Archives For ron artest

Records: Lakers 20-13 (5th in West), Thunder 26-7 (1st in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 103.3 (15th in NBA), Thunder 108.9 (2nd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.7 (11th in NBA), Thunder 102.4 (14th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Thunder: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Daequan Cook
Injuries: Lakers: none; Thunder: Nick Collison (questionable), Thabo Sefolosha (out), Eric Maynor (out for the season)

The Lakers Coming In: As Darius pointed out yesterday, on the floor the Lakers have fared pretty well of late, and will be looking to kick off All Star Weekend with what would be their biggest victory of the season.

Not coincidentally, the bigs are in great form, with Andrew Bynum averaging 16.1 (on 56.3%), 13.9 rebounds, 2.3 blocked shots and just two personal fouls per game in February, while Pau Gasol has averaged 17.9 and 13.1, while connecting on 47% of his field goal attempts. Kobe continues to be Kobe, delivering roughly 26- 5- 4 this month, though he’s struggled with his shot, as evidenced by field goal and free throw percentages of just 40.6% and 79% (compared with his season averages of 43.9% and 82.5%, respectively). And the bench – deservedly much-maligned all season – has been not-atrocious (small victories, people), led by Matt Barnes (8.5 points, 5.8 rebounds in his last 8 games) and Steve Blake, who’s recorded 3+ assists in 6 of his last 7, the lone exception being his 5-triple, 17-point outburst against Portland Monday night.

However, as Darius also pointed out yesterday, the Lakers’ recent run of solid form is not the main story swirling around this team. If it’s not one with this team, it’s sure to be another. Between The Veto, the charitable contribution of Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks Repeat Fund, incessant Dwight chatter, Kobe’s divorce and Metta’s media squabbling with Mike Brown, there’s arguably been more to monitor off the floor with these guys than there has on it. And now we have the latest episode of The Adventures of Team Turmoil.

An ugly, remnant of December’s near-acquisition of Chris Paul (y’know, other than the lack of a point guard worthy of NBA starter status), the Lakers’ desire (or lack thereof) to part ways with Pau Gasol – and everyone’s thoughts on the matter –are the hot topic du jour. However, as speculation about the Lakers’ need (and preparedness) to make a major move have ramped up, a more troubling issue seems to be simmering just beneath the surface – the Lakers’ front office, once the NBA’s paragon of stability and leadership, has begun to more closely resemble Gob Bluth’s gaming ship, anchored to past greatness only by an increasingly embattled Mitch Kupchak.

We know for a fact that the Lakers are willing to surrender Pau Gasol in exchange for a young franchise cornerstone. We also know that Pau, one of the league’s top 15 players and arguably its most skilled big man, always the consummate professional, is at least slightly (I’d wager more) upset by this. Finally, Pau Gasol remains a Laker, and a damn good one at that. That’s about it.

Meanwhile, however, this episode has greased the tracks for Kobe, who – in both a show of support for Pau and a desire to maximize his chances at Ring #6 – has hinted at his growing frustration with the organization’s new regime. Since, we’ve gotten a “you do your job and let me do mine” rebuttal from Kupchak and a players-only meeting (usually good for a short-term boost), but nothing to suggest that calmer waters are imminent.

With all of that said, the Lakers have now won 6 of their last 8 outings (including 4 of the last 5), including wins over the Blazers and Mavericks in their last two, and at 20-13, sit a single game behind the greatest Clipper team ever for the West’s #3 seed. It’s conceivable (if not likely) that given the torrent of frustration and distraction that continually washes over this team, moments spent on the court are among their least stressful these days. With the All-Star break (and a few days to refuel) imminent, look for the Lakers, win or lose, to put forth maximum effort against the class of Western Conference.

The Thunder Coming In: I feel like there is an inordinate amount of chatter these days centered on the Thunder’s flaws and the “wide openness” of the West come playoff time.

It’s true. This is by no means a perfect team – they are turnover-prone (a league-high 15.9% of the time), mediocre on the boards (15th in Offensive Rebound Rate and 24th in Defensive Rebound Rate), lack a traditional low post scorer and have seen their second unit hamstrung by injury, but make no mistake, these guys are good. Really, really good.

For starters, only the Miami Heat are more efficient offensively (by one point/100 possessions) and boasts a higher True Shooting Percentage (57%, v. 56.9%) than the Thunder.

Next, and I feel like we are beginning to take this a bit for granted, OKC’s 1-2 punch is nothing short of devastating. In Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (or, in the interest of staying neutral, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant), OKC features a top-two duo that is an absolute nightmare for perimeter defenders, getting to the rim at will (11.8 attempts per game), finishing once they get there (66.1%) and delivering from distance (47.4% on long 2s; Durant is 36.7% from 3).

Once you’ve got your brain wrapped around that pair of potential 40-pointers, it’s time to deal with the NBA’s best bench player, (I cannot remember where I saw this comp – apologies to whomever I am stealing this from) this era’s Manu Ginobili, James Harden. In addition an extremely impressive stat line (16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game, 47/37/86 from FG/3-pt/FT and 21.1 PER), Harden is the ultimate glue guy, as Royce Young describes:

It’s really hard to explain to people how important Harden is to the team. He’s not just a great sixth man. He’s like the mediator between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. What he provides is just so necessary to the flow of the team. It’s like he’s a pressure-release valve so that Durant and Westbrook don’t have to do everything. He scores, passes and operates a terrific two-man game with Nick Collison. He plays well with Durant and Westbrook and plays really well running the Thunder’s second unit by himself. It’s hard to say he’s more valuable than Durant or Westbrook, but it’s closer than you think.

And finally, while OKC does not rank among the NBA’s elite at the defensive end, the shortcomings of a susceptible perimeter defense (27.4 FGA at the rim – 2nd worst in the NBA) are masked effectively by Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and (when healthy) Nick Collison, a last line of defense that effectively defends the rim (7th lowest FG% allowed at the rim; #1 Block Rate) and does not give away points at the free throw line (a league-average .215 FT Rate allowed).

Flawed? Yes. But warts and all, this is the best team in the West.

Thunder Blogs: Daily Thunder consistently cranks out some really excellent work (check out some of Royce Young’s thoughts on tonight’s matchup here), as does Welcome To Loud City on SB Nation.

Keys to the game: It’s impossible (well, maybe not impossible, but pretty tough) to predict what the Lakers’ roster will look like following the trade deadline. What we do know, however, is that Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are here now, while Dwight Howard, Deron Williams and Gilbert Arenas are not. All BS aside, let’s see where this Laker team is at. For all of the gaping holes on the roster and turmoil surrounding this team, the Lakers have managed to win more than 60% of their games thus far and remain well-positioned to finish in the top half of the West playoff picture.

OKC represents a brutal matchup for, well, anyone. While it would be silly to expect Thursday night to deviate much from that script, there are a couple of factors that could play out in the Lakers favor.

First and foremost, the Lakers must rely on their interior defense and rebounding, particularly at the offensive end, to control the tempo of the game (at 93.8 possessions per game, OKC plays at the third-highest pace in the league; at 89.9, the Lakers are 21st) and keep the West’s most potent offensive attack under control. This entails keeping Gasol and Bynum, both of whom are rebounding at an elite level and are playing excellent defensive ball this season, out of harm’s way, with harm in this represented by OKC’s pair of whistle-drawing projectiles.

To this end, the perimeter D will be called upon to challenge OKC’s perimeter scorers. In addition to providing the clamored-for offensive spark that too-often has been missing, this is an area in which the Laker bench, namely Matt Barnes (and, though not a bench player, MWP), must provide value. If MWP still possesses any of the elite defensive skill he exhibited in the 2010 playoffs against Durant, this would be an opportune time to conjure it up. Another defensive matchup that could loom large is Barnes on Westbrook, as RW’s speed, power and perpetual motion are too much for Kobe to deal with while also trying to offset OKC’s firepower at the offensive end, and Derek Fisher and Steve Blake… HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!

Sorry. Moving on…

Provided the Lakers are able to keep Bynum and Gasol on the floor for big minutes, the massive duo in the middle will be vital to the team’s success on the offensive end as well. Bynum has a decided size advantage over any front line defense the Thunder can put forth, and the Lakers will do well to feed the beast in an attempt to control tempo, collect some easy buckets and use the aggressiveness of OKC’s bigs (particularly Ibaka) against them to lure them into foul trouble. This become double important with Nick Collison banged up – he will be limited by a biceps injury if he plays at all, as with AS break looming, and no worse than 26-8 in the bank, this may be a good opportunity to get him an extended period of rest.

In spite of all that’s gone (and continues to go) wrong, the Lakers still rank among the NBA’s better teams. These trying times, rather than tearing the team apart, appear to be having something of a galvanizing effect on this crew. Even so, it is admittedly a tall order ask any team to roll into OKC and down the Thunder. However, I would not put it past this frustrating, but talent, but oh so exasperatingly frustrating team to notch a signature road wins against a legitimately elite opponent when no one expects them to do so.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TNT and KCAL.

Box Score: Lakers 88, Celtics 87
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 91.9, Celtics 90.4
True Shooting %: Lakers 44.1%, Celtics 43.9%

The Good:
First and foremost, any win on the Parquet is sweet. That the Lakers, coming off a tough loss in Philadelphia, have now won four straight regular season contests in Boston, this one on the heels of yet another crushing Patriots’ Super Bowl defeat… brings a little extra something to the table, no?

As far as the actual game is concerned, the most praiseworthy performance, on either side, was turned in Pau Gasol. Consistent throughout, Gasol connected on 12 of his 20 (!!) field goal attempts (3 in the first quarter, 3 in the second, 4 in the third and two in the fourth), 10 times converting from inside the lane, en route to 25 points. Additionally, he was a force on the glass, collecting 14 rebounds, four on the offensive end (more on this in a minute), handed out three assists, blocked a pair of shots (more on this in a minute) and made every play the team needed from him down the stretch.

A mere 13 seconds after reentering the game in the fourth quarter (at the 7:13 mark) Pau hit a 17-footer to put the Lakers up by two points. A quiet six minutes later, with the Lakers down a bucket, on a play in which Steve Blake’s hustling offensive rebound netted the Lakers a second shot, Pau followed up a 10-foot jumper from Kobe, tipping in the rebound to tie the game at 82. It was his fantastic closeout on a beyond-the-arc Ray Allen that derailed the ensuing Celtics possession, forcing overtime. In OT, despite missing his only field goal attempt, Pau continued to make his presence felt, grabbing four defensive rebounds and, most important of all, swatted away a point blank, potentially game-winning put-back attempt by Ray Allen to secure the Lakers’ 15th win of the season.

Tonight, Pau eats first.

Deserving of an honorable mention here is the effort of the entire Laker team on the boards. In addition to Gasol’s 14 rebounds, Andrew Bynum was a monster on the glass, with 17 of his own, including a massive seven offensive rebounds. Also deserving a shout are Troy Murphy (9 in 24 minutes), Matt Barnes (4, 3 ORB, in 17), Kobe Bryant (5) and Steve Blake (3), all of whom helped the Lakers to a 55-45 rebounding edge on the night.

The Bad:
As this is the first Laker victory I have recapped for FB&G, I’d like to keep the negativity to a minimum.

With that said, I would remiss if I didn’t mention the Lakers’ work from downtown on Thursday, which I will generously describe as “putrid,” only because a sincere assessment might result in Darius amnestying me from the site. I realize that at this stage of the season, having gotten to know our personnel and watched them fight tooth and nail to barely escape the 3-point shooting cellar (at a blistering 29.4%, just edging out Utah, at 28.9%), having any expectation of a potent attack from the perimeter is an invitation to disappointment, but seriously guys? 1-for-15? 1-for-f*$^ing-15?? That’s 6.7%.

For those of you keeping score at home, Metta World Peace has now made nine of his 53 3-point attempts on the season (17%), Derek Fisher is 11-for-41 (26.7%), Matt Barnes is 8-for-37 (21.6%) and Kobe Bryant, raising the team’s percentage, is 38-of-129 (29.5%). Ugh.

The Lakers’ stalwarts on the perimeter are Steve Blake (18-52; 34.6%), Andrew Goudelock (12-30; 40%) and Troy Murphy (13-32; 40.6%), all of whom are hitting at rates ranging from “respectable” to “pretty good,” but do not yet inspire confidence in crunch time.

The Ugly:
By and large, Kobe Bryant enjoyed an efficient and productive game on Thursday night – 27 points, on 11-24 FG and 5-5 FT, five rebounds and four assists. At halftime he’d attempted just six shots, making four, and had 11 points. He added another 10 points in the third (on 4-of-9 FG, plus a pair of free throws) in third, including an extremely contested fadeaway – a harbinger of things to come. After making one of three in the fourth quarter, we moved to overtime, where Bean produced a pair of possessions, one actually successful, that are best described as “cringe-worthy.”

A minute and a half into OT, Kobe received the ball on the left wing with ~15 (don’t remember exactly) seconds remaining on the shot clock. At this point he proceeded to pound a dead spot into this Garden floor, attempting a couple of times to probe the defense, before (in a move I deemed “aggressive Usage”) letting go of a contested 20-footer… which found the bottom of the net.

Net result? Good. Process? Not so much.

Three minutes later, after an Andrew Bynum putback had given the Lakers an 88-87 lead, Kobe brought the ball up the floor, and with a four-second difference between shot and game clock, had an opportunity to time his attempt in such a way that the Celtics would be lucky to gain possession with more than three seconds remaining. Rather than doing this, however, Kobe began to back down his man on the left wing with about seven second left on the shot clock and, in a move diametrically opposed to the off-the-charts basketball IQ we’ve come to expect from him, launched a 17-foot turnaround that was off the mark, and recovered by the Celtics with six seconds remaining. Now, all’s well that ends well, but…

I love Kobe Bryant. With the exception of Magic Johnson, no player has meant more to my basketball life. Having Kobe as a member of the Lakers for 15+ years, and having the opportunity to watch 75%+ of his career games has been nothing short of a gift.

However, this season, and seemingly increasingly with the passage of time, Kobe has stretched the role that he’s defined for himself – “I eat first” – to obscene lengths. That he’s earned his free rein on the floor is, in my mind, beyond question, but there is something a problem festering. What is at times troubling is not the fact that Kobe is clearly unwilling to subjugate his role on the team, but the fact that he is becoming increasingly brazen in reminding the world, and I mean the world – fans opponents, his teammates, coach Mike Brown – of this fact.

Play of the Game:
In Andrew Bynum’s beautiful, hard-nosed and-1 just before halftime – in which he recovered a loose offensive rebound and flipped the ball back over his head (and in!) while getting hacked – and Pau Gasol’s game saving blocked shot at the end of overtime we have a couple of extremely deserving honorable mentions. However, a play in the dying moments of regulation combined hustle, excellent fundamentals, equisite skill and grace under pressure.

Trailing by two with roughly 15 remaining, Steve Blake, from the left wing, attempted to feed Andrew Bynum in low post. Bynum had the “chair pulled” on him, resulting in a loose ball along the baseline. Rather than a potentially game-sealing turnover, however, the Lakers retained possession, thanks to some fantastic hustle by Steve Blake. At this point, Kobe Bryant made a beautiful cut toward the basket along the left edge of the key. Seeing Kobe, Blake, now on the baseline about 15 feet from the rim, made a slick pass of no more than five feet to Kobe, who elevated for a 10-foot jumper, which rimmed out.


In keeping with the play’s heady/hustle theme, Pau Gasol attacked the offensive glass, skying over a pair of Celtics that had inside position and, avoiding a loose ball foul, tied the game (ultimately forcing overtime) with a left handed tip-in.

If ever a reminder is necessary of Gasol’s sublime combination of grace, body control, otherworldly length and basketball IQ, this is it.

Box Score: Lakers 90, 76ers 95
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 106.1, 76ers 112.5
True Shooting %: Lakers 50.1%, 76ers 53.7%

The Good:
It’d be criminal to simply gloss over Andrew Bynum’s performance. ‘Drew was, for the most part (the five turnovers are a bit ugly), sensational on Monday night, posting the second 20-20 game of his NBA career, and generally dominating the paint at both ends of the floor. ‘Drew poured in an efficient 20 points (8-of-13 FG, 4-of-6 FT) and absolutely owned the offensive glass, tallying as many offensive rebounds (8) as the entire Sixers team. He added three assists – including a beauty to Pau Gasol (who had an impressive 16 and 11, with 6 offensive boards of his own) early in the third quarter for a dunk – and swatted three shots at the defensive end. Like I said, criminal.

Well, here’s hoping it’s a misdemeanor, because as they tend to, this evening belonged to Kobe Bryant.

Needing just 23 points to surpass former running mate Shaquille O’Neal on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, it stood to reason that Monday would mark the last time (for several years, at least) that Kobe would rank outside the top-five in career scoring. That he quickly and aggressively set about amassing those 24 points should also come as no surprise. The manner in which he did it however, while hardly foreign, never ceases to be the rarest of treats for Laker basketball fans the world over.

The numbers (24 points on 8-of-14 FG and 4-of-6 from beyond the arc), while impressive, simply do not do justice to the deadly precision with which Kobe Bryant struck in the opening half of Monday night’s contest. With arguably the world’s best perimeter defender draped all over him, Kobe was, as he always is, undeterred. This was his night, in his hometown, with his continuing march toward immortality front and center, and Kobe came out throwing haymakers.

Call it what you will – Kobe doin’ work, going Mamba, going nova, one of those Kobe games – Kobe Bryant’s first half in Philly on Monday night perfectly encapsulated everything we’ve come to expect from the Lakers’ superstar – an unabashed, almost delusional sense of self-confidence made to appear sane by the brilliance of one Kobe Bean Bryant. No matter how many such performances we see – and we have been privy to a great many – it’s debatable whether we will ever truly understand the heights to which we have consistently seen the game elevated.

Congratulations, Kobe. And thanks.

The Bad:
Stop me if you’ve heard any of this before: the Lakers turned the ball over too frequently, failed to force turnovers and did not receive nearly enough help from the second unit.

Despite boasting the league’s top mark for defensive efficiency (by a considerable margin), when it comes to forcing turnovers, the Sixers are completely average, equaling the league average by forcing 14.3 turnovers every 100 possessions. Not to worry. Regardless of opposition, there is not a team that these Lakers, in a careless and lackadaisical manner that is all their own, cannot elevate to upper reaches of ball-hawkery on any given night. In this case, the Lakers turned the ball over 16 times, a majority coming in the second half, while managing a pathetic four takeaways at the defensive end, and losing the “points off of turnovers” battle by a 20-6 count.

A bad pass by Troy Murphy. An ill-advised jump pass from Kobe. Andrew Bynum’s third quarter entry into the “laziest post-up ever” sweepstakes. Each of these, along with any of 13 other giveaways, represents an opportunity missed. This is a team that has neither the depth nor the firepower to justify cavalierly frittering away a half-dozen or more possessions, game in, game out. The margin of error is simply not there.

Speaking of which, Monday night is yet another in a long line of subpar performances by the second unit. On a relative basis, Monday’s performance by the four Laker reserves that took the floor (Troy Murphy, Andrew Goudelock, Matt Barnes and Jason Kapono) was actually not that bad. What’s sad, however, is that what constitutes “not that bad” ‘round these parts lately is a 71-minute, 7-of-15, 16-point, 11-rebound, 6-assists outing. Throw in sadly characteristic 1-of-6 for four points from Metta Wrold Peace and a six-point, six-rebound outburst from Derek Fisher, and… sigh.

The Ugly:
After playing an excellent first 43:30, for the second time in three nights, the Lakers were done in by lackluster late-game execution. On the heels of his sublime first half performance, Kobe Bryant took the floor in the second half in “facilitator” mode – running the pick and roll beautifully, looking not for his own shot, but for the proper pass. This was vital in helping the team find a rhythm on the offensive end and seemingly take control of the game with 4:37 left, when Kobe found Bynum with a beautiful lob pass that the All-Star big man hammered down to stretch the advantage to seven points.

At this point, although turnover differential and hot 3-point shooting by the Sixers had prevented the Lakers from capitalizing on their best stretches of play and opening up a sizeable gap, the Lakers still appeared to be the superior team. From that point forward, however, all semblance of rhythm was taken out of the Lakers’ offense, as Kobe Bryant grew weary of his facilitator role and opted to attempt to recapture the magic of the first half – without success – slamming the brakes on the team-oriented ball with which they’d built the lead in favor of attempting seven shots in the final 4:37, of which he made just one, and putting the finishing touches on a 2-of-12 second half shooting display that undermined the near-perfect game he’d played until that point, and will be remembered for being as fruitless as his first half was brilliant.

Play(s) of the Game:
I’m guessing you don’t need to ask.

Kobe Bryant now has more regular season points than Shaquille O’Neal. This is how it came to be.

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.

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.

Silly me.

After yesterday’s talk about Lakers and trades and some smart people saying the same things about the likelihood of the Lakers making a deal (hint: not likely), I thought we could all move on and focus on the games – a Lakers win vs. the Rockets first on deck – and get back to our analysis of the team. Not so much.

Today it’s being reported by Marc Stein (a reporter whose word and credentials I trust and respect a great deal) that if the Lakers do make a deal, Ron Artest would like to be the one to switch teams. As Stein explains:

I’ve nonetheless been assured this week that Artest — though he hasn’t outright demanded a trade and is likely to publicly deny it — is serious about wanting to be dealt somewhere “he can have fun again” less than a year removed from the pivotal role he played in that ring-clinching Game 7 with Boston that the Lakers so nearly squandered.

More from Stein:

It was stressed to me that Artest has actually coexisted better with Jackson since it emerged in December that Artest asked his coach to stop criticizing him so publicly and keep displeasure in-house. Despite Artest’s increasingly regular stints on the bench in crunch time, I get the distinct vibe that settling for offensive scraps in the shadow of Kobe and Pau while absorbing the hottest heat on afternoons like Sunday when Paul Pierce erupts for 32 points has soured Artest far more than Jackson’s frequently sharp tongue.

All I can really say to this is, I can’t believe it took this long for something like this to happen.

You see, this is nothing new. Like birds flying south in winter or bears hybernating or the Lakers Grammy road trip, this is a yearly occurence. You can set your watch to it. Two years ago it was Bynum’s injury (along with toughness talk). Last year it was the the Lakers’ complacency (and a late season swoon). And this year, it’s this (among other things). There’s just an expected amount of drama when discussing the Lakers. Just the other day, we discussed the scrutiny of being a Laker in relation to the criticism that Pau Gasol has been receiving lately. Even the head coach knows this, mentioning after the Boston loss that he may not embrace the adversity, he certainly doesn’t hide from it.

In the end, I don’t think Artest is being traded. Aside from any issues with unloading a contract that isn’t quite payroll friendly (though far from the worst deal considering his talent – and yes, he still has talent), the Lakers need Artest. Snicker all you want at his 1-10 shooting or his career low output in a lot of statistical categories, but both Phil and Kobe know Ron’s value to this team. His ability to defend is rare. You can point to Paul Pierce’s explosion on Sunday, but I’ll happily counter with the fact that all great offensive players are capable of great days and all defenders are capable of bad ones. After explaining that, I’ll happily point to the combined 18-42 shooting that Carmelo and Durant put up against the Lakers in the last two weeks (which fall in line with how he’s performed against them in the past). And when it comes to the playoffs, I’m betting on more performances like the latter.

I can surely understand that Artest may be frustrated. Fans love to point out where players are falling short and there’s a fair amount of ammunition in relation to Ron’s recent performance. I know his role isn’t what a player of his overall ability is used to performing and that even after reaching the mountain top, players still have egos. I’m sure he thinks he can be more than a 4th option and a guy that isn’t guaranteed crunch time minutes. But, again, I think he’s here to stay. When the games slow down and the Lakers face off against elite wings, this team will need Artest. The guys that are in that lockerroom understand that.

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.

Around The World (Wide Web)

Darius Soriano —  December 21, 2010

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From JE Skeets, The Basketball Jones:  Saturday, December 18th was a strange night in the life of Ron Artest, even by Ron Artest’s standards. A group of Toronto artists created an art show celebrating Ron’s career entitled, “Lovable Badass.” And, as if to prove how unpredictable he is, Ron decided to show up. Check out the madness!

From Mike Bresnahan, The LA Times:  He still felt pain Monday and said his knee felt stiff during practice. “They tell me it’s just something I’m going to have to deal with,” said Bynum, who had cartilage repaired in his right knee in July.  There was no swelling in the knee, Bynum said, a key indicator that it might not be a big issue. In fact, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson wasn’t aware that Bynum was feeling discomfort.  “I didn’t hear any report about it. That’s news to me,” Jackson said. “He came out and practiced today. He’s still tiring and that will happen as he gets game conditioning.”

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers:  Jackson said he’s pleased with what Bynum has done in the four games since returning to the lineup last week in Washington. Sunday marked Bynum’s best statistical output- 16 points and seven boards in over 17 minutes of burn- but isn’t necessarily an indication of an ability to return to the starting lineup. “I just can’t tell you [when that will happen] until he’s got that kind of bounce in his step that says he can now play 30, 35 minutes,” Jackson said. “Then he can go out, play eight minutes and get into that four rotations that you want from a starter. A couple rotations each half, so that he can have the influence on a game. Right now, we’re content with how we’re doing it.”

From Mark Medina, The LA Times:  Although Lakers Coach Phil Jackson remains unsure how many minutes Smith will play (he had zero minutes Sunday against Toronto), there’s a litany of reasons the Lakers will welcome his presence, albeit in limited fashion: Andrew Bynum’s lingering knee issues, Theo Ratliff’s continued rehabilitation of his surgically repaired left knee, Derrick Caracter’s likely demotion to the Development League and never-ending fatigue for Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.   In case any of the aforementioned variables exacerbate themselves, the 6-foot-10 Smith’s career averages of 11 points and 6.4 rebounds, his reputation as a versatile forward and center and his ability to hit mid-range jumpers and make defensive stops suggest he could hold the fort and eat minutes so that the Lakers can minimize their frontline issues.

From Chris O’Leary, Slam Online:  There’s the selflessness of what he’s doing. Nothing is guaranteed in sports. The NBA title may be the Lakers’ to lose, but they could well lose it. Between injuries, the Celtics and burgeoning Heat and Thunder teams, there’s the possibility that Ron Artest could never win a championship again. If that’s the case, he’d walk away from basketball without the physical fruits of his labors of last season.  There’s the breadth of the gesture. In donating the funds of his ring raffle to mental health awareness, Ron will impact lives beyond the realm of the traditional pro athlete. Everyone talks about the legacies of the game’s greats, but with something like this, Ron’s legacy extends beyond the hardwood. Yeah, the story of Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school team is a great one for coaches everywhere to use at their own tryouts every year (”Work hard, come back next year and who knows what could happen?”), but Ron’s efforts will save and/or permanently alter lives for the better. The people he’s helping may never know anything more about him or the L.A. Lakers than that Kobe Bryant played for them, or that they’re basketball players.

From SoCalGal, Silver Screen & Roll:  So I’ve been thinking about doing some kind of player profiles for a while now, but I haven’t had the time. Instead, I’m going to start a periodic feature called “Did you know…?” and post some little- and well-known facts about some of our players. They’re not facts that are difficult to find, they’re just facts that aren’t reported regularly. That said, if I post something that you think is incorrect or incomplete, feel free to correct/update at your peril in your comments.  This week, I’m going to feature our very own Mr. Intangibles, Derek Fisher. We all know about his family’s battle with his daughter Tatum’s retinoblastoma, a vicious and rare form of eye cancer, which, thankfully, is in remission. But I’ll bet there are some things some of us didn’t know.