Ron Artest: My Choice For 1st Team All-Defense

Darius Soriano —  March 29, 2011

With the post season rapidly approaching, we’re nearing the point where the regular season awards will be voted on. Over a series of posts, I’ll make my argument for a specific Laker to win an award or be included on one of the All-NBA or Defensive teams. Today, my take on why Ron Artest should be named to the All-Defensive 1st Team.

It’s difficult to quantify defense with statistics. Sure, we have the typical box score stats of steals and blocked shots. And over time we’ve also become more comfortable using advanced metrics like adjusted plus/minus, on and off-court statistics, and PER Against to try to paint a clearer picture of which players are most helping their teams on that side of the ball. However, none of these stats truly tell the whole story and we’re often left  judging players based off reputation or snippets of games that we watch when determining the best defensive players.

All that said, Ron Artest should make the All-Defensive 1st Team this year.

No, I don’t have the magic stat that sums up his impact. I could cite that when he’s off the court, the Lakers allow 2.15 points per 100 possessions more than when he’s on the court. I could tell you that his PER agasint is 14.4 (when playing SF) which is, technically, below league average production. Or I could tell you that he averages nearly 1.5 steals a game. But none of that would really do him justice when judging how good a defender he’s been this season.

We often talk about defensive anchors in this league and we mostly talk about big men. Dwight Howard, Andrew Bogut, Joakim Noah, Kevin Garnett, or even Andrew Bynum. This makes sense because players who can protect the basket and limit the easiest scoring opportunities have enormous value.

Well, Ron Artest is a defensive anchor that plays on the wing. The Lakers consistently put him on the other team’s best wing scorer and tell him to lock him up, and he does it.

This is where PER against doesn’t do Ron any favors. Look at that link again and you’ll notice that Ron doesn’t have any defensive statistics related to playing shooting guard. However, against the Clippers Ron spent nearly every minute on the court guarding Eric Gordon, who just so happens to be their leading scorer and their starting SG. The results were classic Artest as Gordon went 3-14 and scored only 7 points. In different games this year, Tyreke Evans, Brandon Roy, and Kevin Martin have also had to deal with Artest hounding them all over the court as Kobe got switched onto lesser wing threats. But we don’t see that reflected in Ron’s PER against (meanwhile Kobe’s PER Against when facing SG’s is 13.3)

Ron’s versatility hasn’t been limited to guarding SGs either. Earlier in the year when Bynum was hurt, or when the Laker bigs have been in foul trouble, the Lakers have been forced to go small and Ron’s had to guard PFs. Statistical metrics may not show it, but Ron’s given Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, and David West (and in a recent game, Carl Landry) issues too. I specifically remember a game vs. the Clippers where Bynum was out and Lamar Odom was having trouble dealing with Blake Griffin. In that contest, Artest switched onto Blake and proceeded to push him off his spots, and ended up forcing a steal on an entry pass into Blake that helped clinch that game. (As an aside, late game steals have become somewhat of a specialty for Ron, as he snatched the ball away from Steve Nash late in the triple OT game agaisnt the Suns that helped secure that win, as well as stealing the ball from Griffin on a fast break in the aforementioned recent Clipper game that helped secure that win.)

But forget going outside his natural position to defend players. Small forward is one of the more stacked positions in the league and Ron more than holds his own against the best of the best. In three games this year, Kevin Durant has shot 36% and scored 5 points below his season average when facing Artest and the Lakers. And while Pierce, Carmelo, and LeBron have had at least one good game against him, Artest came back in the rematches against those players and held them to relatively poor nights. (After going 11-18 in the first game, Pierce went 6-15 in the rematch. After going 8-14 on Christmas, Lebron went 7-17 in the rematch. After going 14-25 in the first game, ‘Melo went 10-24 in the rematch. Ron has done a great job of bouncing back against some of the best SFs in the game.)

Beyond the raw numbers or even the versatility offered, though, it’s Ron’s sheer presence on that side of the ball that I value the most. I understand that there are other premier wing defenders but in all the games that I’ve watched I rarely see such an intimidating, aggressive defender as Artest. He’s constantly poking the ball away or forcing a player to pick up his dribble, or even pestering a player into making an errant pass. How many times have you heard an announcer (either the LA crew or the opposing one) say that you “can’t play with the ball in front of Ron Artest”? How many times has a player had to turn his back to Ron (and completely removing himself as a threat to make a basketball move in the process) in order to shield the ball and ensure that Ron didn’t get his hands in to disrupt the play? This type of stuff happens several times a game and there’s no statistical measurement that can accurately place value on what that means to the Laker defense.

In the end, I know that Ron’s a long shot to make 1st team. Last year he probably had an even better defensive season and he didn’t make either 1st or 2nd team all defense. It doesn’t help his cause that the Lakers are looked at as a team that relies heavily on their big men as their defensive catalysts. Nor does it help that Ron plays with Kobe (who has a strong defensive reputation of his own) and is backed up by Matt Barnes, yet another player with a rep for playing strong D. But I’ve watched the games. I know how Ron’s been asked to chase players around screens, lock them down in isolation (where based off Synergy’s statistics, he’s a top 10 defender and only allows .53 points per play), and expertly challenge their shots. I’ve seen first hand how he changes the game on that side of the ball by cutting off passing angles, forcing turnovers (that aren’t neccessarily recorded as steals), and making players take extra dribbles that burn precious seconds off the shot clock. Even when he’s had a bad game he’s bounced back in the next one to play even better.

This year, he’s just been too good to go without recognition. Here’s hoping that he gets it.

Darius Soriano

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47 responses to Ron Artest: My Choice For 1st Team All-Defense

  1. Watching Artest this season has been a real pleasure. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a single defender show such a wide variety of looks even on a single play– laying off and swiping at the ball, bodying up right into the player’s chest (RA is so big it’s not easy to dribble around him), playing some completely bizarre angle where it almost looks as if he is on the backside of the defender, poking at the ball with his left hand as he runs past the defender on his right. He really has been breathtaking to watch.

    Also, you are absolutely right that he manages to do this against a huge variety of players (only Lebron seems to torch him), but it’s against Durant that he really seems to be at a completely different level– he utterly confounded Durant in last year’s playoffs so that in the rare moments in which Durant actually received the ball, you can see him looking around for Artest realizing that the only reason he even caught the ball in the first place was because Ron allowed him to as he has some other plan up his sleeve. Remember game one when Artest would play ball denial against KD for 4 straight plays, then back way off him, then charge at him as soon as the pass came his way?

    at games, I often will just watch RA off the ball for a possession– it’s simply incredible how hard the guy works and how much trouble he causes to whomever’s he’s guarding.

  2. 6th Man, MVP (and 1st-Team All-NBA), and 1st-Team All-Defense on the same team. They’re so stacked it almost sounds like this team might be a two-time defending champion!

    Hell, let’s make a push for Most Improved for Bynum. I know his sample set is too small, but I’m just going to unapologetically home for a moment.

    Not to mention the obvious Rookie of the Year plays in the same building. LA: Home of Hoops.

  3. In “The Art of a Beautiful Game …”, LBJ cited Artest as the player that he finds most punishing on offense.

    Now maybe that has changed in the couple years since the book was written, but I found that interesting (maybe even a typo?).

  4. If you need to look any further for proof about lies, damn lies, and statistics, you can end your search with Hollinger’s Playoff Odds.

    http://espn.go.com/nba/hollinger/playoffodds

    Relevant notes:

    Chicago is given a 26.7% chance to win the championship.

    The Lakers have a 12.8%, the Nuggets have an 11.9% and the Heat have an 11.5% to win the championship.

    That’s right, the Nuggets have a better shot than the Heat…

    Now, I despise the Heat, but even I must admit that the Heat simply have to have a better shot than the Nuggets do to win it all…

    I would be fairly surprised to see the Nuggets win a series at this point, even taking into account their recent hot streak.

  5. What about Bynum for 1st team All-Defense?

    I agree with Ron deserving it but they both have taken the defense under thier belts. They should both be considered especially if Bynum can keep it up

  6. #5. Unless you’re arguing for Bynum to make it over Howard, I don’t see how Big Drew is a 1st Team All-D performer. I’ve been as impressed as anyone with him in the Lakers’ run of late. But even if you think he’s been better than Howard lately, Bynum is not close to matching his impact over the entire year.

  7. When it is a vote, I don’t care how much you try to filter the data, any winning is based on popularity and reputation – for the most part. For us to think anything different is really kind of goofy. Therefore, I really don’t ascribe any particular importance to these kinds of awards.

  8. Which SF would be a better 1st-team candidate than Ron? LeBron? Nope. I really can’t think of one. The only two SFs who approach Ron’s level both play for the Blazers. Of course, the Eastern and Midwest press will probably select Deng and LeBron to the first team. Barf.

  9. @5, 6. I think Drew is a legitimate 3rd team all-defense candidate behind Howard and Bogut. It’s possible that Chandler and/or Duncan will get chosen above Drew, selections that would be based on reputation alone. He’s so much better on D now than those two guys that it’s comical.

  10. Dude, too bad there’s no 3rd team for all-defense. I’m still holding out hope Bynum’ll make 2nd.

    Also: Battier might get a wing spot, especially given how heavily the awards are based on reputation.

  11. I remember you wrote a similar post on Ron Ron last season, arguing that he should win DPOY. And what happens? Ron Ron gets snubbed completely.

    Here’s to hoping that you aren’t jinxing LA’s favorite defender (again).

  12. Awards are awards and it’s better if our players don’t get it because it places a chip on their shoulders and makes them cheaper to retain, if only slightly. Although I’m not exactly sure if we want Artest to play with a chip on his shoulder, in general I don’t mind our guys not winning things unless it’s Kobe and haters use the non-selection to disparage him.

  13. #12. I aimed lower this time. Honestly though, last year Ron not making either of the All-D teams was a disgraceful. There were not 4 better defensive forwards in the league last season. This year, I don’t think there are two.

  14. MICHAEL ZARABI aka ZERB March 29, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    heat down by 13 to cleveland … not bad

    highly doubt cle could hold up much longer

  15. I totally agree with lil pau’s remarks above. Since he’s come to the Lakers I can’t count how many times I’ve focused almost entirely on watching Artest play defense when he’s in the game.

    It’s like a game-within-the game, like watching Reggie Miller weave through a ton of screens to get open looks back in the day with the Pacers.

    The NBA’s awards are a joke, and I often suspect they’re rigged. (Nash’s second MVP, co-rookies of the year and the infamous Shaq-Kobe lovefest at the All-Star game in Phoenix a couple of years ago are prime examples.) Artest will probably get no love on the All-Defense votes, but that doesn’t mean he’s not been a lockdown defender this season.

    Again, the only award the means anything is the trophy they give to the last team standing in mid-June.

  16. LOL…these Cleveland Cavalier announcers on NBA TV might as well be in short skirts and pom-poms. Nice game so far, hope they can hold on when les douches trois make their next run.

  17. on a side note, LeBron said he’ll be grateful if/when Cleveland retires his jersey.

    total inappropriateness and mis-timing aside, i think it begs the question:

    When Kobe retires, will he prefer 24 being retired or 8?

    8 is forever linked to Shaq but also to 81.

    24 is linked to the 2 championships (hopefully more) post-Shaq.

    I don’t think it’s likely that he’d get both retired, and thus lean more heavily on 24 being his preferred number of retirement…

  18. One thing I forgot about when Cleveland raced out to that 71-48 lead with five minutes left in the 3rd quarter, was that Byron is their coach. He subbed out four of his starters, Miami went into a 2-3 zone, and Byron let his subs give up all but two points of that lead before bringing back his starters, and never made adjustments to the offense against that zone.

  19. That does beg an interesting question:

    In a fantasy, hypothetical draft, where you can only have the stats accumulated by the jersey that player wore (Bryant # 8 vs Byrant #24) which Kobe would you take?

    I would take #24, if only for the level of passion, anger, and determination he brings.

    I always get the sense that Kobe knows EXACTLY how much time is costing him, and he is playing as hard and as smart as he can to wring every drop that he can out of his skills. I truly think that he notices opponents in a very cursory way.

    He is, in reality, only competing against history, against time, and against himself. And that is why he is my favorite player of his era.

  20. I’m loving watching the Miami Heat self-destruct down the stretch.

  21. at least lebron ‘s getting his triple doubles:)

  22. LeBron does love to throw up triple-doubles in losing efforts, doesn’t he? I wonder what his winning percentage is in all his triple-double games.

  23. yay cavs

  24. Nice work by the Cavs. Can’t fault that effort.

  25. Yesterday and today, gifts keep piling up, not that a Heat loss is a big deal ;)

    Still, better than them winning.

  26. here’s a number: 32-6
    bench nos., Cavs vs. Heat

  27. Heat losing almost assures Lakes of HCA over
    South beach.

    I kno many hold out for HCA vs spurs but that
    would be remarkable. I’m happy with HCA against the entire east. Plus getting #1 seed pits us against OKC instead of Dallas in the subsequent round. Much rather face mavs.

    Lakes winning 60 games seems likely now. That seemed like an impossibility in mid-feb

  28. JB,
    Lebron is 24-8 in games where he has a triple double.

  29. lebron did not even show up for the introduction….how childish

  30. @22, 23, and 29. I loved how LeBron fiercely pulled down the rebound of Hollins’ missed FT to get his triple-double, with ten seconds left and Cleveland up 14. Way to go, Bron!

  31. 31

    Ya and then bron says the triple double doesn’t mean anything to him all he cares about is winning

  32. LeBron not giving the Cleveland Fans the satisfaction by being a no show for the intro’s … Funny … But also Cowardly

  33. i looked at some of the bulls’ advanced stats and i noticed something interesting.

    they’re a terrific offensive rebounding team this year, and i think the primary reason is derrick rose. one way he makes his teammates/team better is through penetration. By drawing help, defenses get scrambled and their bigs and athletic wings are able to attack the glass with a 4-on-3 advantage.

    his mid-range game is suspect, and the stats back this up. if i’m coaching against him, i’d rather concede the jumper than permit his teammates to get easier looks/2nd chance points.

    the challenge is trying to stay in front of him or force him to give up his dribble when the bulls run screen-roll.

    in a low possession game, i don’t think they’re efficient enough offensively to grind out wins when their 2nd chance points are limited.

    that being said, the lakers are a poor defensive rebounding team. forcing opponents to shoot a low percentage from the field is fool’s gold if they can’t corral rebounds.

    ask boston what went wrong in game 7.

  34. Glad the high point of Cleveland’s season won’t be their victory over the Lakers.

  35. Lake show playing awesome. The rest of the league either floundering, nursing injuries, or coasting into the playoffs with a lot of question marks and uncertainties. Remember when this was a topic?

    http://sports.espn.go.com/los-angeles/nba/news/story?id=6256734

  36. Great post Darius. But I think Lebron is the only SF that is a better defender than RonRon. At worst Artest should be on the 2nd team. I’ve never seen a player like Ron who plays defense like Kobe plays offense… Constantly attacking. It’s beautiful to see while simultaneously being downright scary for the opposition.

  37. @34. Good points, which is why Phil should put Kobe on Rose and give him the Rondo treatment if the two teams should meet in the Finals. Let him shoot 30 jumpers a game, then block out on the boards. Phil didn’t put Kobe on Rondo until Game 3 of the 2008 Finals, and it cost us (well, that plus Lukomir Waltonovic getting the bulk of the SF minutes and “guarding” Paul Pierce).

    Edit – I recently caught the game on TV from the 05-06 season where Kobe outscored Dallas 62-61 through three quarters then sat out the fourth. The difference in quickness and jumping ability between Luke then and Luke now is glaring and sad.

  38. Lukomir Waltonovic lolololololololololololol

    …and yes, people forget that at one time Walton was an average NBA athlete

  39. Yep…and while I agree with you, Aaron that LeBron’s defensive ceiling is higher than Ron-Ron’s, he doesn’t play defense with the same intensity for the entire game that Ron does. High intensity and high energy also is a talent, and Ron has a ton of it.

  40. Hm, can’t argue with a .750 winning percentage. Darius, where did you pull that stat?

  41. 41 Kobe has a 100% winning percentage when he scores over 80

  42. OT, but playing 2K11 against the Lakers (got drafted by the Nets), it is so ridiculous to see how good Ron and Kobe are at locking down wings and making it tough for them on offense and defense. Fantasy parallels reality. Both should be 1st team D.

  43. I belive that being choosen for the 1st defensive team should be about the defense played not the ability to play defense and Bran sometimes doesn’t commit 100%.

  44. Meant Bryan

  45. Off topic, but relevant to the lakers – “ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)
    The Anaheim city council unanimously approved a $75 million bond deal Tuesday night to entice the Sacramento Kings to relocate to Orange County.”

    As mentioned elsewhere, this move likely reduces the value of the TV deal the Lakers inked recently. On the other hand, they gain a couple “road” games per season that will be like home games.

  46. Dude,
    Yes it’s true that Artest’s defensive motor is extremely rare talent, it only gets him closer to Lebrons defensive production, not equal to in my opinion.