L.A. Lakers: Is Ron Artest's Defense Worth Another Season with the Lakers?

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L.A. Lakers: Is Ron Artest's Defense Worth Another Season with the Lakers?
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I was one of the people who viewed forward Ron Artest as a definite upgrade over Trevor Ariza when the Los Angeles Lakers acquired him in the summer of 2009.

Artest never could find an offensive groove in his first regular season with the Lakers, but, as always, his defense was stellar and Artest provided the Lakers with a degree of toughness that had been missing in their previous two NBA Finals campaigns.

The Lakers benefited from Artest's hard-nosed, physical defensive style, and in the 2010 NBA Playoffs he even discovered a semblance of an offensive game and had huge shots in both the Western Conference Finals and the NBA Finals.

It turns out that for the very short term Artest was just the rough tonic that the "soft" Lakers needed as he was very instrumental to the Lakers championship in 2010. But now in the summer of 2011 it appears that Artest may have reached an early crossroads with the Lakers.

Artest didn't turn any heads with his 11.0 scoring average during the 2009-10 season, but he did turn a few with his 8.5 average during the 2010-11 regular season because it was the lowest of his entire career.

If anything, Artest looked even more lost offensively in his second season season in Phil Jackson's triangle offense and that may not have mattered to the Lakers except for the fact that Artest's defense seemed to slip as well.

Artest has always been a superior defender because he has great basketball instincts, good defensive footwork and he employs a style that is dependent on sticking as close as physically possible to his adversary.

Besides making it difficult to get an open look at the basket, Artest's style is also physically intimidating as he is big enough, strong enough and crazy enough to make an opponent think twice about using the same tactics.

In the 2010 postseason Artest shined on the defensive end when the Lakers needed him the most—particularly against Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Boston's Paul Pierce.

But it seems like opponents figured out last season that the best way to attack Artest offensively was to dribble away from him or simply right by him.

Artest's one defensive weakness may be his lack of quickness, and opponents took full advantage of this flaw last season by attacking him early off the dribble instead of running isolation plays or other schemes that take too much time to develop.

During the 2011 postseason Artest's offensive numbers improved a little but his defense may have been worse as he was outplayed in each of the Lakers' series.

In the first round against New Orleans Ariza gave a demonstration of what the Lakers chose to pass on in favor of Artest as he constantly beat Artest up and down the floor with his speed and athleticism.

Artest took such a whipping that Jackson chose to bench him and go with guard Shannon Brown for long stretches in the first round.

It didn't really improve for Artest in the Lakers' 4-0 sweep against the eventual NBA champion Dallas Mavericks either as the much quicker Mavericks simply blew past Artest off the dribble or ran him through multiple screens which usually led to wide open jumpers from the perimeter.

It would be kind to say that Artest regressed in his sophomore season with the Lakers, but so far the Lakers have been totally quiet about his future with the team.

Most of the silence is due to the NBA lockout, but some of it may have to do with the perception that Artest will be an extremely tough sell if the Lakers are looking to deal him once the league's labor impasse has ended.

Some observers feel that last season offered a glimpse of Artest's declining skills, and there is an opinion that he could suffer even more in new head coach Mike Brown's system.

Brown has said he will emphasize a quicker pace and tempo which could put a strain on Artest if he is no longer able to rest on offense; and especially if the transitions from offense to defense are quicker.

In Jackson's triangle Artest was able to benefit from a slow methodical offense which ate up a great deal of the time clock, and that allowed Artest to catch a breather before converting to the defensive end.

Brown's motion offense will not be nearly as deliberate as the triangle, and if Artest is to prove he can compete, then hopefully he is working on his cardio while the NBA takes a break from summer activities.

And the thing is, talk of Artest's demise may be a little premature, because although Ron-Ron does have a few miles on his wheels, he is still only 31 and he does take pretty good care of himself physically.

There is a chance that Artest could thrive in Brown's defensive system since he is great at creating chaos in the open court and his offense could flourish outside of the triangle.

At any rate, the Lakers may be stuck with Artest whether they like it or not, because of all the different players mentioned in trade rumors, Kobe Bryant and Artest's names are the only ones I have not heard whispered seriously.

I do believe that Artest can have a major impact for the Lakers next season, but whether or not that impact is on the court or as part of a surprise trade remains to be seen.

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