Archives For ron artest

UPDATE: Did we jump the gun a bit with our post below? Possibly. Maybe. We’ll see.

The Lakers can’t officially use their amnesty provision until July 10th (with the window to use it closing on July 16th). Kevin Ding acknowledged in his tweet that the Lakers could still change their mind and other reporters (most notably Ramona Shelburne) have noted that they have not yet confirmed the team will amnesty Ron.

Meanwhile, Kobe has weighed in on twitter with an opinion on possibly cutting ties with Ron:

Whether this is Kobe applying some public pressure or just speaking his opinion is open to interpretation. In the tweet before the one above, Kobe wished Ron well and acknowledged that he was a “casualty of the new CBA”. So, maybe Kobe was just speaking off the cuff when stating what he would do. We’ll see what the Lakers will decide in the next week.

Looks like the only Lakers’ news of the day isn’t the signing of free agent Chris Kaman. With the announcement that the team will be saying hello to a new player, they are likely on the verge of saying goodbye to another.

Per Kevin Ding, the Lakers plan to use the amnesty provision on Metta World Peace:

The move is purely a cost cutting one, saving the Lakers nearly $30 million $21.5 million (per Eric Pincus) in luxury tax payments for the upcoming season. With the escalated tax system kicking in for next year, the Lakers will be hit hard for their high payroll and, as we’ve mentioned before, Ron was the most likely candidate to get cut using this one time tool to remove salary off the team’s cap.

While this move makes sense financially, and, to a certain extent on the floor considering slippage in Ron’s game on both sides of the floor, it’s also a tough pill to swallow when zooming in on the state of the roster right now. While I anticipated Ron playing more small ball PF next year, he was the only viable SF on the roster and with the Lakers already likely to use their mini-mid level on Kaman, the team only has minimum salaried contracts to offer any replacements on the wing. Even with Ron in decline, it’s tough to envision a player coming in and providing what he did on both ends of the floor for such a paltry price tag.

I, for one, will miss him. Ron always played with an intensity and competitive fire that was distinct. And while playing on the edge in the way that he did would sometimes lead to him crossing the line between fair and foul, his determination and desire to give his all on the floor was something that many don’t always provide. When you combine his temperament with some of his big game performances, Ron will live on in Lakers’ lore for a lifetime.

I mean, I will never forget his put-back against the Suns in the 2010 Western Conference Finals nor the even bigger performance — and clutch 3 pointer — he provided in game 7 of the NBA Finals. His post game press conference is also the stuff of legend, but that just obscures the fact that without Ron in uniform, it’s unlikely the Lakers defeat their long time foes to claim the title, or even get that far for that matter.

As Ding reports, there’s still a chance, though seemingly slim, that the team changes their mind and keeps Ron on board for next season. But if Ron actually has played his last game in the forum blue and gold uniform of the Lakers, I wish him nothing but the best in wherever he lands. He still has something to give on the floor and whatever team he’s on will surely appreciate the toughness, effort, and heart he plays with. There will be some down moments too, of course, but in the end that’s what you get with Ron. And, crazy as it sounds, I probably wouldn’t have it any other way.

UPDATE: The Lakers released more information about Ron’s injury and recovery timetable and it’s not good:

This, of course, was always a possibility but now that it’s official it is dispiriting. Barring what would right now look to be an unlikely run in the playoffs, Ron’s season is over.

The hits keep on coming. This time, it’s the player I still affectionately call Ron who has been bit by the injury bug. As we mentioned in our game recap, Ron sat out the 2nd half of Monday’s game against the Warriors with what was being called a strained knee. Today he received and MRI in Minnesota and the news was not good:

Another in a long line of injuries this season. This one, just like the others, poses a real problem for the Lakers in both the short an the long term.

As we’ve discussed several times before, the Lakers are already thin on the wing. While the Lakers have several guards who can play on the wing (Kobe, Meeks, Blake), Ron is the only true small forward who has played any substantial role this season. He’s a vital rotation player if only because of the position he plays and the minutes he soaks up as a viable two way player. For a team that’s as top heavy and as shallow at certain positions as the Lakers, these middle tier role players who’ve earned minutes are nearly as indispensable as the big four.

Beyond the minutes, though, Ron’s also been an underrated performer in terms of how his on court performance has translated to team success. When Ron is on the floor, the Lakers’ offensive efficiency is 5.1 points better than when he’s on the bench. On defense, he has a similar impact as the team’s defensive efficiency is 4.8 points better when he’s on the floor than when he’s on the bench. These splits — especially on defense — are some of the best on the team and represent a player who clearly impacts team performance even if he’s had his ups and downs as an individual performer.

Continue Reading…

Are there really no twists in this plot?

Nearly eight weeks removed from their lone, 24-hour peek over the .500 threshold, and losers of five straight since last sporting as many wins as losses, the Lakers took the Staples Center floor Friday night desperate, desperate to put a tally in the left hand column of 2013’s ledger, desperate to the salvage something from this week’s run through the Western Conference, desperate to resuscitate a heretofore stillborn season for the ages.

Admittedly, an encounter with the OKC is hardly an elixir for what ails the depleted and downtrodden Lakers. The defending Western Conference champions – hardly averse to putting a thumping on Kobe & Co. – entered Friday’s tilt in need of a victory to maintain a share of the NBA’s best record with the Clippers (yep, we’re there), the league’s most devastating wing attack in tow.

And then, in a game that tipped off against the backdrop of inevitable defeat, for 12 magical minutes, Lakers succeeded in not only in keeping the Thunder within striking distance, but actually had the score level. Despite seven shot attempts (and just one make) by Metta in the game’s first seven minutes, the offensive styling’s of Kobe Bryant, Jordan Hill 2.0, err, Earl Clark and evolutionary-Jack-Haley-turned-starting-center Robert Sacre, the Lakers weathered an early Thunderstorm (I am SO sorry for that) and, thanks to an 11-0 run that took place with Kevin Durant on the bench, and entered the second quarter tied at 25.

Then, as I drafted the official charter for the Earl Jam Fan Club while Etch-a-Sketching Bobby Sacre’s corporeal mural, oddly secure in the misguided pregame belief that the confluence of SO many antagonists had merely set the stage for contrarianism’s latest triumph, the worm began to turn. And man, what a pirouette it was. That Kobe Bryant and Earl Clark combined to outscore Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the opening stanza (13-12) was soon a distant memory, as the Thunder blitzed the Lakers, hanging 39 in the second quarter to open up a 64-48 halftime lead, a lead they’d extend to 73-52 two and a half minutes into the third quarter (yep, that’s 48-27 in 14.5 post-first quarter minutes), and ultimately stretch to 27 points.

With Russell Westbrook at less than his devastating best for much of the night, it was tempting to envision a scenario in which the Lakers might cobble together a scrappy collective effort and steal perhaps their unlikeliest victory of the season. But then, y’know, Kevin Durant.

In 39 minutes, KD delivered a soul-crushing 42 points (on 16-of-25 shooting), with 8 rebounds, 5 assists. Upon scoring his 38th point, Durant had seen the floor for all of 21 minutes, and attempted just 20. From the beautiful three-point play in transition that signaled his intent for the evening, to his 16-pont barrage in the second quarter, to his 13-point effort in third, Kevin Durant was nothing short of sublime on Friday night.

Stop me if you read this on Twitter during the game (or don’t – you can read it twice), but to say that Durant torched the Lakers is to grossly overrate the destructive power of fire.

By the time the story of this game was written, nightmare scenarios – both micro and macro – had become the Lakers’ reality. An inspiring start fizzled into yet another dispirited defeat. Laying down the bassline for tonight’s symphony of disappointment were two men from whom a significant contribution was expected at both ends, Metta World Peace and Antawn Jamison. Not only did the duo fail to extract maximum effort from Durant in exchange for his points, they turned up the volume scoring to earsplitting levels, connecting on just 13 of 35 shots (1-of-12 on 3’s) en route to 31 points.

ALL of that said…

On a night on which the Oklahoma City Thunder could have elected to sit out the fourth quarter and still only lost by eight points, the most depressing development came from the Lakers’ bench. Tests on the hip that’s already relegated Jordan Hill to spectator status revealed that the heart of Lakers’ second unit, the team’s hardest worker and spark plug, will require season-ending surgery.

I will not suggest that Hill’s presence would elevate, frankly, a subpar unit often devoid of grit and determination to the heights to which we aspired over the summer, but his absence all but ensures the Lakers’ absence from such heights. A team in a desperate need of youthful exuberance and a blue-collar work ethic had found its man in Jordan Hill, and Hill, a year ago deemed a lottery bust, had grabbed his lunch pail and embraced his role on this team. I wish Jordan the best on the upcoming surgery and a very speedy recovery. He will be missed.

There is more to be said about this Lakers season. It’s swirling around. I just can’t get a handle on it.

I leave you with this: in order to reach the presumably playoff-worthy 45-win threshold, the now-15-21 Lakers will need to finish the regular season a 30-16 run.

Welcome to our nightmare.

 

Records: Lakers 13-14 (11th in the West). Knicks 20-7 (2nd in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 106.3 (6th in NBA), Knicks 109.8 (2nd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.2 (15th in NBA), Knicks 102.4 (16th in NBA)
Projected starting lineups: Lakers: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Devin Ebanks, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Knicks: Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Ronnie Brewer, Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake (out); Knicks: Amar’e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert, Rasheed Wallace (all out)

Who knew having Steve Nash at the point is beneficial to winnings basketball games?

Through 36 minutes on Saturday night, however, the Lakers, who fell behind by as many 14 points in the second half and trailed the Warriors by 13 heading into the fourth quarter, tried valiantly to sully Nash’s return by adding yet another brick to the cathedral of disappointment that is the early days of the 2012-13 season. Dwight Howard was whistled for a pair of fouls in the game’s opening five minutes and had seen the floor for all of 12 minutes before picking up his fifth 12 seconds into the fourth quarter.

Called upon by Necessity (the dude manning the PA system in his head – little known fact), Kobe Bryant fired up the chuck wagon, delivering a staggering 41 attempts (and a lone, unsuccessful free throw) in 44 minutes in the vicinity of the bucket. Of the smorgasbord of heaves, 16 found paydirt, and Kobe wound up with 34 points (plus 10 rebounds, five assists and a steal).

Before we move on, a morsel of perspective: on January 22, 2006, Kobe took the floor for 42 minutes and attempted 46 shots. That night, he scored 81 points.

Another perhaps? Prior to Saturday night, in the 16+ seasons since Bean entered the NBA, 14 times (eight of them his own) had an NBAer attempted at least 40 shots in a game. On none of these occasions did said player fail to score at least 40, with just three efforts falling short of 45. So, yeah…

HOWEVAH…

Despite it all, the largely-undeserved-until-it-was-in-their-grasp OT triumph over the Dubs is perhaps the ideal opening verse for this (at full strength) Laker squad. In addition to pulling the team to within a single victory of the comically elusive .500 mark, the Lakers’ most recent most significant victory of the season was accompanied by certain takeaways that augur well for the full-strength version of this team:

For a guy who has not played competitive ball since Halloween, Steve Nash was spectacular. Conditioning and reacclimation to the speed of the game are the primary focuses of many players’ returns to action following serious lower body injuries. Nash hit the hardwood running… and driving, probing and backpicking. 41 minutes, 12 points on eight shots, nine dimes, a pair of steals, a huge crunch time triple in the fourth quarter and a picture-perfect runner to ice the game in overtime.

And Kobe let him!

It’s been my contention since this team was assembled that from both a talent and personality perspective, Nash resides in the exclusive neighborhood of players in possession of Kobe’s unconditional respect. It was glorious to actually watch it unfold.

Metta. We joke about his idiosyncrasies – and he is certainly not without his flaws – MWP’s willingness to sacrifice for the good of the team with nary gripe nor lapse in effort is remarkable. And he’s only just begun to feel the Nash Effect. A monster inside and out on Saturday and the spark for the Lakers’ fourth quarter comeback, provided not only the effort that so personifies his game, but efficient productivity the Lakers have too often lacked. Whether the three threes and uber-efficient 20 make a cameo on Christmas Day remains to be seen, but his work rate and tenacity perfectly complement the style of the maestro now at the reins.

Speaking of which, let’s talk some Jesus’ birthday, huh?

At noon local time at Staples, in their latest attempt to claw back to break-even, the Lakers square off against the Eastern Conference powerhouse that has exceeded not only its own preseason expectations, but the Lakers’ lofty set as well. A third of their schedule in the books – and 12 days removed from a comfortable victory over a Nash-/Pau-less Laker team – the New York Knicks head west on a 60-win pace. Though their perimeter assault has been relegated to the slums of “top third in the league,” Carmelo and Company remain one of the revelations of this NBA season, with an Effective Field Goal Percentage ranking fifth in the league (51.8%; the Lakers rank sixth, at 50.9%) and an offense trailing only the Oklahoma City Thunder in terms of efficiency.

None of this, of course, is news to the Lakers, who on December 13 at MSG saw up close the swift and blinding manner in which the Knicks – namely, the aforementioned Mr. Anthony – are able to deploy their attack. That night, Carmelo buried a trio of triples inside of 150 seconds, and racked up 22 of the Knicks’ 41 first quarter points. The Knicks ultimately opened up a 26-point cushion and appeared to be cruising to a laugher until a left ankle injury brought Carmelo’s evening to untimely end, just five minutes into the second half, and opened the door for a Lakers comeback that trimmed the margin to just six points, though a combined 67 from Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith, Ray Felton and Steve Novak was enough to preserve a Knick victory.

For all of the frustration that has permeated this campaign for the Lakers, this was the outing in which rock bottom was achieved. I used “achieved” because at that point in time everyone associated with the Lakers – players, management, coaches, fans – needed to stare into the abyss of abject mediocrity (at the time, a generous assessment) before refusing to go quietly into that Manhattan night and ultimately looking to a brighter day ahead. The Lakers are unbeaten in four games since, with road wins against the Wizards and 76ers, a comeback victory at home over the Bobcats and the aforementioned W over the Dubs.

This afternoon, the Lakers look to truly right the ship. Their full complement of talent (ex-Steve Blake) finally in tow, some momentum built and an opportunity to even their record against a premier foe on their home floor, the opportunity lies before them to notch their greatest signature victory of the season. For the first time in a long time, they enter the game favored at both backcourt spots. What will prove vital is the ability of the wing defenders (primarily Metta and Devin Ebanks) to sap the efficiency from Carmelo Anthony’s offensive game, while making the Knicks’ talisman expend some energy defensively, and hopefully offsetting some of his inevitably significant production.

Finally, we arrive at the middle, where Tyson Chandler is in the midst of one of his most prolific seasons. Averaging 12.8 and nearly 10 rebounds per game and shooting a goofy 70% from the field (13.6, 11.4 and 66.7 over his last five), more than anyone not named Carmelo, Chandler will set the tone for the Knicks. The Lakers can simply ill-afford a repeat of Saturday night from Dwight Howard, and, in addition, will need quality minutes – not only as a defensive rebounder and high post passer, but as a rim protector – from Pau Gasol, with Jordan Hill, seemingly no longer “out of the rotation” adding to the Lakers’ dilemma in the middle.

Knicks blogs: Both Knickerblogger and Posting and Toasting do a fantastic job of covering the Knicks. Give both a read. Additionally, P&T’s Seth Rosenthal and I got together on the I Go Hard Now podcast last week, where we talked all things Laker and Knick.

Where you can watch: This is a noon Pacific tip. Watch the national telecast on ABC. You can also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

 

In closing, huge thanks to the gang here at FB&G for continuing to bang out some of the best Lakers coverage – and letting me do whatever it is that I do. Also, thanks to everyone swinging by to check out our analytical styling’s. Want to wish you all and your families a happy and healthy holiday. Everyone enjoy the game!

One of the key developments from Tuesday’s win over the Bobcats was that Mike D’Antoni went all-in with his move of MWP to power forward. What at first looked to be a temporary move to off-set Pau Gasol’s absence from the lineup has now (seemingly) become permanent strategy.

If we flashback to June of this year, playing Ron at power forward was something I thought should happen. Here’s (some of) what I said at the time:

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…

…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.

Well, the future is here. Ron is the Lakers’ back up PF and with tectonic plates of this lineup shift comes a myriad of aftershocks that will be felt across the landscape of the Lakers’ roster.

Below are some of my initial thoughts on what this move means:

*The Lakers’ roster is now woefully unbalanced. Ron’s move means that he joins Pau, Dwight, Jamison, Hill, Earl Clark and Sacre as players who could be classified as either power forwards or centers in D’Antoni’s system. Ron’s move away from the wing means that the only “small forward” on the roster is Devin Ebanks and the only shooting guards are Kobe and Jodie Meeks. At point guard, the Lakers have Nash, Steve Blake, Darius Morris, and Chris Duhon. When looking at that list of players, the wing positions are extremely shallow while the PG, PF, and C positions are overloaded. There simply aren’t enough minutes for the all the Lakers’ big men to play and once Nash and Blake are healthy, there won’t be enough minute at point guard either. At this point, the only way to re-balance the roster is to either make a trade or to shift players (like Ron or Jamison) back to small forward in order to lessen the burden on the wings. Because if that doesn’t happen…

*Kobe and Meeks are about to play a ton of minutes. This has already been true so, in one respect, this wouldn’t be a change from recent trends. However, with Ebanks’ utility as a contributor limited, coach D’Antoni has already hinted that Jodie Meeks will start at SG with Kobe sliding up to Ron’s old position. This creates an entirely new set of questions that will need to be answered over time.

First, who plays back up SG if Meeks starts? Ebanks is not a SG (this has been proven pretty well over the past two seasons) so he doesn’t seem like a good candidate. Darius Morris has okay size, but he’s not ideal either. Darius Johnson-Odom is a natural shooting guard, but he’s also a rookie and seems better suited to a D-League assignment in order to get experience, not playing key minutes for the big team. How this gets sorted out will be key because playing Kobe and Meeks together for long stretches (something that Nash coming back doesn’t really change) means the wing depth will be severely tested in a way that, as of now, would seemingly produce poor results.

Who guards the elite small forwards if Ron is on the bench to start games? Ever since Ron has joined the team he’s taken the more difficult defensive wing assignment whether he’s been a shooting guard or a small forward. But if Meeks starts instead of Ron, Kobe will no longer have the option of playing the lesser wing. Instead, defensive assignments will be dictated more by position. Does that mean Kobe has to guard Durant? Carmelo? LeBron? What about non-superstar, but still quality SF’s like Nic Batum, Kirilenko, Rudy Gay, Gerald Wallace, or Caron Butler. Will he have to guard the better offensive option regardless of position (James Harden when the Rockets visit, for example)? Playing bigger players each night while still carrying a heavy offensive load and playing heavy minutes is a concern here.

*Does Ron playing PF make Pau the new Bynum? Under Phil Jackson, the Lakers often played Odom with one either Gasol or Bynum to form the foundation of their most effective lineups. To close games, Gasol would slide up to center and Odom would play in Bynum’s place. This lineup created versatility on both ends of the floor and was the key front court tandem that helped win back to back titles. As mentioned in the cited post from June, Ron offers many of the same qualities that Odom did as a PF in terms of offensive and defensive versatility. Against the Bobcats, Ron closed the game playing defense against a perimeter oriented big man and spacing the floor offensively. This left Pau on the bench while Dwight manned the pivot.

In the future, will we see more of this? Will Pau only occasionally close games? Can the Lakers afford to have one of their best 4 players on the bench down the stretch of close games? The answers to these questions aren’t yet known but Pau has already expressed his desire to be in the game late when the score is tight. Furthermore, the Lakers’ potential ceiling was always built around the idea that all four of the Lakers big players would be able to thrive on the floor together. Getting the most out of them is important not only when lineups are staggered, but when they all play together. How D’Antoni manages this will be very important as the season progresses.

*What happens to Jamison and Hill? After the Bobcats game D’Antoni said “to no fault of their own” both players would be out of the rotation for now. From a practical standpoint, this makes some sense. Jamison is a reserve PF who is best as a floor spacer. Jordan Hill, though a good PF in Mike Brown’s system, is a C in D’Antoni’s spread attack. Ron has taken Jamison’s spot and with Pau back, he’s the natural fit as a five-man when Dwight is on the bench. With only 96 minutes of game time to split between PF and C, a three man rotation is easiest to deploy and that leaves Hill and Jamison out in the cold.

That said, both players bring useful qualities to a shallow Lakers’ roster. Hill’s rebounding and ability to hedge/recover are valuable to a team that sees countless P&R’s ran at them every game. Jamison’s ability to score points in bunches have already helped the Lakers win more than one game this season. They’re also two of the Lakers best 10 players and removing them from the rotation entirely weakens a team that doesn’t have a lot of useful depth. There’s no easy answer here. I think both players will be needed over the course of the rest of the season. Will they be ready when called upon? Is there a risk of losing them to disinterest and dissatisfaction? Both have proven to be professionals and hard workers for the Lakers. I’d think that remains true regardless of circumstances. That said, it must be disappointing to be demoted in the manner that they have been.

Ultimately, I like having Ron play more PF. I think it helps the Lakers in a variety of ways by diversifying what they can do on both sides of the ball. The fact that Ron is having a resurgent season makes it so the Lakers are playing to some of their strengths in ways that they weren’t earlier in the year. That said, it’s clear this change exposes other stress points on the team that weren’t necessarily there before. Getting Nash back will help in some ways, but not all of them. And we’ll know more about this team over the course of the next month when everyone is healthy enough to play.

Hopefully, in that stretch, we get some answers to these lingering questions.

Coming into the season, I’m not sure anyone had high expectations for Metta World Peace. After a very good first campaign with the Lakers in 2010, Ron saw his production and efficiency decline the past two seasons. Last year, in particular, was as poor a campaign he’d had in some time as nagging injuries kept him from being in peak physical condition and then a late season suspension erased his progress once he did work his way into shape.

This year, however, we’ve seen a brand new Ron. He’s in the best shape of his 4 seasons in Los Angeles, spent the summer working on his outside shot, and has shown a renewed confidence in every aspect of his game. Plus, since the Lakers scrapped the Princeton Offense and moved to a more wide open style, Ron is thriving offensively and putting up his best numbers since he was a featured player in Houston and Sacramento.

Consider the following:

  • His 14.0 points per game are his highest since the 2009 season.
  • His 43.6% shooting from the field is his highest since the 2008 season.
  • His 39.1% shooting from behind the arc is his highest since the 2009 season.
  • His 80% FT shooting is the 2nd highest mark of his career and best since he played for the Pacers.

And while those are his season long numbers, recently he’s been playing even better. In the last 5 games (or, the games since Mike D’Antoni has been actively coaching — either on the bench or running practices), Ron is shooting even better from all spots on the floor, scoring at a higher clip (16 ppg), rebounding better, drawing more fouls, and committing fewer turnovers.

The beauty of Mike D’Antoni’s system is that it allows wing players to face off against defenders in space. Most of the time when a wing catches the ball, he’s working from the weak side of the floor where there’s only one other offensive player to take up space. From this alignment, Ron is able to shoot his jumper in rhythm or use his improved first step and his (still amazing) brute strength to power by his man and get shots to the rim.

Ron shot chart last 5

Looking at Ron’s shot chart, you see this very clearly. Long two pointers and mid-range jumpers have nearly been abandoned for shots in (or near) the paint or three pointers. Because he’s knocking down the long ball at a higher percentage, it’s leading to defenses guarding him more closely which opens up his drives to the rim.

It would be far fetched to think Ron will shoot this well for the rest of the year. But he doesn’t have to shoot 50% from behind the arc (like he has the last 5 games) to be a very effective player in this system. The fact is, just by hitting at the rate he has this season, he’s a legitimate threat that defenses must respect. And with his improved physical condition, he’s now able to put the ball on the floor to get by his man in both the half and open court to create good shots at the rim.

No one is saying Ron is perfect right now. He still has some gunner in him, doesn’t always take shots in rhythm, and will (at times) turn down post entry passes to look for his own shot. But, these negative parts of his game are less frequent this season than at any other part of his Laker career and his production is, at least recently, making up for these less desirable parts of his game.

Coming into the year, Ron was thought to be the weak link amongst the Lakers’ starters but he’s proving — especially recently — that to be a false assumption. Mike D’Antoni’s offense has set him up for success and he’s making the most of his chances. Once the Lakers’ bigs start to play up to their standards consistently and Nash returns, this team has the chance to be as scary — at least on offense — as we all thought they could be.

*Statistical support for this post from NBA.com

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Every year around the start of training camp, there are countless stories about how great a player looks. Go around the web and you’ll read how player X looks great; how in shape player Y is; how much player Z has improved some facet of their game. This is the time of the year where optimism reigns, even for teams that aren’t expected to be that good. It’s just the way it is.

That said, there’s usually some truth behind these stories and with that comes a sense that things really can be better for a player in the season to come. These guys do work hard and when you’re starting with the talent base of “NBA player” the odds that you can make progress to improve really is there.

Enter Metta World Peace.

Last season, MWP showed up to training camp out of shape. He knew it, the team knew it, and fans knew it. He was carrying excess pounds, suffering from nagging injuries, and physically wasn’t the same guy. It wasn’t until the tail end of the season that he finally started feeling good enough physically that he could execute his normal workout regimen, drop the extra pounds, and return to the physical condition he was used to being at.

What followed was some of the best basketball he’d played the entire season. Unfortunately for him (and James Harden and the Lakers and…this list could get long, I’ll stop now) he lost his head in the heat of the moment, got suspended, and didn’t really recover to that level of play to during the playoffs. Before we knew it, the Lakers’ season was over and Ron had to stew over what had happened and how he could rectify it.

It’s seems he’s done his best. This training camp he’s come back in the best shape he’s been in since he joined the Lakers. He reported to camp nearly 10 pounds lighter than he finished the season and nearly 30(!) pounds lighter than he was at the beginning of last year. He is, by all accounts, looking fantastic and ready to perform.

And perform he must.

You see, Ron’s in the unique position of being both the player opponents probably won’t really worry about and the player they should probably worry about the most. No he’s not part of the fearsome foursome, but his impact can be felt just as much based off the role he’ll be assigned  the attention the opposition will pay him.

On a nightly basis, he’ll be asked to cover the other team’s best perimeter player — duties that were passed to him from Kobe the minute he became a Laker. From LeBron to Durant to Pierce to Carmelo to Ginobili to…the list goes on forever. On top of that, he’ll moonlight defending players ranging from Chris Paul to Blake Griffin and be expected to get the key stop the team needs. Dwight Howard may be the team’s most important defensive player, but Ron is a close second. The Lakers will only reach their peak on that end if Ron is at his best.

Offensively, he’ll never be more alone while also being as important. You see, double teaming the Lakers will be nearly impossible when their starters are on the floor. Leaving Nash or Kobe open is a death-wish in today’s NBA. Doing the same to Dwight or Pau only invites smart cuts to the paint where easy baskets and offensive rebounding chances will be pounce on. The only player left is Ron and they’ll leave him without second guessing.

This is where he must make them pay. Is he capable? In recent years he’s proven not up to the task more often than not (with some high profile exceptions, of course).

It will need to be different this season. I think it can be. With less weight still buoyed by incredible strength, he should be able to better cut to and establish positions on the floor where he can be effective. With hours in the gym dedicated solely to shooting jumpers, he can (hopefully) find the rhythm that evaded him last year. Familiarity with the Lakers new offense (remember he played in Rick Adelman’s corner offense with the Kings and the Rockets) and a coach that believes he is a prototypical forward for their scheme gives me more confidence.

It won’t be easy, of course. Ron, like the rest of the players on the team, will need to carve out his niche and find his way on an entirely new roster. And, right now, as many are fond of saying, the expectations for success are paper based; the team will have to go out and do it on the floor when it matters. Ron will need to go out and do it. But he’s in a position where he can be the difference maker on a team that has so many others used to carrying that mantle (and, to opponents, still will). This opens up endless opportunities for the Metta Man, a position he’ll need to capitalize on for the team to reach its goals.

During his eight-year run in Phoenix, Steve Nash led the NBA in assists six times, and five times in assists per game and Assist Rate, finishing in the top three in each category every year. He turned in a record four seasons in which he made 50% of his field goals, 40% of his 3-pointers and 90% of his free throws, missing narrowly on two other occasions –2006-07 (89.9% FT) and 2010-11 (39.5% from 3). Three times he quarterbacked the Suns to the conference finals, missing trips to the championship round consecutive years due to Joe Johnson’s face and Robert Horry’s ass.

For his trouble, Nash earned six All-star selections, three All-NBA First Team nods (and a pair of Seconds) and a pair of league MVP trophies. Additionally, he earned charter membership in the League Pass Hall of Fame, gained the inside track on entry into that other Hall and cemented his status as one of the great player representatives in NBA history. What… whah?

Yessir. We occupy a world in which Shawn Marion, Raja Bell, Jared Dudley, Leandro Barbosa, Channing Frye and Lou Amundson have pounded paychecks totaling more than $220 million. This figure will approach $250 mill by 2015. Tim Thomas has been paid nearly $25 million since 2006. Give kudos to the David Falks of the world if you must, but…

So three weeks ago, a Laker offseason soaked in questions and seemingly destined to hinge on an all-in play aimed at upgrading the always vital “occasional pain in the ass, sublimely gifted big man” spot took a dramatic turn with the acquisition of the aforementioned virtuoso. Nash’s arrival on the Lakers’ roster did little to quell the questions that swirl around this team.

In the weeks to come, we’ll continue to discuss Dwight Howard’s future home. We’ll question the ability of Kobe Bryant to coexist with an assertive, pure point guard (I say this ends extremely well. Nash is Kobe’s kind of player – tough, detail-oriented and a workaholic. Plus, fair or not, he could throw an MVP trophy on eBay and still match Bean’s tally). We’ll wonder aloud about Pau Gasol’s future with the Lakers (he was just gifted a playmaker for whom his game was seemingly custom made), as well as that of Andrew Bynum (who knows? I’m not comfortable handicapping his internal dialogue).

In due time, however. For me, since the announcement of Nash’s relocation to Staples, one recurring question has dominated… which completely average Laker will he Point God into national prominence and an eight-figure payday? A walk through Nash’s days in the desert reveals beneficiaries past, and provides a template for those to come…

Andrew Bynum/Amar’e Stoudemire (with a side of Tim Thomas) – Ok, so I tweaked this one. ‘Drew – like Amar’e before him – is already a star. Also like STAT, he’s got an injury record that’s too significant to ignore, but (in Stoudemire’s case, until the spring of 2011) has done little damage to his professional standing. That’s because, also like STAT, he has more talent than any reasonable person knows what to do with. So much in fact, that he occasionally becomes flummoxed, and does virtually nothing at all.

To extend the comparison, if Bynum is the Lakers’ starting center this season, Nash will extract more of his best than we’ve ever seen. Look for at least 20-12 from ‘Drew in 2012-13, along with a starting nod for the All-Star Game and (if you’d like to call me crazy, here is your first opportunity) a dalliance with MVP candidacy.

Unlike many former Suns for whom Nash has secured tens of millions of dollars, Andrew Bynum does not stand to benefit financially from Point God’s presence. Barring an unforeseen turn of events, Bynum is a virtual lock to be showered with max money, either by the Lakers or someone else. Thanks to Steve Nash, however, he’ll deserve those fat checks more than ever before.

Christian Eyenga/Leandro Barbosa (pipe dream: Shawn Marion) – Perhaps the biggest reach of the bunch. A 23 year-old whose career point tally (320) falls short of that any month churned out by Kobe Bryant in 2005-06, compared with a former Sixth Man of the Year who, at his best ranked among the game’s most incisive attackers, let alone a four-time All Star, who in six full seasons as the evolutionary James Worthy managed no worse than a 19.8 PER.

That said, since the start of 2009-10 (Barbosa’s last season as a Sun) and 2007-08 (the season in which Marion was dealt to the Miami Heat) neither has topped his worst True Shooting Percentage or PER mark of the “Seven Seconds or Less” era.

Though the comparisons are meant somewhat in jest, who’s to say that a super-athletic (again, 23 year-old) wing – albeit one desperately in need of on-court reps as well as a jump shot – is incapable of linking up with one of history’s great playmakers and developing into, say, two thirds of prime Barbosa?

Jordan Hill/Channing Frye – A pair of former Knicks’ #8 overall picks for whom the NBA transition proved tougher than originally expected. After an excellent rookie campaign in New York (12.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, 47.7% from the field), Frye fell off, leading to a trade to Portland following his second season. After a pair of increasingly lackluster seasons with Blazers, Frye found himself in free agency in the summer of 2009.

Fortunately for Channing, the Phoenix Suns – well, Steve Nash, really – were on hand with a lifeline. On essentially a one-year deal and presumably playing for his NBA future, he returned to the form that made him a prized prospect as a rookie, averaging 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, and connecting on a career-high 43.9% of his 4.8 3-point attempts per game… and scoring $30 million over the next five years.

Cut from a similar cloth, Hill took the floor a whopping 24 times for the Knicks (not terribly at that, averaging 14 and 8.7 per 36 minutes, with a 15 PER), before heading to Houston in a February 2010 trade. In 127 games between the trade and the spring of 2011, his (again) solid play (13 and 10.5 per 36; he averaged 15 minutes per game), and Hill was again sent packing, this time to L.A. In 19 games as a Laker, Hill provided a desperately needed spark, nearly pricing himself out of the budget in the process, with seven games of 6 and 6 or better (in just 11.7 minutes per game), averages of 14.6 points and 13.5 boards per 36 and an NBA best 18.9% Offensive Rebound Rate in 12 postseason games.

Metta World Peace/Raja Bell – Defensive stoppers with a propensity for, err, enthusiastically imposing their respective wills on the cranial region of opposing two guards, each with a headbutt of sorts with Kobe Bryant under his belt.

Having made at least 37% of his 3-pointers in nine of the last 10 seasons, compared with just two in 12 full seasons for Metta, Bell is pretty clearly the superior perimeter marksman. However, as the least potent member of a unit in which all remaining members command the attention of multiple defenders – but with a physical presence on defense that will keep him on the floor – Metta is in line for a steady stream of open looks, as both a spot-up man and a cutter.

Matt Barnes*/Matt Barnes – Though he suffered through his worst defensive season as a pro (per Basketball Reference, he allowed 111 points per 100 defensive possessions), Barnes’ 2008-09 campaign – his only one with with Nash and the Suns – was his best as a passer (3.7 assists/36 minutes; 14.5% Assist Rate), and his second best as a scorer (13.6 points/36), perimeter shooter (34.3% on 3-pointers) and defensive rebounder (18.5% DRR).

Whether it’s reasonable to expect a 38 year-old Nash to coax 28 year-old form out of a 32 year-old Barnes is debatable, but there few lead guards at any age I’d rather bet on to manage the feat.

Andrew Goudelock/Quentin Richardson – Ask the average fan about Q-Rich’s lone season with Nash and you’re likely to be regaled with anecdotal tales of knockdown shooting. The fact is, however, that while Richardson averaged eight attempts (freaking EIGHT), making 2.9, from beyond the arc in 2004-05, he connected at an above average (for a decent shooter) 35.8%, but shot just 38.9% overall from the field.

In 10 minutes per game as a rookie, despite connecting on just 39.1% of his field goals overall, Goudelock connected on nearly one (0.7) of 1.9 – or 37.3% – 3-point attempts per game. Per 36 minutes, that’s a Quentin-esque 2.4 of 6.4. Assuming nothing more than the normal growth in minutes than comes with a year of experience (to say, 15 minutes per) along with the benefit of spotting up for Steve Nash passes, off of Steve Nash penetration, and ‘Lock may in line for a payday that neither Derek Fisher, Ramon Sessions, Steve Blake nor his agent could have secured for him.

Josh McRoberts/Lou Amundson – A pair of unproductive but energetic “glue guys,” for whom an NBA paycheck will remain a thing longer than logic would dictate it should, thanks entirely (ok, in large part) to Steve Nash.

A season removed from having earned ~$210,000 playing for three different teams and failing to post a double digit PER in any stint with any of them, Amundson joined the Suns, where he enjoyed the only above average years of his career, earned another two years in the NBA and $4+ million.

A superior athlete of higher pedigree and spectacular finisher at rim, look for Nash’s lobability to not only turn McBobs into a highlight reel darling, but to bank the former Dukie seven, maybe eight figures he’d otherwise never see.

Devin Ebanks*/Jared Dudley – Dudley is an excellent Twitter follow and, by all accounts, a really nice guy. Running alongside Steve Nash, he’s established himself as a pretty above average player that can bury an open jumper.

However, in Nash’s absence, with faster, quicker, more athletic defenders no longer having to sag into the lane while protecting against picture perfect kickouts, it’s difficult to envision anything but a bruising fall to mediocrity.

Ebanks, on the other hand, while a decidedly inferior shooter (in far fewer opportunities), is precisely the type of young running mate that Nash raises to prominence. An atheltic 6’9″-215, Ebanks (who now, in his third year, should see the floor for 20-24 minutes per game) should present Nash with a excellent target on the break. Whether Devin’s got the all-around game to truly crack Nash’s stable of clients remains to be seen, but, again, if it’s going to happen with anyone…

*Assuming he remains a Laker