For most of the year, a topic of (at least some) concern has been the play of Ron Artest. In early December we covered the topic and ultimately came to the conclusion that Ron wasn’t playing as poorly as some of his numbers looked and that a lot of what we were judging Ron’s performances on were based on comparisons to the strong play of Barnes and the fact that the Lakers were missing Bynum.
Well, since both of those factors have changed in recent weeks (Barnes has been out injured and Bynum has since returned) I thought now would be a good time to take another look at Artest and see if his performance has changed with different circumstances.
Low and behold, his performance has indeed changed. And it’s done so for the better. Below are some of Artest’s offensive numbers for the season and then for the past 8 games (when Barnes has been out with his knee injury):
Season: 28 mpg, 8.3 points, 41.2% FG, 39.3% 3point FG, 50.2% True Shooting
Last 8 games: 35mpg, 11 points, 49.2% FG, 43.8% 3point FG, 63% True Shooting
Granted, the increase in points per game can easily be attributed to his jump in minutes. But what about the increased efficiency? Artest has been shooting the ball much better from both two and three point distance and it’s reflected in his 13% jump in true shooting (a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 3 pointers and FT’s). And when watching him, it’s obvious that he’s so much more comfortable on offense than he’s been all season. Gone (for the most part) is the indecisiveness when he has the ball in his hands and he is working within the offense better than he has all season. Several times a game now he’s making excellent reads on when to dive into the post and his teammates are noticing by delivering the ball to him in prime position to score. When on the perimeter, he’s no longer second guessing on when to shoot but rather firing away when the shot presents himself – though still showing good patience and recognition on what’s a good shot and what’s not. While it’d be a stretch to say he’s a completely different player, he’s worlds ahead of where he was 6 weeks ago.
And it’s not just on offense that I’ve seen an improvement in Ron’s game. In the linked post on him from earlier this year, we mentioned that his focus on D wasn’t quite the same as it was last season. Well, that’s no longer the case. In this recent stretch (and before it too, actually) Ron’s defense has again been completely smothering. He’s pressuring ball handlers, getting deflections, and working as hard as ever off the ball by bodying his man and making him uncomfortable. Against the Jazz the Lakers announcers mentioned several times how “you can’t play around with the ball with Artest on you” in reacting to how much trouble C.J. Miles was having whenever he tried to use his dribble to attack Ron. I really can’t say enough about how disruptive he’s been in swiping at the ball when players are tying to make a move and forcing miss dribbles that ultimately lead to turnovers.
And while there are likely several reasons for Ron’s improved play, I don’t think you can discount the fact that without Barnes to soak up minutes at SF, Ron no longer has anyone over his shoulder looking to take substantial minutes from him. This allows him to play much more like last season where he often had to work through mistakes or stretches of below average play, giving him the chance to find any lost rhythm more quickly. This can often lead to a calmer, more focused player and the results that come with that.
Whatever the reasons though, it’s just great to see Ron playing better and contributing to the team’s success. In his first season and a half with the team I think we can all agree that few players care about winning or compete as hard as Ron. Personally, I love to see players rewarded for that type of determination and lately that’s exactly what we’ve been seeing. Hopefully, when Barnes returns, we see this same level of play as that would go a long way towards helping the Lakers reach their ultimate goal.