It is easy to look at Ron Artest's offensive numbers and not be terribly impressed. The 12 points per game is the lowest average the Lakers’ offseason acquisition has posted since the 01/02 season. Moreover, his free throw percentage (57%) and steals per game (1.4) are the worst of his career. Decent rebounding and a career-high assist rate save the stat line, but certainly fail to make the numbers leap out at the reader.
Defensively, however, Artest's impact is evident both on the court and in the (extended) box score. On November 1st, after Joe Johnson started out on a tear, scoring 18 points (on 7 for 8 shooting) in the first quarter, Artest took the initiative, switching defensive assignments with Kobe. With Artest applying smothering defense, Johnson hit just 1 of the 8 shots he took the rest of the way. No individual player has really gotten to the Lakers offensively, with Kevin Durant's 28 points, which represent a season high for an opponent against the Lakers, coming on 24 shots.
Artest has embraced the role of defender first, deferring to his teammates offensively (his shots per minute rate--at .27-- is significantly lower than his career average of .38). In this role, he has held opposing Small Forwards to 33.1 eFG%, has forced a 1:1 ast/to ratio, and has surrendered just 16.5 points per 48 minutes. His opponent has put up an 8.6 PER. This has helped the Lakers maintain a +7.3 PER advantage over opposing SFs (second best positional advantage behind +9.9 at Shooting Guard). By contrast, last season, opposing SFs averaged 48.6 eFG%, posted a 3.6/2.8 ast/to ratio, averaged 20.7 points per 48 minutes, and finished with a 14.9 PER. While these numbers are all solid to good, Artest's defensive performance has been downright dominant. And it appears as if the mindset is contagious.
As a team, the Lakers have allowed only two opponents to reach 100 points on the season, and are allowing an average of 96.5 over their last four games. Their points allowed now stand at 97.4 (this, with two games that have gone to overtime), 11th best in the NBA. The Lakers have held their opponents to poor shooting percentages as well. They are currently 7th best in FG% allowed (43.2), 5th best in 3pt% allowed (30.2), and have created the 4th most TO (17.0). So far Artest looks to be leading by example. And that is good in Los Angeles.
*PER, eFG, and positional stats courtesy of 82games.com
**Team statistics courtesy of Yahoo! sports