Player Preview: Ron Artest

EL SEGUNDO CA - SEPTEMBER 25: Ron Artest #15 of the Los Angeles Lakers tapes a television segment during Media Day at the Toyota Center on September 25 2010 in El Segundo California. 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 Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

This is the eleventh in our series of Player Previews, in which we discuss what to expect in the coming season from each of the 2010-11 Los Angeles Lakers. Up today is Ron Artest.

Let me start off with a note to all those who were skeptical of Ron Artest or just downright negative when he joined the Lakers last season: AH TOLD YOU SO!

People were saying all kinds of mean things about Ron-Ron: that he was a head case, a troublemaker, a shot-jacker, old, slow, dumb, someone even wrote an open letter to Ron, as if he were some kind of child who needed the fans' approval and advice. That's plain lame.

He made many of us forget about Trevor-what's-his-name throughout the season, proving to be a positive force on the team. He provided hard-nosed defense and amazing hands. He never created the locker-room drama that some predicted he would. He had to find his way through the offense, but ultimately his only problem was one that would surprise some people: he was lacking confidence. He was going so far out of his way not to be a detriment on offense that he was hesitating on open shots, and making strange decisions because he was overthinking. He famously had professional help to advise him on how to relax and just play.

Even after Ron had proven his worth to most of us, the detractors still reserved judgment until the very end. The main criteriom for success for many of these knuckleheads was that the Lakers win the title with Ron. Fine. Done. Ron's season was a success and no one can take that away from him.

And now it's Ron's second season with the Lakers, and I can only see him improving upon last season, especially during the regular season (his playoffs were pretty good, so there's less room to improve there).  Sure, he'll be a year older, and a fraction of a second slower on defense, but he's still got those great hands, and that solid frame that makes him seem indestructible. With the knowledge that he is a champion and having the burden of proving himself lifted off of his shoulders, he's going to find a nice rhythm within the offense. He's going to feel a part of the Laker family now, instead of an adopted member, and with that level of comfort, we are going to see real consistency from him on offense, and a growing knowledge of where to be and when to shoot, and when to pass, and when to drive.  Sure, he's still going to have those moments where he dribbles aimlessly, and takes shots where we'll be asking ourselves "What kind of shot was that?", but they're going to be fewer and less costly. On defense, he's going to continue to be a nightmare for the other team's guards and forwards.

Role on the Team: Pretty much the same as last year: Defensive Stopper. Three-point shooter (when left open). Bring Toughness and intensity. Come up with big rebounds. Make defenses pay for focusing too much on other Lakers.

Best-Case Scenario for His Season: Ron becomes such a master of the ins-and-outs of the triangle, you can even see him diagramming plays on the bench. Shoots 40+% from three-point range, and 80+% from the free-throw line. Continues to do great things in the community, like the time he gave two fans front row seats to a playoff game. Has shut-down defensive games against Lebron, Wade, Durant and Carmelo Anthony. The Lakers win the title, and afterward he records a rap single with Steve Blake titled "Love Dem Rings..

Worst-Case Scenario for His Season: Let's assume injury is the worst for any of these players. Next worse would be that Ron realizes every Laker-fan-but-Artest-detractor's worst nightmare: Ron goes off the deep end, racking up technicals and suspensions and causes major distractions to the team, sending it into a spiral of disunity. I really doubt this would happen, but that's the worst case scenario, folks.

What We Expect: Expect Ron to flourish emotionally with the stability of knowing he's on a winning team, a team that needs him and values him. He knows what's expected of him (knowing your role is a huge key to success for a player) and he feels the love of the fans. His mental game on offense is where we should hope to see small strides this season, culminating in another title.

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