Ron Artest has kept a consistent shooting stroke during the preseason
But this guidance during the Lakers' 82-74 preseason loss Tuesday to the Utah Jazz didn't come from Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom or even Steve Blake. No, the teaching instead came from Ron Artest, an unlikely source considering his well-documented struggles last season with understanding the triangle.
This doesn't suggest Artest is ready to join Jackson as an assistant and teach the system. But it does reflect how Artest has made more of a difference offensively this preseason. Artest has shot 47.2% overall and is the top three-point shooter among the team's regulars with a 42.1% clip, far surpassing his 34.4% career mark from beyond the arc. Of course, preseason statistics mean very little, but signs suggest Artest is in for much more productive offensive performances this season, thanks to his improved movement the offense, a better shooting stroke and increased confidence.
"I just think the rhythm of his game," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said, giving a reason for Artest's effective shooting. He then couldn't help but take a dig at Artest's foot apparel: "And the cement shoes he's not wearing."
Just don't tell Artest any of these theories, because he won't subscribe to them.
"I don't really worry about the offense," Artest said after a recent practice. "I just worry about the defense, the effort, that's the main thing. Everyone else [worries] if I score, and that's cool. I work on my game, but I'm more worried about the effort, the defense and if we're playing the triangle the right way."
Despite his apparent indifference, expect his offense to give opponents fits, considering Artest will likely prove even more dangerous defensively. He entered training camp slimmed down to 250 pounds and plans to abstain from alcohol, so his increased mobility can help him lock down top scorers, such as Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant.
But Artest hasn't just limited that quickness to defense. His pump fake against Utah forward Andrei Kirilenko showcased Artest's improved reflexes and shot selection, considering he took a few steps in for a corner jumper. Artest's baseline drive against the Jazz on Sunday off a feed from Gasol highlighted Artest's increased awareness in the offense.
Artest's nine-point effort on three-of-eight shooting with five rebounds and five assists in the Lakers' 102-95 win Saturday over Denver indicated to Jackson that Artest "sees the game a lot better," although Jackson added, "It's not natural for him." Nonetheless, there were a few more instances when Artest appeared to be showing good habits. A Fisher steal led to an Odom fast break where he found Artest on the far corner. Instead of taking the three-pointer, Artest found Gasol inside. Later on, Fisher nailed a wide-open three-pointer after Artest threw a pass around the perimeter. And hours after earning the keys to Las Vegas last week for his charitable efforts on mental-health issues, Artest scored 18 points on seven of 11 shooting, including four of five from three-point range.
"He knows when shots are coming and he knows how to anticipate," Jackson said. "It looks like he's got live feet; he steps into shots and he's not hesitating."
So what will all this mean for the Lakers once the regular season starts next week? Just consider his strong start to training camp as one indicator why Artest feels far from complacent after last season's championship run.
"After you win, we have got a whole new season and you got to win again," Artest said. "It's not like I feel relieved or anything. It's still like we got to work."
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers forward Ron Artest tries to split the defense of Boston's Paul Pierce, left, and Rasheed Wallace in the third quarter of Game 7 of June's NBA Finals. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times.