by Conrad Brunner
January 11, 2003
Indianapolis, January 11, 2003 -
The notion of Ron Artest in an All-Star Game is a playground for the imagination. It is an event nearly devoid of the three things upon which Artest's game is built: passion, intensity and defense.
He'd be as out of place as a middle linebacker on a golf course. And just as much fun to watch.
"I could play in that game," he said with a smile. "It'd be awesome not having to play any defense at all. I'd do that if they're letting me score. But if they're not letting me score, I might have to play some defense."
Make no mistake, Artest belongs in Atlanta, but it's less than certain he'll be selected. Jermaine O'Neal appears to be a cinch to start, but it's possible he'll be alone because the very fabric of the team can throw a cloak over individual accomplishments. Take Artest's statistics, for example: 16.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.3 steals. Not exactly breathtaking, on paper.
On parquet, however, it is an entirely different story. Even including O'Neal, it's possible Artest is the team MVP. His performance in the team's fourth straight win Saturday night, 116-104 over Golden State, was at times a study in perfection.
In the closing minutes of the second period, after the Warriors had cut a 10-point lead to two, he scored eight consecutive points, including a pair of 3-pointers; blocked an Antawn Jamison shot, then leapt out of bounds to save the possession and start a fast break. With the Warriors extending their defense because of the threat of his perimeter shot, Artest fed Brad Miller for an open jumper.
His final line was nearly flawless: 23 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field and 9-of-10 from the line; six rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocked shots.
"I haven't quite seen a guy like this," said coach Isiah Thomas. "People have a tendency to get caught up in all this other stuff but the basketball player is off the charts right now. He's scoring, he's defending, he's rebounding - everything you ask a basketball player to do, he's doing. The scary thing about it is you ask a guy to do all that, but you don't really expect it. It's tough to find a player as versatile as he is right now.
"You talk about (Tracy) McGrady and Kobe Bryant and (Vince) Carter and all those guys, and they do a lot of stuff, but they don't do the stuff this guy does. They don't defend like Artest. They don't rebound like Artest. They can score the basketball but I'm pretty sure if Ron put up 25 shots a night, he'd probably be close to the league leader in scoring.
"The league should have more people like Artest in it."
Thomas is in good position to coach the Eastern Conference team. The coach of the first-place team through Jan. 24 gets that honor - unless he coached the previous season. That means if the Nets have the best record in the East, the second-place coach would get the job. At the moment, the Pacers (27-10) are tied for first with the Nets, two full games ahead of Detroit (24-11).
"When it's mentioned you think about it, but it's not something I personally think about all the time," Thomas said. "This time of year, with the schedule, the way we've been traveling, the teams we've been playing and the games we've been playing, I just have time to maybe eat and put together a gameplan."
O'Neal would like both Artest and Brad Miller to join him in Atlanta.
"People tend to rely on numbers, but they don't realize there are other tools that make a team go," he said. "Brad and Ron really deserve the opportunity to be there. They've been pretty consistent with what they do. Hopefully, at least one of them will be there to represent the team and the city."
All things considered, Artest might just prefer to be overlooked. The All-Star break offers four days off.
"The way I play," he said, "I need four days - at least."
The way he plays, the rest of the league needs the break..