When the Lakers traded Lamar Odom, they lost a lot of useful qualities. They lost a locker room leader. They lost an unselfish glue guy. Maybe most importantly, however, they lost a talented player with diverse skill that could play all over the floor on both sides of the ball; a player that could use his versatile skill set to effectively play off of his teammates. When looking back to 2011 (and years prior), some of the Lakers best lineups were ones where Odom played PF next to either Gasol or Bynum. His value, in that way, was really immeasurable.
In replacing Odom with Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy, and (later) Jordan Hill the Lakers went with more traditional archetypes of players and found mixed results. All three players proved useful for stretches, but none could truly approximate the skills Odom brought to the table in a single player (McRoberts came closest but he’s not nearly the talent that 2011 Odom was). This led to Mike Brown shuffling back and forth between them, ultimately settling on Jordan Hill down the stretch of the season as his defensive consistency and work on the glass proved most valuable out of what each brought to the table.
Moving forward, however, it’d be nice if the Lakers could approximate more of what Odom brought to the table in a single player. Interestingly enough, they may have that guy on their roster already. His name is (was) Ron Artest.
Once upon a time, Ron was one of the best two way players in the league and while his decreased athleticism has made him less effective, he’s still got all the facets of his game. He has a good handle, can create off the dribble for himself or teammates, is a decent shooter from the outside, and can post up and finish in the paint. Defensively, we know that Ron can still play well even though his foot speed isn’t quite what it was when he first came to the Lakers. But, overall, these are skills that could translate well to playing some PF if the Lakers decide they want to go small.
In fact, this past season it already started to happen. In some very small sample sizes, the Lakers performed quite well with Ron playing PF in small-ball lineups next to Gasol (mostly) and Bynum (much less frequent). The most standard lineups were those that used a PG (Fisher, Sessions, or Blake), Kobe, Barnes, Ron, and Gasol. Those lineups all produced efficiency differentials of over 10 and performed, on average, much better on both sides of the ball than the Lakers standard personnel groupings.
Of course, with samples as small as the ones I looked at, the results can’t be extrapolated out to longer stretches without taking into account how things could go wrong. Ron’s jumper has been inconsistent and that could compromise spacing. His lack of height and below the rim game would make it an even bigger challenge to post up against bigger players and still be effective. Rebounding could also become an issue should he be matched up against someone with superior quickness and leaping ability that could beat him to the ball.
However, even when considering those potential pitfalls, I’m of the mind that it could work. Simply by having Ron space the floor against traditional PF’s the Lakers could open up their offense more. His ability to knock down open shots or drive past slower closeouts could also boost his effectiveness as a play maker. He still shows good instincts when moving into open space, bodying up his man, and in chasing loose balls, which would aid him when rebounding on both sides of the ball. Defensively he has the foot speed to keep up with most PF’s and has the strength to battle anyone in the post. In the past two seasons the Lakers have switched Ron onto Blake Griffin and Kevin Love on key possessions late in games to get the stops they sought. He held his own against both players and they happen to be two of the better players at that position.
As the league moves forward there will be a greater emphasis on lineup versatility. We’re seeing it right now in the Finals with LeBron and Durant both staples of traditional and small lineups their teams deploy. And while Ron isn’t in those players class as elite talents, his skill set is varied enough and his tenacity more than enough that a part time role as a PF could be worth exploring more in the future. I wouldn’t expect Ron to replace what Odom brought to the team, but he could mirror some of LO’s skills and give the Lakers another option outside of the more one dimensional players they used this past season. And, as we look to what this team needs to be more successful moving forward, that’s surely on the list.