What To Do With Ron Artest

Darius Soriano —  May 3, 2010

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Lebron James.  Carmelo Anthony.  Paul Pierce.  Kevin Durant.  Brandon Roy.  While this is an amended list, it’s these (types of) players that the Lakers were thinking of when they signed Ron Artest as a free agent.  Sure, the Lakers were optimistic that Ron’s all around offensive game would mesh in with the Triangle, but we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge that improving the Lakers defense wasn’t on the minds of Mitch Kupchak and Phil Jackson when the green light was given on this acquisition.  However when looking at that list of great wing scorers, you don’t see a member of the Utah Jazz.  And that fact led to a couple of interesting comments in the lead up to this series:

Mamula: “It will be interesting to see who will Ron Artest be guarding in this series. He is not quick enough to put on Deron. Wesley Matthews and CJ Miles are not really explosive constant scorers, even though they have their moments from time to time.”

Ray: “Is it just me, or should we just put Fisher or Kobe on D. Will? I love Artest, but I don’t think he can handle his speed.”

So, at this point, the question must be asked – who is the best person for Artest to guard?  In game 1, Phil Jackson started Artest on CJ Miles and then moved him onto Deron when Fisher picked up an early foul.  And while Ron did an okay job on Williams, I think Mamula and Ray’s concerns were valid in that Deron’s quickness and ability to change directions did at times leave Ron flatfooted and out of position.  Now, that’s nothing to be ashamed off as Williams is a headache for nearly every defender and slowing him down will always be a team effort and not one that can be assigned to one player.  But is this the best use of Ron’s defensive skills? 

At this point, I think it’s fair to say that Williams is going to accumulate his stats against any defender the Lakers throw up against him.  Whether it’s Kobe, Shannon, or Fisher, Williams is just too good a player to stop completely and even slowing him down is a serious chore.  So, should we really be sending Ron out there against him?  I’m acutally not sure it’s the best approach. (On a side note, Fisher actually does a good job against Deron – it must be all that practice time against him from when Fish was on the Jazz.)

In game one, Wesley Matthews and CJ Miles combined for 30 points on 24 shots.  And while these aren’t the most efficient numbers, they do highlight the fact that these two guys are threats.  And when you consider that Miles (34% on threes this season) only made 1 of his 5 attempts from behind the arc but had several wide open looks from distance that just missed, this point total could have been much worse from the Lakers perspective.  Just looking at those point totals for those players, it reminds me of the boxscore from the lone Jazz win during the regular season where the team had tremendous scoring balance and was able to spread the scoring load around enough to earn the 8 point win.  And it’s those types of team efforts on offense that will be needed to beat the Lakers.

As Kevin at TrueHoop expressed yesterday, the Jazz face some daunting disadvantages in this match up.  If they are going to overcome them, they can’t just rely on their typical exploits from Boozer and Millsap to pull them through.  And even if Deron goes off in the way that he did against Denver, it will still take some better than just solid performances from some of Utah’s supporting players on the wing.  That means Miles, Matthews, and Korver will need to step up their games and perform well.  So why not deploy Artest in full on ‘defending Durant’ mode to shut one of these guys out?  Wouldn’t that go further in helping to secure a win than throwing him on Deron for extended streches?  Especially when it really will be a team effort where switches, double teams, and strong side zone looks are likely to be deployed in slowing the Jazz all-star PG?  Maybe I’m off base with this.  What do you think?  What should the Lakers do with Ron Artest?

Darius Soriano

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