Artest an All-Around All-Star

by Conrad Brunner

Jan. 23, 2003

ASK THE COACH
With Brendan Malone

To ask a question of coach Malone, submit it along with your full name and place of residence to askthecoach@pacers.com. Not every question will be answered, but all will be considered, and are subject to editing.

Q. What do you think are (Ron) Artest´s chances to play for the All-Star team? We all know how a great player he is, but is defense enough to be an All-Star? (From Alejandro in Popayan, Colombia)

A. Ron Artest is more to us than just a defensive presence. He's a passer and a scorer inside and out. His outside shot has improved significantly this year. When he does play in the All-Star Game, you're going to see a well-rounded player who really knows how to play. He has a very good sense of how to play the game and how to get his teammates shots. In practice, when he's scrimmaging with guys like Primoz Brezec who don't get into games very often, it's interesting to watch him work to get those players shots. He's very smart in an unorthodox way. It's my opinion he should be an All-Star. He's had an All-Star year. I've said that all along. I would say he's one of our most indispensable players on the floor.

Q. Is the Pacers coaching staff concerned about Ron Artest beyond basketball, and maybe considering getting him someone to talk to about his rage problem while you have him as a captive audience? (From Don in Los Angeles)

A. I think he has been significantly better this year than last year. He had that one titanic explosion at Madison Square Garden but he was contrite after it. I see him trying to manage his temper better this year, but it's a work in progress. His aggressiveness and hustle make him the player he is right now. I can remember when I was with Detroit and Dennis Rodman had the same type of temperament, (coach) Chuck (Daly) would always say, 'You never put a saddle on a mustang; you just let him run.' I think through experience, the suspensions and the fines he's going to learn he has to curb his temper but we don't really want to take away his aggressiveness and his intensity.

Q.The Pacers tend to get the lead early in the game only to see their opponents catch up. The game ends up very tight. Although I'm happy our team is winning those close games, this can be very hard when we face tougher opponents. Any thoughts why the Pacers fail to close out their opponents early and avoid such scenarios? (From Edward in Manila, Philippines)

A. Your observation is very accurate. We tend to relax when we have a lead, and it has happened time and time again this season. We stop being patient with our offense, we stop making the extra pass and we tend to go one-on-one and take early shots. We also lose our defensive intensity. Through experience and getting burned by that, somewhere along the line we're going to have to learn that we have to play 48 minutes.

Q. What are the top three things that you think Jonathan Bender could improve upon to be a more effective player? (From Brock in Orlando, FL)

A. The first thing he needs to improve upon is defending his position. He's more suited to defending threes (small forwards) than fours (power forwards) because the fours get to the board and are stronger. He just needs to work on staying down in his defensive stance and closing out on shooters under control, and he's getting better. He also has to learn how to play without the ball. He's very good with the ball but when he realizes he's most dangerous without the ball, in terms of cutting to the ball from the weak side, I think he'll be a much more effective player. A lot of young players have always had the ball in their hands and they have to learn how to play without the ball. The third thing is he has to learn how to rebound his position. He's 7-feet tall and he needs to use his size to get better on the offensive and defensive glass.

Q. Do you think that our go-to guy in the final minutes of the game has to be Jermaine O'Neal rather than Reggie Miller? I have seen this season, in the matches we lost, we have gone a lot to Reggie Miller rather than O'Neal. I am a big Reggie fan, but is it time to change the tactics? (From Bala in Chennai, India)

A. A go-to player has the ability to make a shot, create a shot if he's double-teamed, make a pass out of the double-team, and make his foul shots. Those are the four criteria for a go-to player and the guy who best fits those criteria on our team is Reggie Miller. Against Toronto (Jan. 22) for example, the defense was so focused on Reggie as a go-to guy in that situation that Jermaine was able to get open for the winning shot. Both Reggie and Jermaine can be go-to guys for us. When you think about go-to players, just remember those four criteria.

Q. It seems that one of the things Jermaine O'Neal really needs work on is recognizing double-downs in the post and looking for and finding the wide open man more often rather than just forcing a well contested shot all the time. Is that something he's aware of and working on? (From Kevin in Carmel, IN)

A. Against Toronto, he was double-teamed but he took an escape dribble, bounced out of the post, opened up and passed the ball to the weak side. That was a giant step in his work against double-teams. He is improving. He used to try to make that pass with his back to the weak side, but now he's learning how to play out of the double-team.

Q. Ron Mercer seems to be a very good mid-range jump-shooter, but with his athleticism, why don't you encourage him to make more drives to the basket - he always seems to have success on the rare occasions he does? (From Joshua in Indianapolis)

A. Ron Mercer is an outstanding driver, and he drives when he has the opportunity. But he also is a very good catch-and-shoot player from medium range. That's his game, and he mixes it up very well. Ron is one of the best drivers in the league and he's very acrobatic around the basket in order to avoid the defense. I'm amazed at what he can do when he goes to the hoop.