Improving From Within: Ron Artest

Darius Soriano —  June 8, 2011

When fans and media talk about how to improve a team, the conversation normally drifts towards player acquisition. If a team could only replace player X with a more capable guy via the draft, trade, or free agency, the team would take that next step forward. However, going this route isn’t always easy and is complicated by a number of factors. So, today, we continue our series on how the Lakers can improve themselves internally with a look at Ron Artest. For past installments, see our looks at Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum.

Ron Artest, to put it mildly, has had an up and down turn as a Laker. In year one he was a monster defensively, hit key shots in the playoffs that helped the Lakers win the title, and operated as a solid foot soldier for Phil Jackson with no distractions to the team. This past year, though continuing to disappoint those that expected him to blow up and sink the Laker ship, his game regressed in several meaningful ways. His minutes dropped and with that nearly all his per game statistics fell as well. His efficiency on offense also dropped off, so his decline in production can’t be explained away simply by the number of minutes he played. His defense, while still of a high caliber, was not as consistently tenacious with several more games where his man got the better of him than in his first year with the team.

His playoffs were a perfect example of how he was less consistent in year two as a great 1st round against the Hornets devolved into a spiraling struggle against the Mavs that saw him shoot 32% and get ejected and suspended for a flagrant foul. Needless to say, by the end of the season, it was clear that Ron Artest was not a player the coaches felt they could rely on for consistent production.

However, coming into next year, I’m not ready to bury Artest as a player that’s stuck in a decline. Yes, he’s aging. It’s also true that his role on offense is complicated by the fact that he’s at best the 5th option on the team and the 4th best option on the floor in any given line up. But none of this means that he can’t be a more consistent performer in 2012 with some tweaks to his game and a refinement to his offensive role. In essence, I think there’s still some improvement that can come from Ron.

Unlike other players on the team, however, there’s not much Ron can do from a physical standpoint to actually become a better player. As an offensive contributor, he is what he is. I don’t expect his jumper to suddenly become better or for his athleticism to improve. But, what I do expect is for the coaches to find better ways to take advantage of his skill set.

More than any other player on the team, I think Ron has untapped ability to help on offense that coaching can help bring out. Under Phil Jackson, Ron was relegated to a spot up shooter from the corner and a post up option off ball reversals and actions where he’d cut to the rim only to stop short to turn, seal, and post up his man. Limiting Ron to these actions and these spots of the floor may have been best for the overall flow of the offense (it’s no secret that Ron never seemed to fully grasp all the intricacies of the Triangle), but what they also did was put Ron in positions of the floor where he’s not most comfortable.

For most of Artest’s career, he hasn’t been the best shooter from the corners but has instead preferred the three pointer from the top of the key. And while taking advantage of his post up chances is typically a good idea based off his strength and ability to establish and maintain good position, because this was one of Ron’s only ways of getting the ball he often forced these actions, drawing offensive fouls or three second calls in the process.

This up coming season, I’d like to see the Lakers (somewhat) expand Ron’s role  on offense to let him operate with the ball in his hands a bit more while also positioning him on the floor in places where he’s more comfortable. That not only means putting him at the top of the key where he’s a better shooter but also letting him initiate offense a bit more by handling the ball up high where he can try to put the ball on the floor (especially going left) to better take advantage of his ability to score off the dribble (something that he’s had some success with in the past) and set up his teammates by driving and dishing (something he proved he could do pretty well in his first year on the team).

Granted, I know that any increased responsibility for Artest on offense must in turn be taken away from someone else and that the Lakers surely still want to take advantage of their more potent players on that side of the ball. I’m certainly not arguing that Ron overtake Pau, Bynum, or even Odom as an option in the offensive scheme they run next year. But, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for Ron to get a few more touches where he’s given a bit more leeway than he has in the two years he played under Phil Jackson. I understand Ron’s history for high-jacking possessions and also understand that counting on a player that’s been as inefficient as Artest has these past few seasons is a risk. But, to be fair, he still has some talent on that side of the ball and it’s to the detriment of the team if they continue to be consistently outperformed at this position.

In the end, I’m hopeful that an offense that relies less on the full read and react nature of the Triangle can give Ron more direction on offense. And with better focus and a bit of an expanded role, we’ll see a more productive and efficient player next season. Hopefully any improvement on offense will also translate to the defensive side of the ball where, despite what I thought was a season worthy of making the all-defense 2nd team, Ron can still take his game up another level from this past year. All in all, there’s room for growth next year from Artest and if he and the coaches can find a way to bring that to the surface, the Lakers will have improved without having to bring in a player at his position.

Darius Soriano

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13 responses to Improving From Within: Ron Artest

  1. Ron is a fabulous defender and a game changer on that side of the ball. However, he has proven to be effective on offense only when being the first or second option on a team throughout his career. Maybe a new offense will help but I doubt it. Artest just isnt as effective playing off the ball in a league where most players are more comfortable playing off teammates. Ron seems to love making plays for himself or others as he was very effective against last year with the ball in his hands. All in all I’m happy with an elite defender and mediocre offensive player at SF. If you look at the NBA SFs RonRon is at worst middle of the pack.

  2. Re: Mike Brown on Lopez Tonight

    There was one particular interesting nugget that revealed Brown’s thoughts on the Lakers’ defensive identity.

    “There’s a nice foundation on the defensive end of the floor,” Brown said. “You’ve got the two seven footers. You got the versatility in Lamar Odom. You got the mean toughness in big Ron Ron. And you got the sleekness in my man Kobe Bryant.

    Whether it was a Freudian slip or an honest mistake, Brown made no mention of what Derek Fisher provides defensively. Read the tea leaves for what they’re worth,

  3. Aaron that’s just wishful thinking on your part.

    As for Artest, I think he will thrive as a defender under Mike Brown. The question will be what will Brown plan for Artest on offense. We know that he will utilize the bigs as well as give Kobe his shots, what will Artest’s role in offense be?

  4. “we continue our series on how the Lakers can improve themselves internally”

    This team just needs relatively small improvements to be back on top; they are certainly capable of that. It’s really a question of desire, as demonstrated in passion, work effort, and willingness to take different (in some cases slightly different, in some cases potentially significantly different) roles.

  5. It was a fascinating to contemplate how the de facto Ariza-Artest swap would effect their individual performances before the games were played. With a significantly higher usage rate and significantly lower efficiency, Ariza pretty much fell right into expectation. Artest, on the other hand, has not increased his efficiency, though his offensive responsibilities have fallen.

    Though it’s preferable over his dribble for 4 seconds and then taking a fadeaway jumper ala his Sacramento/Houston days, Artest just doesn’t look like a good catch and shoot guy to me. I’m also not sure giving him the ball at the top of the key expecting him to break down defenders is realistic at this point. I don’t recall a lot of successful drives from him. Maybe someone with Synergy data can correct me on these points.

    Physically, Artest could try to lose a little bulk. CBS’s Dunk-O-Meter has him down for 5 dunks during the entire season, a sad low. I recall that he intentionally lost weight during the 09-10 season. Losing some weight might help his elevation. He won’t get a lot of dunks, but it could help him finish inside the paint better. It might help him better get around some screens when guarding a quick guard as well.

    The Lakers have been strong, if inconsistent, defensive teams the past couple of years, but I’m sure Brown will put even greater emphasis on that end. That’s where I’m most excited to see Artest. Hopefully he’ll be energized and engaged to be one of the defensive linchpins on the team, and perform at a higher level overall. I think that might be more realistic than expecting more O from him.

  6. I could see Ron improving next season, he sometimes gets a lift from working with a new coach. Sophmore years, not always the case.

  7. I wish losing weight would help him at the rim. For a guy who’s far from being a scrub, and a guy who has solid height, I’ve never in my life witnessed a player who was so utterly inept at the rim. He jumps off the wrong foot, has no lift — it’s just a turnover waiting to happen when he’s on the wing in a break.

    He’s one of my favorite Lakers to watch — love his personality, defense, etc. But damn if he’s not a spaz when it comes to shooting on the run.

    Fish is just as bad, but that’s more a matter of age. Ron just plays like he’s wearing cement shoes.

  8. Artest perfected locked arms defense that leads to judo. lol! He’s puts up a funny face when the ref calls for double foul, “what me?”. If other Lakers would like to learn how to defend, then Ron would be a great leader in that area especially for the incoming rookies. Speaking of rookies, at last we get to see them play not just a bunch of cauliflowers on the bench.

    I hope Ron will be sold to Mike Brown, it’d difficult if he turns into head case to the coach and the team suffers like when he was with the Kings.

  9. Artest must have a bad back or something, he has no lift at the rim. Remember that game in the Playoffs when he missed an under-the-basket shot badly. But, that does not seem to bother him on one-on-one defending another player, he is a lock down defender for sure. I think he will be fine with Brown and in a different offense.

  10. @10 – yeah but every now and then he gets up and dunks it, like against the Clips this past March. Shannon Brown throws it down and then Ron does the same, over Kamen. It’s really odd because like you said, usually he has no lift at all.

  11. I don’t know if you read what T’wolves are saying which was on Hoopshype.

    “On Friday, I detailed the Timberwolves’ draft strategies in the wake of signing Ricky Rubio to a contract. Here’s the CliffsNotes version: Publicly, the team is claiming that they’re likely to hang on to the pick. Privately, they’re hoping that a team comes along and offers them an impact veteran — someone such as Pau Gasol, Monta Ellis or even JaVale McGee — for the pick.” ESPN.com

    Would u be willing to trade Pau for Ricky Rubio as PG. I think Pau should be a Laker if Rubio is coming to LA. Secondly, trading a big for small is never a good idea. Why don’t they reserve it for a possible block buster trade that may happen before All Stars game. Thirdly, as Renato A. said he’s not even sure whether Ricky Rubio’s defense will pan out in NBA.

  12. #12. Am I missing something? The Wolves want to trade the *pick* not *Rubio*.