Archives For ron artest

One of the undertold stories of this Laker campaign is how Ron Artest is playing.  This makes sense considering sexier stories surrounding Kobe’s shooting, Gasol’s minutes, the play of the bench, and Bynum’s knees have been such major parts of the Lakers’ start to the season.  Plus, when you throw in the Lakers’ strong start and then their recent losing streak, the bigger issue of their overall team performance was also a more prominent story than focusing too much attention on Ron’s play.  But since the Lakers have finally broken out of their losing ways (at least for one game), I thought I’d turn the spotlight onto how Ron has been faring this year and some of the things that I’ve noticed when reviewing his performances.  (On a side note, let me say that this is a topic that’s been covered well by the fine folks at Silver Screen and Roll and in a recent piece at ESPN Los Angeles.  Give those articles a read to get more background on what we’re discussing here.)

Essentially, Ron Artest hasn’t been playing that well in the Lakers’ first 20 games.  He’s playing fewer minutes (down to 27 per game) and thus his per game averages are down (even if only slightly) across the board.  He’s shooting his lowest percentage over an extended period since the 40 games he played for the Kings in the 2005-’06 season, and his comfort level in the Triangle seems on par with where it was last season (a fact that, after his strong pre-season performance this year, is difficult to comprehend).  When I exchanged emails with our old friend Kurt Helin of PBT I asked him what he was seeing from Ron:

Artest does look off (offensively). I looked at him on Synergy and he is still shooting well in a spot-up/catch-and-shoot situations (41.7% from three on those) but when it comes to plays within the flow of the offense, well, he’s not flowing well and he’s breaking out of the sets a lot.  His plays in isolation are especially bad.

I agree with Kurt in that Ron’s shooting is better when he’s taking shots in rhythm off kick-outs from either post-ups or off penetration.  When his feet are set and he takes the shot without hesitating, he’s making enough shots to justify his position as a starter and for the minutes he receives in the rotation.  Where I think Ron’s biggest problems lie are in the fact that he’s still not showing the confidence of a player of his caliber.  Just as the statistics reveal, the eyeball test tells us that Ron is performing poorly, but so much of that is really based off how often he’s hesitating after he makes a clean catch.  Rather than just catch and shoot, he’s head faking, taking a needless dribble, or seemingly looking for his rhythm rather than just firing away.  This constant second guessing of whether or not he should shoot makes it so that when he does recognize that he should put up the shot, it’s often too late and a defender is there to contest his attempt or make it so an off balance heave is then needed to get a look off clean.  Against the Pacers and the Grizzlies, Ron’s last second shot attempts to win the game came in these exact situations and the expected results followed.

However, Ron’s performance on offense isn’t the place that has me the most concerned.  Defensively, Ron just hasn’t been as good this season as he was last year.  In the aforementioned article at SS&R, CA Clark breaks it down statistically:

According to, using opposing PER as a measure of individual defensive performance, Ron Artest is allowing his opponents to put up a 17.7 PER.  Amongst Laker starters, only Derek Fisher is worse (giving up an obscene 20.9 PER).  Kobe and Lamar are both holding their guys below “average” (which is 15) and Gasol is right on the edge with a 15.0 opposing PER.  When the bench is included, only Steve Blake joins Derek Fisher in the “worse than Ron Artest statistically” category.  Compare this to last year, in which Artest faced the top opposing perimeter player every night, and still held his opponents to a 12.9 PER.

However, opposing PER is just one way of measuring a players’ defensive impact.  Reed passed along the following thoughts:

I do think (PER agaisnt) is a helpful stat, given that it tells how efficient opposing players are when being guarded by a certain player, but I think it should be given less weight than team defensive on/off numbers. As Boston has shown us so well the last few years, defense is really about five players working together to force low % shots and then rebound. Sometimes an average one on one defender can produce elite defensive results by executing the team schemes really well. Derek Fisher and Ray Allen come to mind. And, Ron’s defensive on/off numbers are awful this year (opposing teams score 5 more points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court). Last year the team was 4.5 points better defensively with Ron on the court. Now, some of that is probably the result of swapping Sasha/Luke’s minutes last year for Barnes this year, but some is probably just worse defense by Ron.

Kurt built on that same point by explaining that:

Defensively Artest still seems good in isolation, but he doesn’t seem to be fighting through screens with the tenacity he did last season. (In general) his defense seems less focused.

Really, this is where I think Ron is showing a drop off.  In one on one situations, he’s still very good.  His hands are as quick and strong as ever and while he’s not moving as well in defending players’ first step, he’s still able to keep most players in front of him on most possessions and force difficult shots that just seem to be going in more than last season (Rudy Gay’s leaning jumpers come to mind here).  But it’s really Ron’s off ball work that isn’t up to his usual standard.  Understand that most wing players like to come off screens in order to make their catch and attack.  Whether using simple pin downs or cross screen actions, offensive wings uses these picks to get that extra bit of space to get the ball so they can go to work.  Last year, Ron Artest ate these actions up.  One only need to look back to the work he did on Kevin Durant as evidence as to how disruptive Ron could be in doing strong defensive work before his man caught the ball.  He’d bump, hold, and fight through as many screens as needed in order to make his opponents’ catches more difficult or deny them completely.  When his man did catch the ball he’d be in such good position that his elite isolation defense would take over to limit his man.  This year, he’s just not as good at getting through screens; he’s getting picked off more on pin downs and isn’t bodying his man to create the needed space to chase and curl around the picks.

But as Reed mentioned, defense is a team game too.  And what’s not helping Ron’s work is the fact that the Lakers’ team D has also fallen off from last year.  Especially in areas that really help wing defenders.  In P&R situations, the Lakers bigs aren’t showing and recovering as well.  When elite wings are coming off screens, the bigs aren’t hedging out to contest passing lanes and disrupt the timing of the opposition’s offense.  They’re also not rotating as quickly when wing defenders are steering ball handlers into designated spots on the floor.  All of these factors conspire to hurt players like Ron (and Kobe and Fisher) as they’re hung out to dry more when chasing players around the perimeter or when fighting thorough screens (both on and off the ball).  The opposition is able to make passes cleanly and on time which allows offensive wings to attack while on the move rather than having to make a catch, stop, and then attack a set defense.

Obviously, some of Ron’s struggles are both mitigated and enhanced by the fact that Matt Barnes has played so well.  Last season when Ron was the only legitimate and healthy small forward on the roster (Walton was injured and Adam Morrison was, well, Adam Morrison) he was allowed to play through his struggles on any given night.  On many nights his offensive rhythm may have eluded him, but he’d often find his groove on defense.  One quote that I’ll never forget was when Ron spoke about being a player that gets into a defensive rhythm; a defensive zone (much like scorers get in offensive zones) where he could lock up offensive players after finding his comfort level (either over the course of a game or by finding his zone for several consecutive games).

This year, Ron really isn’t afforded that chance.  Matt Barnes is playing so well that he’s siphoning away Ron’s minutes.  Ron is also losing game time to Shannon Brown’s improved play as Kobe still has the option of sliding up to SF on any given night.  This means that Ron plays fewer minutes and therefore has fewer chances to find the rhythm that often escapes him, only to come at times when many least expect it.

In the end, I don’t want to make excuses for Ron Artest.  He’s not playing his best basketball on either O or D and while it’s not as big of a detriment as it was last year, his play has had a negative effect in recent weeks.  However, there are reasons to have hope that it will improve.  As Kurt mentioned, he’s still shooting well when taking spot-up jumpers in rhythm and on defense he’s still a very good defender in isolation situations.  When Bynum returns, some of the back line defensive issues should become more organized and that will only help Artest.  And on offense, the Lakers can find ways to get Ron more comfortable in the Triangle by having him come off screens more to get him moving towards the ball with his defender trailing him, rather than having him attack in isolations from the wing or the post.  I also think the Lakers would do Ron a favor by playing him more with the 2nd unit where he doesn’t have to share the court with Kobe, as it seems obvious to these eyes that Ron is less inclined to be aggressive when he shares the court with #24.  Only time will tell if any of these tactics are used or are successful if implemented.  But I’m not convinced that Ron is a lost cause and do believe we’ll see a better performance from him in the last 60 games than we have in the first 20.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  October 28, 2010

Houston Rockets Yao Ming of China (L) goes up to shoot past Los Angeles Lakers Pau Gasol of Spain during the second half of their NBA game in Los Angeles, California, October 26, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

A couple of off days in a row for the Lakers allow me to look around the league and truly take in the entire association.   And with the NBA finally back, a few musings from one happy basketball fan…

*The first few days have provided some fantastic performances with some eye popping numbers from players around the league.  Monta Ellis scored 46 points on 24 shots in his 40 minutes of game action to help dispatch the Rockets, essentially carrying over his hot shooting from his last preseason game against the Lakers.  Meanwhile, the ageless Jason Kidd tallied 18 assists with only 1(!) turnover to go along with his 12 points to lead the Mavs in their opening night win.  Joakim Noah, a player I’ve been high on for some time, had a monster opening night outing – albeit in a losing effort – by scoring 18 points and grabbing 19 rebounds (7 offensive) to go along with 2 each of assists, steals, and blocks.  And then Chris Paul had 17 points and 16 assists (only 1 turnover) in his return to action after an injury plagued 2010 campaign.

*But it wasn’t just the veterans that have been playing well to start the season.  DeMarcus Cousins opened his NBA career with 14 and 8.  Wesley Johnson shot well in his debut.  Derek Favors played well last night too, and tonight we get to see John Wall try to fullfill his promise as an elite PG.  But, I can’t talk about rookies without mentioning the guy that resides in the other locker-room in Staples.  BLAKE GRIFFIN!!!  Sorry, got a little excited there, but even though it’s only one game, I don’t see how basketball fans couldn’t be excited about this kid.  His all-around skill set is stronger than many remembered from his college days and his athleticism is beyond anyone we’ve seen since a pre-injury Amar’e or a young Shawn Kemp.  As for the Laker rooks, Ebanks and Caracter haven’t had the types of starts that really deserve mention, but I think that will change soon enough.  With match ups against the Suns and Warriors in the next couple of games, both players should be in the mix for minutes as Ebanks can match up against the many wings that both Pacific Division foes will dispatch and Caracter’s post game can be one ingredient to pound undersized teams when one (or both) of Pau and Odom are on the bench. 

*The Heat are going to be a big story all year.  The stars they have and the media machine ensure that.  So far they’re 1-1 with a win over Philly last night and a loss to Boston in their season opener.  Many have jumped to conclusions about the loss to Boston, but I’m not one of them.  The Heat undoubtedly have enormous talent.  But talent takes time to mold and jell.  Wade’s injury during the preseason didn’t help matters, but to think that this team – a team with only a handful of players returning from last year – would have a strong chemistry or could put it together on the fly were ignoring what the past has taught us about team building.  I don’t care how talented players are, it takes time to come together.  It’s one thing if you’re adding one great player (like the Lakers did with Gasol three seasons ago), but the Heat have added James and Bosh to a team with Wade and working that out will take time.  This is why I thought reaching 70 wins was nearly impossible for this team. (That, and travel concerns.  As Phil has said many times before, teams traveling from the coasts have a rougher road when trying to win that many games.  And Phil would know such things.  Since, you know, he’s the last guy to actually accomplish the feat.)  Ultimately the Heat will find their way…they’ll have to find it amidst a shower of boos and every team’s best effort each night, but they’ll find it.

*We all saw the Lakers championship rings.  They are magnificent and gaudy all at the same time.  People like us could never dream of actually having one.  Except, you know, Ron Artest is raffling his off so now we all have a chance to own one.  If you want to participate in the raffle, you can go here or here for the info..  Also, I agree with commenter busterjonez (who is on his way to buy tickets as I write this) when he said, “If I win, I am going to give the ring back to RonRon. I don’t care if he raffles it off again, but he earned that thing.”  Hear, hear. 

*We’ll have more on the Lakers tomorrow, what with them facing off against the Suns, but I really can’t get enough of the action that’s going on all over the league.  Which reminds me, if you want to catch all the NBA games, NBA League Pass is free through next Tuesday.

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Numbers don’t always tell the whole truth in basketball, but they can certainly offer valuable insight into player patterns, as well as some occasionally prescient nuggets about the future too. That said, we look at one or two important stats for each of the 14 expected roster players and eventually, some key numbers for the team as a whole. Part 1 of Lakers and the Numbers Game focuses on the starters (once Bynum is healthy). What stats from the starting unit pop out to you as the Lakers begin their title defense?

Derek Fisher
Key Stat: +/- 40% three-point percentage
Clutch playoff shots aside, Derek had one of the worst shooting seasons of his career in 2009-2010, connecting on only 38% of his shots from the field. More concerning than his overall field goal percentage was his sudden decline in three-point percentage last season—41% in 2007-2008, 40% in 2008-2009, 35% in 2009-2010. It’s hard to dog a guy who consistently comes through when it matters most, but his inability to knock down open shots was an impetus on the Lakers overall offensive scheme during the 2009-2010 regular season. In order to take advantage of their incredible length with Gasol, Bynum and Odom inside, they need Fisher to consistently knock down jumpers this year. On a side note, like Kobe, Derek is similarly chasing down the record books, currently sitting at sixth all-time in playoff three-point fields goals with 224. Barring injury, he’ll continue to creep up on Reggie Miller and the four others ahead of him this postseason.

Kobe Bryant
Key Stat: +/- 36 minutes per game
Kobe wound up playing three more minutes per game (39 total) than 2009-2010, while his usage rate of 29 was actually his lowest since the 2003-2004 season. In Bryant’s case, the numbers don’t lie as his productivity and decision-making has been on-point for several seasons now. As his scoring average gradually decreases, Kobes’s all-around game continues to shine—a point he emphatically hammered home with an underrated 15-rebound performance in Game 7 of the Finals. L.A. obviously doesn’t need to him to pull down 15 boards a night during the season, but they do need to keep his minutes down so he’ll be as spry as possible come April. Another number to look out for this season is Kobe’s ongoing climb up the NBA’s all-time scoring list. At 25,790 points, #24 is only 1,619 points away from passing Moses Malone for sixth all-time—a figure he should easily reach if he plays in about 60 games and maintains his 27 point-per-game average from 2009-2010.

Ron Artest
Key Stat: +/- 41% field goal percentage
Ron Ron connected on several prodigious shots during the playoffs, but struggled throughout the season with acclimating his offensive game to the ins and outs of the triangle. On a team as stacked as the Lakers, his 11-point output isn’t far off from where the team wants it, but his 41% shooting from the field leaves much room for improvement, even if his 42% shooting over the course of his career doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence for a sudden increase. More vital to the Lakers’ success than his shooting percentage, though, is Ron’s shot selection. During the Lakers’ last three-peat run, Rick Fox proved himself a strong outside shooter out of the small forward slot—and one that carefully chose his spots. Granted, the Lakers expect more offensively from Artest than they ever did Foxy, but Ron could do a lot worse than at least trying to emulate his fellow bruiser from a decision-making standpoint.

Pau Gasol
Key Stat: +/- 12 rebounds per game.
Buzz about Gasol’s quiet, but substantial improvement since linking up with Kobe and Coach Jackson seems to peak during playoff time, even if Lakers fans are privy to his continuing rise as an elite player year-round. Gasol showed up to camp in 2010 with a renewed sense of grit underneath the basket and focus on rebounding the ball. The results are hard to argue with as the Spaniard pulled down 11.3 rebounds per game last season. During the playoffs, those numbers increased to 12 against the Thunder, 15 against the Jazz and 12 against Boston. Granted, those boosted numbers came with a limited Andrew Bynum during the playoffs, but the possibility of Pau potentially leading the league in rebounding persists. With Bynum missing at least the first few weeks of the season, Gasol, along with Odom, will once again be asked to shoulder the bulk of the Lakers’ rebounding load.

Andrew Bynum:
Key Stat: +/- 60 games played.
35, 50, 65: the number of games Andrew has played over the past three seasons. With news breaking this week that the five-year veteran will be out at least two to three weeks according to Coach Jackson (possibly more if you go off of Bynum’s prognosis), there’s really no way of predicting how many games he’ll play this season. For the sake of coming up with a goal, let’s go with the assumption that Andrew misses the first 18 games of the season (includes all games up until the end of November) and doesn’t experience any lingering issues with his troublesome knee. If a similar scenario plays out, I think a solid number for Bynum to aspire to is somewhere around 60 games. In any case, it’s a figure that could very well define whether or not the Lakers are able to fend off hungry teams like Miami, Orlando and Boston for home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

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.


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?


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?


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.)


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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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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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.