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Will Artest Love L.A.? And Will They Love Him Back?

Posted by Neil Paine on July 6, 2009

Over in the comments of our offseason transactions thread, there's an interesting discussion about the recent de facto "trade" between the Lakers and Rockets, which essentially ended up swapping Trevor Ariza for Ron Artest straight-up.

The poster 'Anon' sparked things by writing:

"Am I the only one who thinks that the Lakers took a step BACKWARDS with the Ariza/Artest 'trade'? Basically they gave away a younger player who played better defense, was more efficient offensively (especially in the playoffs), and has more upside in Ariza for another player who certainly gives you much better shot-creation ability but wasn’t as efficient at both ends in Artest. And Artest’s age and year-by-year numbers don’t point to an expected huge increase in performance for next season even if he does have a performance jump (he’s still in his prime at 30, but most players typically have their very best seasons in their late 20s). It seems that the Lakers ran out to grab the 2002-2004 version of Artest instead of the Artest that has certainly leveled off since then."

I countered with the argument that, if you believe the on/off-court plus/minus numbers, Artest is still better defensively than Ariza, and by no small margin either (Houston was 4.8 pts/100 poss better on defense with RonRon in the game, while L.A.'s D was only 0.9 pts/100 better with Ariza), and that Artest generally makes more sense than Ariza for the Lakers at the moment simply because the age of L.A.'s current roster demands the better player right now -- Kobe is no spring chicken (exacerbated by the fact he's been taking the game-in, game-out pounding since age 19), ditto Odom (if he returns) & Fisher, and even Gasol turns 30 the year after next. Add to that the fact that Phil Jackson will almost certainly retire after next season, and the Lakers need Artest more than Ariza because they can't afford to wait around and find out what Ariza's ceiling may be; perhaps it's better than Artest, but with the window on Kobe's peak closing, can they take the chance that's it's not?

Then our friend Mike G chimed in with a comment about the dreaded "C word" when it comes to Artest... Chemistry:

"Do Kobe and Artest have any chance to complement one another? Or will their chemistry inevitably corrode the team?

In crunch minutes, Artest is not afraid to take the shot. In fact, he insists on it, and he’s really bad. While he may have been a ‘good boy’ for a while, I don’t see that continuing.

Phil (and Jordan) pressed Rodman into being a productive player, because he filled a niche. Artest is more demanding, and Kobe is no MJ."

Despite the little on-court spat they had earlier this year, Kobe and Artest are apparently friends off the court, for whatever that's worth. And the general book on Artest has been that he's a secondary option, skills-wise and intangibles-wise, trapped in the body of an all-timer -- he has all of these physical gifts, the size, the strength, the defensive ability, the athleticism, but his finer offensive skills have always lagged behind, and we all know about his rather unpredictable personality. I think it can work because he can still do the Ariza job on defense better than Ariza did, at least for the first few years of the contract, and he has a proven track record of pretty decent offensive efficiency as long as he's limited to 20-22% of his team's possessions when on the court. With Kobe taking his usual 30-ish%, and Fisher & Odom/Bynum combining for ~34%, that leaves 36% for Gasol and Artest to fight over. This is purely subjective, but from a psychological point of view, I think Gasol will be more willing to sacrifice his possessions for the greater good than Artest -- Jackson could certainly force Artest to come out on the short end, but that would be much worse for chemistry IMO, since he has a tendency to act out when he's not getting the touches he thinks he deserves.

Then there's the matter of floor spacing, the idea that Ariza's more perimeter-oriented game meshed better with Gasol, Odom, & Bynum than Artest, who has the ability to post up down low. It's true that Ariza took 32% of his FGAs from deep last season while you'd ideally want Artest at about 25%, based on his history, but when Artest was at his best he was still shooting jumpers 60-65% of the time -- which is actually a higher rate than Ariza did a year ago (56%). So, no, I don't think Artest's playing style is going to pose a particular problem when it comes to fitting in with the Lakers.

The main potential problem I can see is the chemistry issue, just in terms of having to divvy up a small % of possessions among a group of players who are used to seeing more. I can certainly envision this hurting L.A.'s offensive efficiency if Artest's will (or ability) to create shots overpowers Gasol's, because even at his peak Artest was only operating with an ORtg of ~110 (normalized to 2008-09); by contrast, Gasol's ORtg last year was an astronomical 125.6! And that's why it was nice for L.A. to have Ariza, who posted an ORtg of 112.4 a year ago while only demanding 16.6% of possessions, as a 4th banana. But I simply don't see Artest accepting a 16.6 %Poss role, which means Gasol's possessions will inevitably go down. All in all, though, I like this for L.A. right now because Artest is better defensively than Ariza and his offense is more versatile -- he adds a perimeter guy who can create when defenses focus too much on Kobe, he can post-up when necessary, and he's not going to hurt their spacing either. For 2010 at least, the Lakers are better with Artest than they would have been with Ariza.

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19 Responses to “Will Artest Love L.A.? And Will They Love Him Back?”

  1. Trieu Says:

    I have a rather simplistic view on the matter. The fewer touches that Gasol gets, the worse the Lakers' offense. In as much as Artest's shots are going to come from the same pool of opportunities available to Gasol, his presence is going to hurt the offense.

    But he may make up for all of this (and more) on the defensive end.

  2. Jason J Says:

    One other area where the Ariza / Artest swap could conceivably bite LA is in their transition game. They were a pretty good fast breaking team last year, and Ariza was one of their primary lane fillers. Artest does not like to play at that fast pace (anymore - in Chicago and Indi he didn't mind running when he could). Overall I'm inclined to agree with you. In the short term it seems like a net-win for LA and gives them some flexibility to rest Kobe on defense. It also robs the Rockets of a play maker.

  3. Boss Says:

    The Lakers should be fine. They might have to change their style a little because of Ron's inferior transition game compared to Ariza like what was previously mentioned. Ariza was a gambler and had great reaction times in the passing lanes. Artest is more of a man to man defender.

    He also gives the Lakers a big body to handle the LeBrons, Pierces, and Jeffersons, players Ariza had trouble with. Those three playerss are who the Lakers will most likely face in the postseason.

    We'll see if Gasol and Artest can make it work on the offensive end. Usually Phil figures something out. I doubt their offense gets worse by much and if it does, the defense might cover up that flaw.

  4. Yocar Says:

    I believe the lakers will be OK, Artest is a better player than Ariza at this moment and Phil Jackson will make it work

  5. Jason J Says:

    you know who may make this whole thing work is kobe. the issue with artest that concerns people is that he wants / needs the ball in his hands to be effective. he's not a catch and shoot guy and not much of a cutter. but he can create offense because he's such a physical mismatch. bryant can work with this because he is effective off the ball, both as a catch and shoot floor spacer and a slasher with excellent timing and hands. if he's willing to give up control of the ball here and there (not all game - this isn't like pippen moving into the point forward roll and jordan swinging from point back to shooter), he could allow ron to play his game and keep the offense flowing and effective.

  6. matt Says:

    I think people are underestimating Artest's abilities as a playmaker which outstrip those of Ariza - he has had a large number of games with 5+ assists in the last few years. He would have had more with the Kings if they had surrounded him with more capable offensive players.

  7. Dave Says:

    Maybe we'll see the lakers go big with Kobe, Artest, Odom, Gasol and Bynum :) there is certainly enough passing, just not much 3pt shooting

  8. Dee Says:

    It could work if Kobe gives up some possessions, but we all know that he will not and that Gasol is going to be the one getting the short end of the stick here. The Kobe and Artest chemistry will be there but Gasol won't just stay quiet if they are taking away his possessions and giving to someone who is less productive. Gasol is reserved but when they do not feed him as much as they should, he speaks up.

  9. Anthony Says:

    There has been alot of speculation about chemistry, an over abundance of mathmatical anaylisis that no one using truly understands and definetly can't say works, and a great gulf of subjective prejudices when broaching this subject. I want to hit each one and then hopefully be done with this topic until the Lakers get back to the Finals.

    Chemistry - Why, as fans, do we continually bemoan the chemistry of the Lakers? Using history as a foundation for this I confidently dismiss this great equalizer. Most of the people talking about team chemistry are media types who never played the game and don't understand competitive mindsets and fans who are regurgitating what the media types tell them. Take any championship team and the so called experts and most of the fans will say that they had great chemistry. Why? Because they won the game. Period. Chemistry is a figment of the imagination and a talking point for the media. Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, and MJ didn't hang out and didn't generally like each other but they kept winning. Why? Because talent and coaching wins games not chemistry. Scottie Pippen could'nt stand Tony Koucho (spelling???) but they only missed the Finals by one game and I believe one point. Now lets go in the other direction. The Bulls got thumped when Jordan made his triumphant return by the Orlando Magic. Why? Because they were out hustled at almost every point and Jordan was not yet 100% ready for that type of game. Chemistry played no part in it. For all the people loving Ariza and being upset that the Lakers let him go for Artest, grow up and understand that this is a business and not a friendship club. You're the same people that hated Kobe when Shaq left even though it was in the Lakers best interest to get rid of the Big Slow Me Down. These guys don't get paid to like each other, they get payed to win games and any intelligent fan should understand that Ariza's though great at times in the playoffs is not what ESPN, Fox SPorts, and all these blogs would have you believe. Did he play great? Did he smile alot? Did he fall into the hero's role a few times? Absolutely. Does that make him irreplaceble? Absolutely not.

    Mathematical anaylisis has it's place in every arena I believe. When you start living your life and making game decisions off of static analysis in a fluid game then you're plain ignorant. Shane Battier is one of the NBA's great defenders and he studies more analysis than some mathmaticians but even he'll tell you and has said that the numbers are simply a guage that he uses to monitor the game at hand. That's why he knows that it's pointless to think that he's going to stop Kobe from scoring as some of you seem to think. What most don't seem to realize is this: A role player is only as good as the lead Actor helps them to be. Ariza was left wide open on plenty of plays where he buried a three and on those two steals in Denver, had the inbounder been an intelligent player those two steals would have never materialized. Ariza is a good player who became great in situations that won't repeat themselves in Houston. Artest is a good player who now has the opportunity to realize his greatness because of what will be open to him because of Bryant, Gasol, ,and I pray Odom.

    Our own subjective predjudices kill us as fans. Last year when we met up with Boston we should have swept them and many of us thought that we had the team to do it. The Lakers helped us believe this with the way they played for two quarters. In the end the Celtics were the better team. Some of you can't let go of what happened in Detroit. That's pathetic. The facts are the facts...Artest brings in better numbers than Ariza on a consistent basis. Their age means nothing at this point. MJ proved that. Kidd proves that. Fisher proved that. Because some of you guys were railling against DFish until he buried those shots. Try being objective when discussing the games, the teams, and the players, and you might actually learn something.

    Neil Paine I read your stuff and I think you're spot on for the most part. Great job and thanks for the read.

  10. Jason J Says:

    Kukoc. Toni Kukoc. Scottie didn't really dislike Toni particularly. He was just pissed at Chicago for paying Kukoc more than him. And the Bulls only missed the conference finals by a game. They missed the finals by five wins.

    I'm not sure who you're lambasting here. Nobody mentioned whether or not Artest would get along with the other Lakers in the locker room or who would lead the campfire songs at Phil Jackson's ranch.

    There are legit concerns about losing a lanky, athletic player who did the little things without worrying about how many shots he got and replacing him with a ball-stopper who excels at creating offense rather than fitting into a system. People are just concerned with how Ron's game fits with Phil's system. Don't forget how Payton never really got acclimated (though Gary was obviously much older and on the decline, their similarities are pretty obvious - defensive stalwarts who are used to handling the ball a lot and making a lot of decisions being asked to remain effective as part of a passing system where only Bryant and Shaq / Gasol really get to isolate).

    Larry Hughes is a good example of a player who was a near All-Star while running in a high octane offense with Gilbert Arenas in the Eddie Jordan motion offense, and who immediately became a liability when he tried to fit into Coach Brown's slowdown, LeBron-centric half court offense. He didn't lose 6/10th of his ability when he changed uniforms. He just didn't fit anymore. Then he got hurt. Now he's lost 6/10th of his ability.

    Another example would be Elton Brand. Terrific player who never made a lick of sense coming into the Phili system. They were an up-tempo team with a ton of length and athleticism and no shooters. He's a half-court player who doesn't run well and specializes in post scoring that requires shooters to provide proper spacing. This stuff matters. Even when he was healthy they were better without him (no offense to Brand who I've always liked. Just a bad fit. Which is the point).

  11. Anthony Says:

    Jason J - If your point is "will it be a bad fit" then there is nothing to talk about. If Phil "Ten Rings" Jackson can't get Ronnie to play within his Championship offense then Artest won't see the light of day. That being said, Media types and fans never know who will fit. You brought up Gary Payton and that's a great point because damn near everyone thought the Lakers were a lock to win that year. Gary played great within that system and nobody complained until they lost. Also to another point you made about Ron being a ball stopper who creates his own offense. On what team was Ronnie that guy? He's never been an offensive jugernaut why are people worried about it now?

    The Lakers only problem over the last two years has been defense. The Celtics celbfration would have been voided out with our own had the Lakers played defense. Artest is a more physical and better defender than Ariza in spite of his age. Ariza grew leaps and bounds this year yes but he didn't surpass Artest. Ariza had a great playoff run and I'm glad he did but the Lakers aren't losing a thing with Artest.

  12. Jason J Says:

    I think the concern would be much less "is Ron willing to play within the system" than "is Ron's skillset a good match for the system." That was the trouble for Payton. He was disciplined and played inside the system - deferred to Shaq and Kobe, played at their pace and abandoned the post game and running style that he used to dominate in Seattle (he was 35 by then so it was obviously best to play to Shaq and Kobe rather than him). But his PER dropped by 4 points and his overall impact on the game wasn't what you'd expect when you say "We've got Gary Payton playing point guard!" The truth was you had Gary Payton imitating a 1997 Ron Harper. Like Payton there's some question as to whether Artest's value will be maintained when he's asked to stop doing the things that made him great and start doing what Rick Fox used to do.

    On the other hand, one thing nobody has acknowledged is how much Ron has improved from the three point line in the last couple of years. He shot 40% from 3 last year. On a team with Kobe and Gasol both demanding a ton of defensive attention and Fisher, Walton, and Odom being such great passers, Artest's shooting could be huge.

  13. Michael Says:

    I'm kind of mixed. Artest is a great addition but Ariza is also a young guy who can keep improving. I'm going to agree with Neil Payne that the trade is good at least for now.

  14. Nonreality Says:

    Two things that I've haven't seen brought up is the fact that I think Artest is finally happy, really happy, for the first time in years. Also he really wants a ring. These two things I believe will make him willing to do whatever Kobe and Phil want him to do in order to win. He won't be after stats, he will be about winning. He knows everything is aligned for this to happen and that he probably will never have a better chance than now. I think he is going to work out well.

  15. KC Says:

    I agree with the above poster (#14)

  16. Nonreality Says:

    Thanks my friend.

  17. j Says:

    I thought it was great when Houston landed Artest but it was the worst thing that could have happened. T-Mac and Artest had trouble playing together because you had 2 guys who need the ball to be effective and there wasn't enough of it to go around. From what I saw in Houston, Artest is a guy who's talented physically but he likes to dribble out the last 14 seconds of the shot clock and put up a fadeaway jumper or three and that's not what you want in the triangle, an "equal opportunity" offence. Artest won't mesh with the Lakers and you'll see him either unhappy on the bench or a Lakers team with a win total in the low 50's.

  18. Ben Says:

    I think Phil Jackson will make it happen, so I think it will work for Artest in LA and I think LA will work for Artest IMO

    Ben from the jump higher in basketball hub.

  19. Jacob Hiller Says:

    I agree that Phil is going to make things happen.
    Jacob from the jump manual