and rolls, backline communication on defense, etc).
But Artest is the all too rare stopper on the defensive wing. He’s a guy that’s tasked with slowing down the premier offensive talents in the NBA – and does quite a good job at it. And because Ron plays on the wing, his effectiveness won’t always be measured by the stats that are found in the box score. Sure, Ron has opportunities to rack up steals – and he does average almost one and a half a game. But Ron is not a player that gambles a lot in the passing lanes. So while he may not rack up the gaudy steal numbers of some other players that shoot through gaps and read passes like a DB breaking on an out route (like Kobe, for example), the steals that Ron does pick up are mostly on the ball, litterally, taking the ball away from the man he’s guarding. Which is just one facet of the smothering on ball defense that he exhibits nightly.
Mainly though, it’s the tenacity and determination that Artest displays that has me recognizing his defense. Really, he just plays hard. He doesn’t take possessions off. He fights through screens, he bodies up his man, he closes out hard, and he helps his teammates. His overall effort is truly astounding when watched within the context of how normal players defend. Before I got to watch Ron on a nightly basis, I just didn’t understand this fact. But now, after watching him in 70+ games, I recognize how much effort he puts into defending. It really is a sight to see.
His defensive versatility is also off the charts. Last night, Ron battled Manu Ginobili (a SG) and bothered him on pretty much every possession that they faced off. Sure, Ginobili ended up with some good numbers, but he worked his tail off to get them and took some punishment from Ron on several plays (including one in which Ron and LO doubled Manu and when Ginobili tried to escape dribble, Ron poked the ball away from behind – trademark Artest move – grabbed the ball, bumped Manu off and then powered up for the layup as Ginobili ducked away). Just over a week ago, Ron did a spendid job on the beastly PG, Tyreke Evans. Then before that, there was the number he did on Carmelo Anthony. Ask Kevin Durant who he thinks is one of the toughest defenders he’s faced. And sure, there will be nights where Ron gets beat – Lebron’s game in January, the first half against Vince Carter a few Sundays ago, or parts of the game that he had against Wade in Miami come to mind – but that happens to even the best defenders. No one pitches a shut out in this league. Especially not when facing the types of players that Ron faces.
If you want to look at this from a statistics perspective (which is limited due to the type of defensive stats that are kept and the ability to properly ananlyze defensive impact), Ron holds players to a 12.7 PER Against. When looking at his on/off floor stats, the Lakers give up less points, opposing teams shoot a lower percentage, and the Lakers rebound better as a team when Ron is in the game. None of these stats are perfect, but they do begin to tell the story of Ron’s impact on the team defensively. They just perform better with him on the court. Not to mention that Ron’s work on defense also means that Kobe doesn’t have to guard the other team’s elite wing player for extended minutes, saving more of his energy for offense, where (if you haven’t noticed) the Lakers have needed him several times this season to make some big shots in the closing seconds.
But bringing this back full circle, Ron is my guy. I know there are other worthy candidates and the likelihood that Ron wins are pretty slim anyway. And while I’ve hinted at it before now and mentioned that he should be considered for the award, I’m now fully on board. If I had a vote, he’d get it. This doesn’t mean I’m right, but I trust what I see. And what I see is a player that is facing some of the best scorers in the entire league, night in and night out and either shutting them down, severly limiting them, or making them work as hard as possible to have effective nights. One night it’s Durant, then it’s Granger, then it’s ‘Melo, then Paul Pierce, Caron Butler, Vince Carter, Ginobili, Wade, Lebron, Joe Johnson, Brandon Roy, Iguodala, and on and on. So today, I thought I’d just give the man his due and put in my two cents on his defensive performance this season. To me, it’s award worthy.