After ending the Lakers 2009-10 championship season with the most memorable post game interviews of all time, Ron Artest entered his second season with the Lakers as a rejuvenated person and player. He had found constructive ways to subdue his on-and off-court issues (Something that no one had been able to help him do for the first 12 years of his NBA career.) and took big strides in his growth as a human being.
Artest’s humanitarian efforts throughout the year resulted in much irony, as he was honored with the NBA’s Citizenship award at the season’s end – which is a testament to how much he has evolved during his two short years in the City of Angels.
While Artest’s knowledge of Phil Jackson’s triangle offense may still be a work in progress, there’s no doubting his presence as a positive member and teammate of the Lakers’ organization. He played in all 82 games during the 2010-11 regular season, and although his statistics may not exhibit the constant effort he put forth, there really wasn’t any other player on the Lakers’ roster (other than Kobe Bryant) who really made giving a constant effort a priority.
Every Lakers player (including Bryant) was guilty of complacency at certain times this past season, but whether he was on the court or on the bench, Artest made his presence in the building known some way or another. Even if he wasn’t playing his best defense or in the zone offensively, he acted as a positive presence through making smart plays, cheering on his teammates and boosting the crowd with his comical celebrations.
Unfortunately for Artest, he has past his prime, and is finally on the inevitable decline that nearly every player to come through the league will experience. It’s natural, with the aging process, for players to lose a step or some bounce in their jump, and Artest clearly has. He’s no longer capable of being a defensive stopper for 40+ minutes a night regularly, and he’s going to have more games of eight points than he will of 15 or more.
He averaged a career-low in points this season, posting only 8.5 per game, and did so on one of the worst shooting percentages of his career (39.7 percent from the field); however, his willingness to accept such a great decline in his numbers (he saw drop offs from last season in six major categories during 2010-11) displays a player who is willing to adapt to his changing body – something that many players struggle with during the twilights of their careers.
Artest knows that his time in Los Angeles might not extend past this offseason, and that his career in the NBA won’t be so much longer (which he seems to be fine with). He’s still capable of making the little things happen (getting the Lakers crucial second chance buckets, picking up a key steal in the game’s final moments, etc.) and as long as he does that, he’ll be welcome with open arms by everyone in LA.
To grade Artest’s performance this season, I would give him an A- due to his constant effort and outstanding growth. Unfortunately, to be an effective player in the NBA and on a championship team, you do need to be productive in more ways than just effort. Therefore, Ron-Ron receives a C for this season. For the most part, that grade is a result of what he cannot control (him getting older and the league getting younger), but is also based on his inconsistencies as a shooter throughout the year.
Artest’s role will certainly change if he remains with the Lakers next year, as fresher legs on the perimeter is a must, but as long as he is donning the purple and gold, no one can put his effort or unique character into question.