The Lakers knew what they were getting in Ron Artest before he was signed away from Houston in July, at least from a tangible perspective:
- A 6-7, 260-pound, muscle-bound frame.
- A well-rounded perimeter and post skill set that’s produced career averages of 16.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.1 steals.
- Numerous All-Defensive Teams (including a spot on last season’s Second Team) and a Defensive Player of the Year award.
Many of Artest’s physical traits were present in an all-too-easy 118-101 Lakers win over Golden State in Wednesday evening’s preseason opener, during which the Queens, N.Y. native produced 12 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two steals in 23 minutes.
“He just plays hard, man,” said Shannon Brown. “He can hoop.”
Harder to measure was how Artest would gel with his new teammates, but early reports out of training camp suggested that the man with stints in Chicago, Indiana and Sacramento prior to Houston fit like Pau Gasol and soft hands. Standing out most clearly has been that ever-present energy alluded to by Brown.
“I try to always go hard, try to always play hard, I’ve been doing that for a long time,” Artest said prior to the game. “It’s the only way I know how to play.”
Preseason or not.
“You always want to give 100 percent when you play,” the St. Johns product continued. “You always try to find a way to take it up a notch, no matter if it’s preseason or regular season. The coach will be the one to minimize the importance of the game based on playing time. But as long as you’re out there, you gotta play.”
That he did, particularly on defense, showing some versatility in defending Warriors forwards (like Stephen Jackson) and guards (like rookie Stephen Curry). On the other end, particularly in the first half, Artest found himself left all alone – for the first time in several NBA seasons – on the perimeter. Of course, that’s what happens when Andrew Bynum is occupying the block, Pau Gasol is on the high post, Kobe Bryant’s lurking and Derek Fisher is spreading the floor from the corner.
“It’s going to be great throughout the year (to be that open), he said. “Over the last couple of years a lot of those shots have come off the dribble, with pressure, off down screens and that kind of stuff. It’s going to be a fun year.”
Indeed, he may have been too open as he missed his first three shots, but the fourth – for which he took an extra second to line up – swished through the net. Artest found other ways to contribute in the half, amassing four assists and five boards plus a steal in nearly 16 minutes of burn. Then in the second half, he found his stroke, hitting 3-of-4 as he began to find his spots within Phil Jackson’s offense.
“I haven’t worked in the triangle in a long time but now is about playing against other teams, and (I’m going to) learn fast,” he explained.
“Ron has a number of things he has to comprehend,” said Jackson. “We’ve kept it relatively simple, but we’ve added some things these last couple of days. We just want to see how he does.”
That’s to be determined as the season rolls on, though Artest did get his first taste of how just how good the Lakers can be, witnessing an array of dunks (like an absolutely viscious Shannon Brown hammer slam over Mikki Moore), threes (four in the third quarter) and effective defense that kept Golden State on the perimeter (to the tune of 36 percent shooting through three quarters).
“If you’re playing on a championship team, you’re just hungry to be on that team,” said Artest. “You want to get another one. You don’t think you can bring that much, you’re looking for guidance and help to get a ring. Maybe you don’t realize how much you bring.”
A near triple-double in 23 minutes wasn’t a bad way to start.
45: Inches in Shannon Brown’s vertical jump, all of which the Anaheim crowd witnessed during his ridiculous dunk in the second quarter.
29: Assists for the Lakers on 44 field goals, led by seven from Ron Artest and six from Jordan Farmar.
20: First half points from Andrew Bynum on 7-of-11 shooting, including three dunks. He’d finish with a game-high 24 points along with five boards.
18: Lakers turnovers, a stat that tends to trend high in the preseason.
16: Steals amassed by an active Lakers defense, led by three each from Bryant, Farmar and Derek Fisher.
15: Rebounding edge for the longer Lakers (53-38), including 17 offensive boards and led by nine each from Bryant (who added 22 points in 26 minutes) and Artest.
4: Third quarter threes by the Lakers, from four different players.