This is the next in our series of Player Report Cards, in which we evaluate and assign a grade to the performance of each member of the 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers. . Next in line is Ron Artest, a.k.a.Ron Ron or Crazy Pills.
I have a confession to make. When I first heard the Lakers were going to sign Ron Artest, I wasn't exactly excited. Not only did I not want him, I wanted the Lakers to keep Trevor Ariza. Trevor was young, getting better, and a contributing starter on a Championship team. I knew Ron Artest was the better player, but we all knew about the baggage he had. Never mind his positive or negative impact on the basketball floor, did we really want or need him on the team that already went all the way? Did the Lakers really need to shake things up with such a seemingly high risk, albeit high reward player? There was his defense, that's a given, plus he showed in the 2009 Second Round series against the Lakers that he could lead a team offensively. Yet, it was in that same series that he showed his poor decision making and bad leadership by shooting the Rockets out of games, and then earning ridiculous technical fouls. Was he really necessary? Did the Lakers really need to swing for the fences? I wasn't so sure at first.
Still, Ron won us over fairly quickly. He was engaging, honest, accessible, funny, and really seemed to have turned a new leaf. His transformation into a mature professional seemed complete. He worked his way back into the limelight and relished the opportunity, and Lakers fans loved him for it. He was on Twitter, giving away things to fans, saying all of the right things. Plus, he seems to be a bigger fan of Kobe than any reader I've come across. He seemed reformed, and this was before he even stepped foot on Staples Center's hardwood. When the season began? Well, that wasn't as easy. His play made us share a love and hate relationship with him.
First the hate...
For the most part, Ron was brutal on offense. His averages on the year were 11 points per game, 4.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists on 41.4 FGA% and 35.5 3PT%. He spent most of the year either lost or figuring out where he was supposed to be in the offense. His scoring average, rebounds, assists and shooting percentages started out decent, and he worked out of the post some, but overall, his effect on the offense's flow was negative. Phil rode him, and in turn, his aggressiveness on offense was neutered. Teams left him open, and we cringed every time he launched a three. He shot the ball with no confidence and he missed often. The effect on the offense was even worse considering Bynum's return to the starting line-up. The Triangle as we used to know was dead. Ron was hesitant. He was never in the right spot. When he was, he was missing wide open shots that opposing teams dared him to take. To make things worse, I think he had a bet with Derek Fisher to see whom was the worst finisher in the NBA. For Ron hit a three, finish a lay-up, and dunk the ball in the same game was miracle. It damn near guaranteed a win. I would then go play Powerball, because my odds of winning were the same. If Ron did all those things in one night, surely I could win $270 million. Unfortunately, I never won the money. But Ron did just enough at the right time to help the Lakers win their 16th O'Brien Trophy.
In practice, he'll [Phil] always joke about me and bother me, saying stuff about my shoes or whatever. All season, he'd say, "Ron can't shoot." But after Game 4 of the Finals, when we were tied at two, he changed his tune. He came to me and said, "Ron, I need you to play your game. You have to make plays." Oh, man. I was so happy! I called Derek Fisher and a couple of my friends and said, "Coach told me I could make plays! Boom! Let's go." What happened? I made plays. When my coach and teammates are behind me, there's nothing you can do to stop me.
His averages were actually pretty much on par with the regular season at 11.2 ppg, 4.0 rebs, 2.1 assists, but with worse shooting percentages at 39.8 FGA% and 29.1 3PT%, but he made plays when it counted most. Thank goodness. The Lakers don't win the title without his contributions in Game 5 vs. Oklahoma City; Games 5 and 6 vs. Phoenix; and finally, Games 6 and 7 vs. Boston. The biggest moments were the ones he shined in. He could because he's talented and Phil let him loose, but boy, did he give us some heart attacks along the way. I'd like him to rely less on working out of the offense, and using his talents to improve the system. I'm hoping a year worth of experience in the Triangle, added to release of pressure in not possibly being the reason the Lakers lost the title, will allow the Lakers to return to being an offensive juggernaut as well as defensively. If he doesn't? I guess I'll live as long as Kobe passes and Phil let's him shoot the ball.
Now, the love...
With Andrew Bynum's return to the starting line-up, it was fairly safe to assume that the offense was going to take a hit. Pau Gasol and Andrew never seemed to mesh as smoothly as Pau and Lamar Odom did. The Lakers version of Triangle just didn't seem to work as well. But that was fine as long as Andrew made the commitment to defense. When the Lakers let Trevor Ariza walk in lieu of Ron Ron, it signaled the team's desire to transition into a defense first team. Considering Artest's previous freelancing ways on offense, it was also a strong bet that the Triangle might would get even worse, but you know the saying, "Defense wins championships," and Ron Artest is a better defender than Trevor Ariza.
Not that Trevor was a bad defensive player. He was a very good defender, but the type of players he had trouble with, were big, strong small forwards. Namely Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce and LeBron James. ( I didn't include Kevin Durant because I'm not sure anyone considered Durantula and the Thunder to be a threat so fast.) All three players were the offensive focal points of elite, contending teams. Any road to the a second (and future) Championships would no doubt cross one of their paths. Those players and teams were only going to get better, or at least come harder the next time around. The Lakers were a good defensive team in '07/08 and '08/09, but the need to defend those kinds of players was becoming greater. As a basketball decision, it made sense to go after Ron. It made a lot of sense once the season started. The Lakers sent much of the first half ranked in the top two in defensive ratings. Player injuries during the season affected team consistency, and the defense slid, but they still finished the year ranked 4th. Then the playoffs started. Let's hear it in Ron's words:
But I hit my stride in the playoffs. I shut down Kevin Durant, the NBA's scoring leader. I shut down whoever I shut down in Utah; they didn't have any stars at the 3. I shut down Jason Richardson. Shut down Paul Pierce. Three years straight, Paul Pierce is shooting 40.8% against Ron Artest. So, go ahead, tell me I'm slower. Tell me I can't play defense. Thank you.
In all fairness to Trevor Ariza, Paul Pierce earned his 2008 Finals MVP by mostly eating up Luke Walton and Vlad Radmonovic. Trevor never really got the chance to defend Pierce fully healthy since he was just coming back from injury for the first time in months during the Finals. So, I don't want to turn this into a compare and contrast with Trevor. Still, Ron's brand of defense didn't allow players like Pierce to be effective in key moments of the game, especially in the 4th Quarter when he likes to iso and pull up or try to get the the free throw line. Not consistently anyway. So when the Lakers were also having trouble scoring, the opposing team was having even more trouble getting points. In 2008, the Lakers weren't good enough defensively to get the stops required to come back from a deficit in a game that huge. Without Ron's ability to shut down Pierce, Kobe isn't allowed to freelance off of Rajon Rondo and grab 15 important rebounds in Game 7. The Celtics had to rely on random events happening to win. Ray Allen's eight 3's, KG's comeback game, the bench's surge. Only once did Paul Pierce dominate a game. It was because Ron was a difference maker. These were the exact results Mitch Kupchak, Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant and company were hoping for. Ron did what he was brought to the Lakers to do, but his offense was off just enough to stop me from giving him an A.
P.S. You can thank Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm, CBS Sports, and AOL Fanhouse fame for the "Crazy Pills" nickname. He came up with it. It stuck.
Extra Credit: A+
How could we forget those press conferences? I've never seen nor heard a player as open and honest as Ron. He's been entertaining to say the least. There's never a shortage of comedy from him. There's him telling Kobe he can help him win the Chip while Kobe was still in the shower after the 2008 Finals, to going on Jimmy Kimmel in boxer shorts, to being glad Kobe passed the ball, to thanking his psychiatrist, and finally, promoting his newest single, "Champion." Seriously, I can't think of any other thirty years old black male from the 'hood whose dream is to record with Celine Dion. Uhhh, right. Crazy Pills for sure. We've all be "hooderized." Ladies and Gentleman, acknowledge Ron Artest....
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