Archives For ron artest

It’s Mailbag Time

Darius Soriano —  July 7, 2010

May 04, 2010 - Los Angeles, California, U.S. - Los Angeles Lakers head coach PHIL JACKSON (center), assistant coaches BRIAN SHAW (L) and FRANK HAMBLEN in the Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series. The Lakers won 111-103.

Welcome to FB&G’s first attempt at a mailbag.  Thanks to all of you that submitted questions.  If you’d like to submit a question for future installments just send me an email and put “mailbag question” in the subject line.  Here we go…

Do you see a possibility of Phil sliding into a Tex Winter type role after next year?  Come in during training camp and a couple times during the season to help out and tweak things.  Or is the personality going to be so strong and Shaw still trying to establish himself that it would be a bad idea?  Or at least not the first year of Shaw being the head man.  But the second year.  Phil had no problem acknowledging that Tex mentored him right from the get go.  It’d be an interesting proposition.

-Chownoir

While I think Phil will have some sort of role with the Lakers after he’s finished coaching, I don’t think he’ll be a “Tex Winter” type of advisor to Brian Shaw.  Remember, Tex was very visible in practices and behind the bench and his voice was heard consistently while his health permitted him to be part of the team.  I hope that Phil would make himself available as a resource to Shaw (assuming Brian is the man chosen to replace Phil), but I think those communications would happen behind the scenes, not in practices or in training camp.  In the end, I think Phil taking too active a role after his retirement from coaching would be a bit of a conflict for the players and could potentially undermine Shaw’s role as the head man.  Remember too that by the end of next season, Shaw will have just completed his 6th season as an assistant to Jackson.  He’ll likely have learned as much as possible from Phil in terms of schemes and tactics and it will then be up to Shaw to take what he’s learned and incorporate that into his own coaching style.  From everything I’ve read, Shaw has the respect and ear of the players so his message should be well received.  It’s just a matter of his message and guidance then producing results.  And while I have confidence in Shaw as a head man, we’ll see how he does when that day comes.

If Ron Artest plays at more or less the same level as he did in Game 7, is any team going to be able to beat the Lakers if they stay healthy?

-Marv

If Ron plays at his game 7 level, no, the Lakers can’t be beaten with an otherwise healthy roster.  That said, I don’t think the Lakers are going to get that type of performance consistently from Ron.  In that game, Ron not only played excellent defense (which is a given) but his jumper was falling (for the most part) and he was making the type of instinctive basketball plays – at least on offense – that he hadn’t for most of the year.  Playing at that level consistently is difficult when the opportunities are packaged to fit a role player.  What I mean by that is, in game 7 Ron took 18 shots which was his high FGA for the season and in the future, I think he’ll still be slotted behind Kobe, Pau, and Bynum and will have to continue to try and do more with less.  However, I do believe that Ron will improve in future seasons and we’ll see better efficiency in his shooting numbers and a greater understanding of how to play within the Triangle.  That may not equate to a “game 7 level  performance” all the time, but I think we’ll see less extremes in performance where Artest gains consistency.  Which, in the end, will mean an even stronger Lakers team.

There has been a movement throughout the NBA to look past traditional statistics and look deeper into what the numbers mean. Many teams are adopting ABPRMetrics, such  as the Rockets, Mavs, Nuggetsand Trailblazers, even going as far as to employ a statistician on staff. Then there are teams that are “old school” and rely almost solely on the word of scouts. Which camp do the Lakers fall into, or is it somewhere in between?

-Phil

From everything I’ve read, the Lakers have yet to fully embrace the “Moneyball” movement in Basketball.  But, this shouldn’t be surprising considering the philosophy of Phil Jackson’s coaching style.  Phil teaches a specific system that isn’t about statistical value but rather how pieces fit to form a team.  From an outsiders perspective, Phil’s approach is one where the team is  a living, breathing organism that must find a way to function together in a way where stat driven lineups don’t matter as much as the decision making as a group being on the same page with the results produced being dependent on the team seeing the same picture while on the court together.  And while I think there is merit to looking at advanced stats or adjusted plus/minus to seek out trends and what helps or hurts a team, I also think there is value in things that can’t be measured by stats.  A great example of this would be the debate about whether Fisher or Farmar should have been the starting PG this season.  All the advanced stats showed Farmar to be the more effective player on both offense and defense and that the team performed just as well, if not better when Farmar played with the player combinations that Fisher played the majority of his minutes with.  However, what the stats didn’t measure was Fisher’s propensity to hit the big shots, organize the offense in a way where the best players got more touches, or how his leadership helped stabilize the team in moments where it was needed most.  I do think as advanced stats become more common place in the NBA, more teams will embrace them as a tool, but I think there will always be a place for making coaching decisions without the influence of numbers and by following a “gut feeling” or by judging a situation based off how the pieces “fit” from a chemistry standpoint rather than a pure production one.

How long will Bynum be out at the start of the season? How long does a full recovery take?  Since Kobe’s taking time off from playing for the first time in years, will all his various ailments be 100% come the start of the season?  I know it’s for developmental players, but the triangle is so hard to learn and fit into for most players, would it make sense for Blake to get some burn in the summer league?  Thanks, love the site.

-SS

We’ll take these in order.  First, I think Bynum will be fully recovered by the time that the season starts.  Estimates on recovery time are from anywhere from 2-4 weeks (Brandon Roy came back in less than two weeks these past playoffs), so I think if Bynum has his surgery by the end of this month, he’ll be ready to go by the time training camp in underway in late September/early October.  Second, I think Kobe’s ailments will be as good to go as possible by the time the season starts.  However, understand that Kobe’s ailments aren’t the type that will magically go away.  His finger is arthritic and it may never be the same again.  He also has tendinitis in his knee and that is something he’ll have to deal with for the rest of his career.  All that said, Kobe’s shown a dedication to his body and physical conditioning that few others have and he’s consistently finding ways to be effective as his athleticism/physical peak decreases.  So, I’m confident that Kobe will be good to go and that he’ll definitely benefit from the time off.  As for Blake and Summer League, I just don’t see it happening.  Blake is a smart player and I trust that he’ll pick up the schemes rather quickly.  He’s known to be a student of the game and as a traditional Point Guard, a player that prides himself on being an extension of the coach on the floor.  So, while the nuance of playing in the Triangle can be something that takes time to learn, I think Blake will adapt well and be able to contribute rather quickly without much hesitation in where he needs to be within the confines of the Lakers’ sets.

Would you please provide a primer on seeing Summer League games in person?  I think I – and perhaps many others – are ready to take this next step to basketball geekdom.

-Rick

When looking at a team like the Lakers, I think the best way is to focus on the players that the Lakers have an investment in first (Ebanks, Carracter) and then see if anyone else stands out in any meaningful way.  I know that I’ll be focusing on the two Lakers rookies, but then I’ll also be paying special attention to Green and Kurz, just because of their past NBA experience and the fact that they have skill sets that the Lakers could use on their team.  All that said, when you have a championship roster (like the Lakers do) there’s little chance that any player from Summer League team is going to make any sort of meaningful impact during the regular season.  And while some of these guys may get a camp invite, most are likely using their time on the Lakers’ roster as an audition for other teams.  Remember, there are scouts and talent evaluators from every team at the Summer League’s and they’re all looking for that potential player that can come in and compete for a roster spot.  And while the Lakers may not be the team that takes a flyer on a player, another team may.

Did the lakers not try to sell the Bynum for Bosh deal?  Bynum is not going to last and we would be smart trying to deal him while he is young and has value. The lakers are in their last 3 year run starting now so a Bosh or top talent would make sense. You go for the gold now.

-Eric

With Bosh seemingly about to sign with the Heat, I thought this would be a good chance to put this Bosh/Bynum thing to rest for a while.  I’m unsure of how “real” these Bosh for Bynum rumors ever were.  From a media and fan standpoint, this was a deal that made sense and I know there was speculation about both sides being “open” to the deal.  However, from the standpoint of what we know about the Lakers I’m not sure this information being out there actually makes sense.  Just consider this one point – How often, in the past several seasons, have we heard about a Lakers trade from the media before it actually happened?  There weren’t any indications of the Gasol trade or the Shannon/Ammo trade.  So, I have a hard time believing that the Lakers were actually the ones making waves about acquiring Bosh as they’ve proven that these types of leaks don’t happen when they’re serious about making a deal. 

As for the assumption that Bynum is not built to last, as cliche as this sounds – only time will tell.  The early results don’t look extremely promising as Bynum has endured several injuries that have limited him over the last three seasons.  However, the flip side of that coin is that most of these injuries have been fluke-ish and I’m not convinced there’s a trend of injuries as much as there’s been a trend of bad luck.  I’d feel different is this were a Sam Bowie situation where the same foot problem cropped up year after year, but that’s not been the case with ‘Drew.  His knee injuries haven’t been of the same variety and both happened in ways where you could easily say he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Granted, this doesn’t erase the fact that he’s been injured and his future is cloudy in this regard.  But, I do think he’s a player worth holding onto based off his (still promising) upside and the role that he fills on this team as a defender/rebounder and a guy that also allows Gasol to play PF for the majority of his minutes.  Within the context of this team, I think the Lakers mix of big men is the perfect blend and Bynum is – figuratively and literally – a big part of that.

James and Wade seem to be players that operate best when they have the ball, and are clearly double-alpha guys.  Does it really make sense to have them on the same team, or does that dilute their individual value?  Will they be at odds over control of the team?

-Marv

Another question that is relevant with the Lebron about make his decision tomorrow.  I’m honestly a bit on the fence with this one.  I think there will be times that one of either Lebron or Wade would be frozen out of the offense as the other player tries to create in a way that’s most comfortable to him.  However, I’m a firm believer in great players finding ways to figure things out and there aren’t too many players better than James and Wade.  Also, I think both players understand the game and play with a level of unselfishness that would aid in any potential partnership.  Remember too, these guys have played together on All-Star teams and on Team USA for the past several years.  They understand each other’s games and would find ways to compliment each other.  I also think that both players would be able to add on to and improve their respective games so that they’d find an even better way to mesh as their careers advanced.  In the end, there could possibly be issues of “control” or “who takes the last shot”, but I think a lot of those issues could be worked out if the team is winning and if there are people in coaching/management strong enough to corral their egos and have them focus on the ultimate prize.  And again, I think with great players that’s easier than with ones who “think” they’re great but really aren’t that caliber of player.  Wade and Lebron are the goods.  I think they’d work it out.

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With the 2009-10 season behind us and the free agency bonanza just getting started, ‘Forum Blue & Gold’ begins the first of a series of player reviews from your NBA champions. We begin with the player who left many fans and critics divided when he was signed before last season: the one and only Ron Artest.

SEASON IN REVIEW:

Ron Artest has been called many things in his career—defender, instigator…even crazy. In 2010, the Lakers small forward finally added a new title to his résumé: champion. After fan-favorite Trevor Ariza bolted for the Houston Rockets, the Lakers quickly snatched up the former Defensive Player of the Year with their mid-level exception—a steal by most anyone’s standards, albeit one that represented a notable risk-reward type of proposition for a team coming off of a championship victory.

“He wants to win a ring,” said Artest’s agent David Bauman shortly after his signing last summer. “He’s a winner and a hard worker and he went looking for a team with whom he could find some justification for what he does. He plays his best when he’s in that kind of an environment.”

Bauman’s comments set the tone for Artest’s inaugural season in a Lakers jersey, even if from a purely statistical standpoint, the former St. John’s star had one of the most underwhelming seasons of his career. Over 77 games, Ron put up fairly pedestrian averages of 11 points per game on 41% shooting, to go along with four rebounds and a little over one steal. As is usually the case with Artest though, what you see is not always what you get as his defensive toughness and hunger for an NBA title provided a huge—and in many ways underrated—boost to a team that battled through injuries and post-championship complacency for much of the regular season’s second half.

As a defensive master, Artest didn’t disappoint—methodically disassembling the games of Kevin Durant and Paul Pierce among others, while ensuring that Kobe didn’t have to waste vital energy chasing the other teams’ star player around for 48 minutes. His playoff performance also served as a reminder to the league that #37 remains an elite on-ball defender and that much like Kobe, rumors of his demise were premature. After all, Artest was similarly injured toward the end of the regular season, yet still gutted it out and missed only five games.

On offense, it goes without saying that Ron spent much of the season dazed and confused, admittedly struggling with the intricacies of the vaunted triangle offense and an outside shooting touch that betrayed him most nights. These issues aside though, Ron still provided what were arguably the two biggest offensive plays of the post-season with his instant redemption game-winning put-back in Game 5 against the Suns and his clutch three-point dagger with just over a minute remaining in Game 7 against the Celtics.

On its face, Artest’s overall season arc provided a bit of a mixed bag. However, Ron was never a Pau Gasol-type of of player who was going to integrate flawlessly (and immediately) into the team’s ebb and flow. He wasn’t signed for his suave game or consistent shooting. To the contrary, the forward was brought to L.A. for exactly the opposite reasons—to create discord on the floor for other teams. In that bruiser type of role, he succeeded with flying colors.

PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON:

Kobe initially called out the Spaniard during the Finals trophy presentation, but without Ron Artest’s Game 7 heroics, the Larry O’Brien trophy is likely headed back east. With 20 points and five steals, Artest buoyed the team during a historically sluggish first three quarters, reminding his teammates that his fingers were still ringless with each and every timely put-back. Ever the drama king, Ron saved his best for last—connecting on a dramatic trey in the game’s final minute that not only sent the STAPLES Center crowd into a state of bedlam, but also proved to be the final nail in the Celtic’s coffin.

(Honorable mention goes to Artest’s kid-in-a-candy-store antics during his post-Game 7 interview.)

NEXT SEASON:

Truth be told, Artest is far from the only player who has failed to grasp the triangle on first attempt; future Hall-of-Famer’s Gary Payton and Karl Malone also experienced difficulty in their one year with the Lakers. Luckily, the Lakers have Ron under contract for four more years and he will only continue to grow within the offense, especially now that Coach Jackson has announced his return.

For better or worse, Artest has proven himself as a difference maker during his 11 up-and-down years in the league. He maintained his composure as well as any Laker this year though, showing a sense of maturity that few thought was possible for the player who once played a key role in the worst player-fan altercation in NBA history. Similar to the way Jackson helped Dennis Rodman harness his often combustible energy, Artest understood his role on this team and remained steadfast in his desire to do whatever it took to help the team win games. The forward willingly checked his ego at the door on day one as a member of the forum blue and gold, which is something that shouldn’t be overlooked when you consider that Ron has played the alpha dog on more than one team in the past.

“It’s amazing I can be the same person and a world champion,” said Artest in a post-championship interview with KHTK in Sacramento. “I always thought that I had to be someone else to be a world champion.”

The Lakers were fully aware of what they were getting into when they made the controversial decision to sign Artest, yet they never asked him to be anything other than himself. In turn, the 16-time NBA champions still got the pitbull they were hoping for and for the first time in his career, it was Artest who was perfectly comfortably walking with the rest of the pack. It’s that fundamental change in mentality that helped him transition from longtime misfit to the much more fitting title of NBA champion.

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A quick programming note: FB&G will be off-line from 10pm to midnight PST this evening (May 3rd) due to a scheduled maintenance on the site’s server.  I apologize in advance for any inconvenience.

Lebron James.  Carmelo Anthony.  Paul Pierce.  Kevin Durant.  Brandon Roy.  While this is an amended list, it’s these (types of) players that the Lakers were thinking of when they signed Ron Artest as a free agent.  Sure, the Lakers were optimistic that Ron’s all around offensive game would mesh in with the Triangle, but we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge that improving the Lakers defense wasn’t on the minds of Mitch Kupchak and Phil Jackson when the green light was given on this acquisition.  However when looking at that list of great wing scorers, you don’t see a member of the Utah Jazz.  And that fact led to a couple of interesting comments in the lead up to this series:

Mamula: “It will be interesting to see who will Ron Artest be guarding in this series. He is not quick enough to put on Deron. Wesley Matthews and CJ Miles are not really explosive constant scorers, even though they have their moments from time to time.”

Ray: “Is it just me, or should we just put Fisher or Kobe on D. Will? I love Artest, but I don’t think he can handle his speed.”

So, at this point, the question must be asked – who is the best person for Artest to guard?  In game 1, Phil Jackson started Artest on CJ Miles and then moved him onto Deron when Fisher picked up an early foul.  And while Ron did an okay job on Williams, I think Mamula and Ray’s concerns were valid in that Deron’s quickness and ability to change directions did at times leave Ron flatfooted and out of position.  Now, that’s nothing to be ashamed off as Williams is a headache for nearly every defender and slowing him down will always be a team effort and not one that can be assigned to one player.  But is this the best use of Ron’s defensive skills? 

At this point, I think it’s fair to say that Williams is going to accumulate his stats against any defender the Lakers throw up against him.  Whether it’s Kobe, Shannon, or Fisher, Williams is just too good a player to stop completely and even slowing him down is a serious chore.  So, should we really be sending Ron out there against him?  I’m acutally not sure it’s the best approach. (On a side note, Fisher actually does a good job against Deron – it must be all that practice time against him from when Fish was on the Jazz.)

In game one, Wesley Matthews and CJ Miles combined for 30 points on 24 shots.  And while these aren’t the most efficient numbers, they do highlight the fact that these two guys are threats.  And when you consider that Miles (34% on threes this season) only made 1 of his 5 attempts from behind the arc but had several wide open looks from distance that just missed, this point total could have been much worse from the Lakers perspective.  Just looking at those point totals for those players, it reminds me of the boxscore from the lone Jazz win during the regular season where the team had tremendous scoring balance and was able to spread the scoring load around enough to earn the 8 point win.  And it’s those types of team efforts on offense that will be needed to beat the Lakers.

As Kevin at TrueHoop expressed yesterday, the Jazz face some daunting disadvantages in this match up.  If they are going to overcome them, they can’t just rely on their typical exploits from Boozer and Millsap to pull them through.  And even if Deron goes off in the way that he did against Denver, it will still take some better than just solid performances from some of Utah’s supporting players on the wing.  That means Miles, Matthews, and Korver will need to step up their games and perform well.  So why not deploy Artest in full on ‘defending Durant’ mode to shut one of these guys out?  Wouldn’t that go further in helping to secure a win than throwing him on Deron for extended streches?  Especially when it really will be a team effort where switches, double teams, and strong side zone looks are likely to be deployed in slowing the Jazz all-star PG?  Maybe I’m off base with this.  What do you think?  What should the Lakers do with Ron Artest?

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Before I get into why I think Ron Artest is the Defensive Player of the Year, allow me to throw out this disclaimer: I am biased. Now, before you stop reading, let me explain. I’m not biased because I’m a Lakers fan (necessarily), I’m biased because I’ve seen nearly every minute that Ron Artest has played this season. This is something that I can not say about the other top defensive players in the NBA. So, because that is the case, I’ve seen first hand and game after game the impact that Ron has on the defensive side of the ball.  I can not make this same claim about some of the other elite defenders around the NBA.  Some may say that fact makes my views distorted or slanted. And that is a solid argument.  However, I will also say that this fact makes me informed about the guy that I’m watching. And the guy I’m watching is a fantastic defensive player that is playing some of the best defense, night in and night out, that I’ve seen in a long time from any player.

I understand that there are several other strong candidates for this award.  Reigning DPOY Dwight Howard is a fantastic defensive player in his own right and if he took home the hardware, I would applaud with little to  no complaint.  Besides Howard though, there’s players like Lebron (he of the chase down blocks and low foul rate), Andy Varejao (a great big man in P&R defense, drawer of offensive fouls, and overall defensive pest), and even defensive stalwarts KG (when healthy) and Tim Duncan (no explanation needed).  So why do I choose Artest?  Take a look at that list of contenders and tell me what you see.  That’s right, save for Lebron, that is a list of big men.  The guys who get loads of credit for blocked shots and rebounds (and to the more astute watcher hedging/recovering on pick and rolls, backline communication on defense, etc). 

But Artest is the all too rare stopper on the defensive wing.  He’s a guy that’s tasked with slowing down the premier offensive talents in the NBA – and does quite a good job at it.   And because Ron plays on the wing, his effectiveness won’t always be measured by the stats that are found in the box score.  Sure, Ron has opportunities to rack up steals – and he does average almost one and a half a game.  But Ron is not a player that gambles a lot in the passing lanes.  So while he may not rack up the gaudy steal numbers of some other players that shoot through gaps and read passes like a DB breaking on an out route (like Kobe, for example), the steals that Ron does pick up are mostly on the ball, litterally, taking the ball away from the man he’s guarding.  Which is just one facet of the smothering on ball defense that he exhibits nightly.

Mainly though, it’s the tenacity and determination that Artest displays that has me recognizing his defense.  Really, he just plays hard.  He doesn’t take possessions off.  He fights through screens, he bodies up his man, he closes out hard, and he helps his teammates.  His overall effort is truly astounding when watched within the context of how normal players defend.  Before I got to watch Ron on a nightly basis, I just didn’t understand this fact.  But now, after watching him in 70+ games, I recognize how much effort he puts into defending.  It really is a sight to see.

His defensive versatility is also off the charts.  Last night, Ron battled Manu Ginobili (a SG) and bothered him on pretty much every possession that they faced off.  Sure, Ginobili ended up with some good numbers, but he worked his tail off to get them and took some punishment from Ron on several plays (including one in which Ron and LO doubled Manu and when Ginobili tried to escape dribble, Ron poked the ball away from behind – trademark Artest move – grabbed the ball, bumped Manu off and then powered up for the layup as Ginobili ducked away).    Just over a week ago, Ron did a spendid job on the beastly PG, Tyreke Evans.   Then before that, there was the number he did on Carmelo Anthony.  Ask Kevin Durant who he thinks is one of the toughest defenders he’s faced.  And sure, there will be nights where Ron gets beat – Lebron’s game in January, the first half against Vince Carter a few Sundays ago, or parts of the game that he had against Wade in Miami come to mind – but that happens to even the best defenders.  No one pitches a shut out in this league.  Especially not when facing the types of players that Ron faces.

If you want to look at this from a statistics perspective (which is limited due to the type of defensive stats that are kept and the ability to properly ananlyze defensive impact), Ron holds players to a 12.7 PER Against.  When looking at his on/off floor stats, the Lakers give up less points, opposing teams shoot a lower percentage, and the Lakers rebound better as a team when Ron is in the game.  None of these stats are perfect, but they do begin to tell the story of Ron’s impact on the team defensively.  They just perform better with him on the court.  Not to mention that Ron’s work on defense also means that Kobe doesn’t have to guard the other team’s elite wing player for extended minutes, saving more of his energy for offense, where (if you haven’t noticed) the Lakers have needed him several times this season to make some big shots in the closing seconds.

But bringing this back full circle, Ron is my guy.  I know there are other worthy candidates and the likelihood that Ron wins are pretty slim anyway.  And while I’ve hinted at it before now and mentioned that he should be considered for the award, I’m now fully on board.  If I had a vote, he’d get it.  This doesn’t mean I’m right, but I trust what I see.  And what I see is a player that is facing some of the best scorers in the entire league, night in and night out and either shutting them down, severly limiting them, or making them work as hard as possible to have effective nights.  One night it’s Durant, then it’s Granger, then it’s ‘Melo, then Paul Pierce, Caron Butler, Vince Carter, Ginobili, Wade, Lebron, Joe Johnson, Brandon Roy, Iguodala, and on and on.  So today, I thought I’d just give the man his due and put in my two cents on his defensive performance this season.  To me, it’s award worthy.

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Tonight, starting around 10pm Pacific time, FB&G will be down for a few hours for server maintenance. I apologize for any inconvenience that this causes. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Lately, the Lakers have not been playing that well.  We all know this.  They’re 5-5 in their last 10 games and, against a middling team from the East, needed a game winning jumpshot from Kobe to avoid a four game losing streak.  Typically, I don’t blame individual players for poor play or losses and I won’t do so now.  Basketball is a team game where all players and coaches contribute to what happens on the court.  However, when the team is playing poorly and losing games there are two points of view – the macro and micro.  We’ve focussed a lot (and will continue to do so in the future) on a lot of macro issues – the team’s performance on offense is the most recent example.  However, the individual performances of the players make up the team dynamic, so it’s also appropriate to discuss what is going on with the guys that make up the team.

I say all this because Ron Artest is struggling right now.  His offensive game is off and it’s affecting his status as a viable player on that side of the ball.  In recent games, Ron did have a solid FG% against both Indy and Miami shooting 9-17 in those games and totalling 21 points.  But when you dig a bit deeper in those games and look at the total 5 game stretch in the first part of March, there is a bigger problem – his overall shooting and, more specifically, his three point shooting has been well below his season standard.  This month, Ron has shot 4-18 (22%) from three point range.  And when you look at his total field goal shooting numbers from just the last three games he’s 4-24 (17%).  Granted this is an extremely small sample size and any statistician would tell you that these numbers should and will normalize soon.  But, it is worrisome.

We should note, though, that there are some reasons behind this.  First, Ron does have a hurt left thumb that is heavily wrapped during each game.  You may question how much a left thumb injury should affect Ron’s shooting, but Ron is a player that loves to finish in the lane with his left hand and his jumpshot is also one with a lot of guide hand influence (to my eyes).  Plus, anyone that’s played basketball with a hurt hand (whether it’s their strong hand or not) understands that your ball handling is compromised and that reduces your comfort level on offense overall.  I mean, you lose the ball more when dribbling, you don’t get a good grip on the ball when elevating to shoot your shot from the perimeter or in the paint, and it all conspires to make you less confident when on offense (Kobe’s struggles on offense are another example of everything just stated about dealing with a hand injury – save the confidence part).

And to me, this is the biggest key – confidence and comfort level on offense.  When the Lakers first acquired Artest, I was a person that questioned if he would fit in.  I wondered if “ball stopper” Ron would surface and if he’d buy in to the offensive principles.  I’m happy to say that I was completely wrong about that as Ron has proven more than accepting of his role and position within the team structure.  But, with his recent shooting woes, what I am seeing is indecisiveness.  Ron looks unsure as to whether he should shoot or pass.  He’s second guessing himself in instances where he should show no hesitation.  A percect example occured in the Orlando game where Ron received a pass in the corner and was pretty much wide open for a three.  His feet were set and any confident player would have just fired away (not to go off tangent here, but any of our guards would have surely shot in that instance).  But instead, Ron brought the ball up in a shooting motion and stopped, then ball faked and allowed the defender to recover.  Then, with the defender now close enough to contest the shot, Ron took a side dribble and shot the ball – almost as if he knew that he was open and that he should shoot.  It was in that moment (removing the shooting numbers for a second) that I really thought something was not quite right with Ron’s offensive game.

I also think that Ron’s got some weary legs.  With the injuries to Sasha (and especially) Luke, Artest has logged long minutes on many nights and spent those minutes defending the other team’s best offensive wing.  Some may say that this is his specialty, and I would agree with that.  But only to a point.  Because when looking at how he’s been used recently, I question the wisdom of throwing Ron out there to play 45 minutes against Dwyane Wade or 38 minutes on Vince Carter when those players are guys that play Kobe’s position and guys that #24 would typically mark.  Even though Ron did well in both of those matchups, I think he could have spent more of those minutes on Barnes or Richardson.  I mean, even last year Ron split time with Battier on the league’s toughest wing scorers and surely didn’t log as many minutes chasing around the best of the best on the perimiter for almost every minute he was on the court.  So, while I understand wanting to take advantage of Ron’s defensive mindset while also giving Kobe a breather on D, I do think that Ron needs a bit of a rest at times too and should not be using up all of his energy on defense – and especially not against players that do have quickness advantages over him like some shooting guards will.

Again, I’m not trying to disparage Artest.  I think his defense has been a key component in our high defensive ranking this season.  His intensity and determination on that side of the ball have truly been invaluable.  And in a year where most of our shooters are performing below (and some well below) their career averages in three point accuracy, Ron’s ability to hit 38-40% from downtown has been crucial to the (some would say limited) success on offense that we have experienced this season.  And when you combine that with his ability to make plays for others, I don’t think anyone can question his value to this team.  But, that’s why his recent funk is concerning.  Ron may be the 4th option and all his offensive numbers may be down this season, but he’s an integral part of our schemes and team structure.  So, here’s hoping that Ron’s struggles end soon.  Because right now, in a time that our offense could use a bit of a pick me up, an effective Artest would really help.

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Sometimes, how you see the universe and how everyone else sees the universe is radically different. And it can be frustrating because you need elusive proof to show the other side you are right.

Lakers fans who have watched most of the team’s games see this team — and Ron Artest — in a different way than most of the sports universe is talking about them and him right now. Today, the world sees Ron Artest the distraction as being back — did he really drink during halftime of a game? Is he going to get suspended or fined for ripping Crawford? Even in the days before this incident, several national NBA writers suggested that Ron Artest may not be working out as a Laker, that the trade for Ariza was a wash or won by Houston so far.

That is the opposite of how Lakers fans see everything.

Back in 1916, Albert Einstein (after a dozen years of work any plenty of false steps) finally published his corrected version of his General Theory of Relativity — that space and time tell matter and energy where to go, and that matter and energy tell space and time how to look. It was revolutionary. It told Newton that the apple that fell on his head may have made him a little loopy, and wrong. (If you want a more detailed explanation, ask Sheldon Cooper, PhD.)

As with the proposal of any radical idea, it was not accepted quickly (even after his public fame had made him an icon the scientific community was not convinced he was right). Einstein was right, he knew he was right. But he needed proof to convince the world that things were different than they thought. In his case, he needed photographs from a total solar eclipse to show the bending of light from stars behind the sun. And it took years to get that, time in which Einstein took shot after shot. He waited patiently until those photos of the eclipse came, and the photos of a 1919 eclipse were divided into two camps (one said he was right, another wrong). It was 1922 before photos from the viewing of an eclipse in Australia proved Einstein right to the world.

Laker fans are sort of in the same place. Based on observations this season, they have a theory that Artest is a better fit right now than Ariza, that within the triangle and on defense he is exactly what the Lakers need to win it all again. That Artest is an upgrade over Ariza. Some people nationally disagree. Some skeptics even sort of agree with this, save for the “he’s going to go nuts and blow it all” theory.

Now is the first distraction. Except this is a Laker team that deals with the spotlight of Los Angeles — this is not really a distraction. My sense from being in the locker room is that Artest fits in, he is liked, and that nobody sees what he does off the court as mattering at all. This is a team that has been to the Finals two years in a row; they understand focus on the court when the media is swirling about. Lakers fans don’t see this as a distraction, rather just a funny little story. But that’s not how the world sees it.

Like Einstein, Lakers fans need proof that their theory is right. But like Einstein, they need to wait. The proof will not come until June, and until then there really is no proof that will convince everyone. The Lakers won with Ariza, the question is can they win it with Artest.

Lakers fans know the answer. They just need to wait for the proof.