In many ways, Ron Artest's inconsistent season mirrored the Lakers'. Both he and the team seemed to have lost a step, couldn't shoot, played great defense at times and couldn't quite figure out the Triangle. Each enjoyed their finest stints of the season immediately after the All-Star break, and then finished the season in disgrace against the eventual champion Mavericks.
For the Lakers, we can convince ourselves it was mental or physical fatigue after three straight trips to the Finals. It's certainly acceptable for them to have been worn out, whether or not that was actually the case. For Ron, he should have been better. Considering he's an X-factor, the Lakers were pretty tough to beat when he was good. He should have been more comfortable in his role throughout the season. Instead, he was worse, and we didn't have the chance to overlook these problems as there was no chance at a Finals redemption this time around.
As we discussed in last year's report card on Ron, his acquisition pointed toward the Lakers' desire to become a "defense first" team. I had hoped that a ring and a year of the Triangle under his belt would provide some level of comfort in his role on offense.
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's 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 a defensive one. If he doesn't? I guess I'll live as long as Kobe passes and Phil lets him shoot the ball.
It's nice to wish, I guess. Compare his numbers from 2009-10 to this past season:
2010 Per Game
33.8 Minutes, 11.0 Points, 41.4% FG, 35.5% 3P, 68.8% FT, 4.3 Rebounds, 3.0 Assists, 0.3 Blocks, 1.4 Steals, 2.1 Personal Fouls, 1.6 Turnovers
2011 Per Game
29.4 Minutes, 8.5 Points, 39.7% FG, 35.6 % 3P, 67.6% FT, 3.2 Rebounds, 2.1 Assists, 0.4 Blocks, 1.5 Steals, 2.2 Personal Fouls, 1.1 Turnovers
Offensively, Ron was pretty much the same player he was last season. They say if you're not getting better, you're getting worse, and Ron was barely worse statistically. Making him actually much worse if you figure he should have been at least the same. I suppose you can contribute the slight decline in playing four fewer minutes per game, but you would also have to factor in that he probably had his minutes cut due to ineffectiveness. If Ron or the Lakers were having issues on defense, Ron had no impact on the game most nights due to his lack of understanding of the offense and terrible shooting.
Like last season, hesitant would be the best word to describe Ron on offense. Never comfortable in the Triangle, he hesitated on open shots and key decisions that make the offense run properly. Far too often , shots clanged off the rim, or his vertically challenged drives ended poorly. His best asset on offense is his uncanny ability to earn fouls on other players fighting him for rebounds. He's strong, takes up space and is able to tangle with opponents to gain extra possessions.
The woes on O would be fine if he had the same defensive impact throughout the season as he's expected to have.
Of course, a certain level of offensive oddness can be tolerated because of Artest's prowess on defense. This season, it took Artest a while to find his sea legs on that side of the floor, again with the turnaround seeming to coincide with Barnes' injury. It's not that Artest was necessarily bad early, more a non-entity, something he is absolutely not supposed to be. Artest is a defender built to be noticed.
His defense, while still of a high caliber, was not as consistently tenacious with several more games where his man got the better of him than in his first year with the team.
Overall, it was a slightly below average campaign for Ron. Mostly, his defense was good enough to get the job done, but he should have been better offensively. There's no reason that after a full year and championship into the Triangle, he should have had the same uncomfortable play and shot selection. In the Lakers' best stretch of the season--post All-Star break--the Lakers played their best defense, but Ron also had his best play on offense. His contributions can make that much of a difference.
Except for the glorious ending, I could have copy/pasted the same Report Card from last season, and there would be no difference.
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.
The problems on the offensive side of the ball can't be forgiven when the offense couldn't capitalize on opportunities when given the chance, and when the defense wasn't good enough to overcome an inconsistent offense. Besides Andrew Bynum, Metta World Peace may have the most to gain post-Triangle. Moving forward, World Peace simply has to be more productive on offense. For now, Ron Artest is still his name, and Ron deserves a C+.
Sasha Vujacic.... F
Trey Johnson.... C
Joe Smith.... D+
Theo Ratliff.... D-
Devin Ebanks.... C-
Derrick Caracter.... D+
Luke Walton.... F
Shannon Brown.... C