Los Angeles Laker forward Ron Artest has finally become comfortable in his role as defensive enforcer, and evidence of this can be found in his performances against recent opponents.
Artest has managed to hold Rudy Gay, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce, and Danny Granger well beneath their scoring averages, displaying the tough, physical brand of defense he was previously known for.
Better yet, his recent tenacity and enthusiasm on defense has resulted in big steals and game-changing moments for the Lakers, who have been criticized for their lack of focus on the defensive end.
Laker fans have been patiently waiting for Artest to resemble the player who came to be feared throughout the NBA, and it seems, finally, their patience is being rewarded, as his play has added another element to the team.
Previously Artest had garnered mixed results as he struggled to assimilate to the Laker scheme and the nuances and quirks of the triangle offense.
He had moments of brilliance, but they were frequently followed by moments of perplexing decision-making and the inability to show good judgement in his shot selection.
It was apparent Artest was pressing in his attempts to become a productive member of his team, and ironically many of his troubles may have stemmed from over-thinking situations instead of relying on his instincts.
His value as a staunch defensive presence cannot be overstated, though, because when he excels on that end of the floor, he opens up the game for his teammates, and instills a distinct edge to the team.
When Artest is able to effectively guard the opposition's top scorer it allows Kobe Bryant to concentrate on his own assignment, instead of constantly switching to provide help.
This also enables Bryant to be more efficient on the offensive end, because he conserves energy that would have been spent chasing around the opposition's top scorer on the defensive end.
Artest's post defense also helps other players like Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum because he is able to rotate over to double-team, and he is skilled at positioning himself for rebounds.
The Lakers' recent game against the Nuggets is a prime example of how much a dedicated Artest can affect the outcome of a game, as his rough-house defense on Carmelo Anthony may have been the difference in the contest.
Anthony was visibly frustrated as Artest made him work for each of his 21 points, often forcing him into difficult shots while refusing to let him get to his favorite spots on the floor.
Artest's aggressive style accounted for numerous steals, and he was the primary reason Anthony fouled out at the end of a tight game. Anthony's smirk belied the depth of his frustrations with Artest.
And if Artest's defense against Anthony was stellar, then I'm not sure how to explain the manner in which he completely took Indiana Pacer forward Danny Granger out of the game on Tuesday night.
He forced Granger into 2-of-9 shooting for nine points and accounted for five steals, many of which came from Artest simply stripping the ball right out of Granger's grasp.
It was a thoroughly dominant performance that left Granger shaking his head on the bench and Artest's teammates glowing in amazement at his superior defensive show.
These are the types of games Artest was brought to Los Angeles for in the first place, and now that he is becoming comfortable in the confines of the Laker scheme, the team becomes a more imposing opponent.
Artest is said to be on a diet in order to improve his quickness, and if his recent play is an indication of the diet's effectiveness, then it is something he should promote and sell.
Artest's play has been crucial to the recent success of the Lakers, and his defensive abilities give Los Angeles another element to go along with all the other weapons on the team.
If he can maintain his level of play, there are few teams in the NBA who would be able to stand in the face of the pressure Artest represents, and the Lakers would be a decent bet to defend their NBA title of 2009.