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Trevor Who? Ron Artest's Defense Makes Ariza a Distant Memory

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IMay 6, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 15:  Trevor Ariza #1 of  the Houston Rockets drives against Ron Artest #37 of the Los Angeles Lakers on November 15, 2009 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Rockets won 101-91.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

I wrote an article yesterday concerning Kobe Bryant and his selection to his eighth NBA All-Defensive team, and many of the commentators voiced their opinion that Bryant was not even the best defensive player on his own team.

Most felt Ron Artest deserved that honor, and to be fair, I couldn't agree more, although the reason Bryant was selected over Artest had more to do with the respective positions of each player, rather than worthiness.

It took Artest a while to get accustomed to the Los Angeles Lakers' style of play, but once he assimilated Artest became all that the Lakers could have ever hoped for, and then some.

The main reason the Lakers coveted Artest was for his defensive reputation and the physical edge he brings as an enforcer, and the more Artest has fit that billing, the less Lakers' fans remember the departed Trevor Ariza.

Ariza was an integral piece of the Lakers' championship of 2009, and many observers felt Los Angeles was getting the short end of the deal in what was basically a swap between the Houston Rockets and Lakers for each player.

Ariza was considered more athletic, quicker and younger than Artest, all of which is true, but the most basic fact people tend to forget is Artest is without a doubt the better player.

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This is not a knock on Ariza, because he does have the potential to be a great player in the league, but the one area Artest excels in cancels out all of the energy and athleticism Ariza brought to his role.

Even though the Lakers were able to capture a crown in 2009 the general consensus around the NBA was the Lakers still were in dire need of a defensive stopper, and Ariza was not that guy.

It's not that Ariza doesn't possess the tools to be a great defensive player, but so far he has made his living on athleticism alone, and has shown no real aptitude or discipline for the defensive end of the floor.

Ariza, at 6'8" is the ideal height to assume the role of a featured defender, but when he was thrust into that position last season, he was quickly exposed as a liability rather than a strength, especially in the postseason.

In the Western Conference Finals of 2009 Ariza was roundly lauded for his two momentum-changing steals that helped clinch games for the Lakers, but it rarely mentioned Ariza may have been the reason the Lakers were in trouble in the first place.

Ariza's inability to effectively guard Carmelo Anthony forced the Lakers to slide Bryant over to defend him, and this caused a domino effect which rippled through the Lakers' defense, and forced the whole team to adjust.

I'm not much for crystal ball gazing, but could you imagine what might have happened if Ariza was still a Laker, and he had been forced to defend Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant in the first round of the playoffs?

Durant would have feasted on Ariza and the series may have taken on a much different look for the Lakers if Artest would not have been there to harass and torment Durant.

Artest's presence in the series caused a different type of domino effect because his defense on Durant allowed Bryant to slide over and guard Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook when it became apparent no other Laker guard could.

That move changed the momentum of the series in Game Five, and gave the Lakers confidence going into Game Six where they eventually eclipsed the Thunder.

There are lessons to be learned in each of those examples, and for Ariza the result was being in the right place in the right time for those steals against the Nuggets, more a happenstance than skill.

But Artest's defense against Durant was an example of a shut-down defender who takes extreme pride in his craft, and is dedicated and disciplined in his approach.

Artest has his faults, and his tendency to fire away from three-point range is one of them, but that becomes secondary when circumstances dictate a close game, and a premium is placed on tough, hard-nosed defense.

That's when Artest's natural basketball instincts take over, and that is when he is at his best, because offense becomes the responsibility of players like Bryant and Pau Gasol, while Artest's is preventing his opponent from scoring.

The fact Artest can sustain this play in a consistent manner makes him more valuable than Ariza ever was, and even though he did not make the All-Defensive NBA team, Artest is definitely the defensive MVP of the Los Angeles Lakers.

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