Did the Lakers make a mistake signing Artest instead of Ariza?

Even Ron Artest himself says (via Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times) that Ariza was a better fit…and a better player.

“He’s a better player than me,” Artest said Tuesday.

But Ron-Ron, nobody ever said he was better, we just said he was a better fit.

“He’s a better player,” Artest repeated emphatically. “He’s won a ring, I haven’t. I can’t even compare to him. He’s a better player.”

Artest also agrees, incidentally, with the part about Ariza being a better fit.

“He probably is,” Artest said. “He’s a role player, a great role player. I haven’t been a role player. Many times I’ve had to carry the load, this is a different look for me.”

I don’t know about you, but I sense a little sarcasm there. Later, Artest talked about how “unbelievable” his defense has been:

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” Artest said, pausing. “I mean, I’m making my mark defensively. My defense has been unbelievable. I don’t know whose defense has been as unbelievable as mine.”

Defense is a tough thing to gauge using traditional statistics, but there are some interesting things to see at Ron Artest’s page at 82games.com. If you look at his production by position, he has outproduced his opponent 14.0 to 12.7 in terms of PER at the small forward position. That’s a net difference of 1.3. Conversely, Ariza is posting a 14.3 versus his opponent’s 16.6 for a net difference of -2.2, so statistically speaking, Artest is doing a good job. You don’t expect your defensive specialist to light it up in terms of PER.

The question of fit and flow can’t truly be quantified, however. I’ve watched a few Laker games this season and it doesn’t seem like Artest is fitting in very well offensively. The ball often stops in his hands and his shot selection is about the same as it has been throughout his career. I expected his FG% to rise, but he’s right at his career average.

The true test will be the postseason. If the Lakers win another title, this “trade” will be looked at favorably. If they do not, it will likely be blamed for the loss. No one knows yet how the playoffs are going to go, though I’m sure Laker fans would like to see some progress before the postseason starts. It’s getting to be pretty deep into the season to still be working the kinks out.

One other interesting thing to note from the article:

Remember, the Buss family suddenly acquired Artest and dumped Ariza seemingly without similar enthusiasm from either General Manager Mitch Kupchak or Jackson. While both men publicly endorsed the deal, one must wonder whether today they are still shaking their heads.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

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