Award-Winner Artest Compared
to All-Time Greats on Perimeter
By John Clayton
Indianapolis, April 19, 2004
The NBA named Ron Artest
its Defensive Player of the Year Monday - the same day it suspended him for one game for leaving the vicinity of the bench during an altercation in Game 1 of the Pacers’ playoff series against Boston.
Artest thanked God and a host of family, friends, teammates and coaches for the award, particularly a Pacers team that he felt put him into position to win the coveted trophy.
"We’ve got the defensive team of the year. Detroit won 20 of their last 26 but we were still in first place, and it wasn’t even close," said Artest. "It’s a team effort. You don’t get this award by losing. Last year, Detroit was in first place and Ben Wallace won the award. So it’s great to be on a team like this. Everybody is out there every night playing hard and, of course, I’m going to go out there and try to lock my man up like I’ve been doing for years. And the writers are starting to notice."
Artest beat out Wallace, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year for the Pistons, for the honor. Artest, who finished second to Wallace in the voting last season, received 476 of 605 possible points. Wallace received 325 points in second place and Portland's Theo Ratliff was third with 90 points.
President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird sat beside Artest at Monday's news conference and has been impressed by the player's effort and hustle at both ends of the floor this season.
"I never thought I’d be this close to a defensive award," Bird joked before heaping praise on Artest. "Any time there’s a loose ball or a ball around him, he’s going to come up with it 90 percent of the time. He has the strength and the ability to put guys in positions they don’t want to be in. But I wouldn’t mind taking a shot at him - 20 years ago."
Artest won the award on the heels of his first All-Star appearance. That appearance was based both on his defensive performance and his 18.7-point scoring average, a career high that ranks second on the team behind Jermaine O’Neal. The award also culminates an impressive turnaround in the career of Artest, who led the league in suspensions and flagrant fouls a year ago. This season, he was assessed one flagrant foul. His latest suspension follows the letter of the NBA rule for leaving the bench during an altercation, but Artest was not involved in the altercation at all.
“As a perimeter defender, I rank Ron Artest up there with (Michael) Jordan and (Scottie) Pippen and Gary Payton,” said Coach Rick Carlisle. “Kobe Bryant has been at that level and is one of the great perimeter defenders. I think (Artest) is among the very best to have played the game. He’s a little different from those guys in that he’s more rugged and plays with a little more force. That’s one of the things that makes it tough. Another thing that makes it tough is you’ve got to try and score on him on one end and then try to stop him on the other end. That weighs on a guy who’s a scorer, trying to deal on both ends of the court with Ron.”
But Carlisle wasn’t the only one comparing Artest to some of the game’s best defenders. Reggie Miller, who has played against some of the era’s best, puts Artest in the same stratosphere as well.
“He’s quick. He’s strong. His anticipation is probably the best I’ve ever seen,” said Miller of Artest. “On top of all those three things, he takes it upon himself as a challenge. He really looks forward to guarding the best perimeter player on the opposing team, no matter who they are, whether it be a point guard, a shooting guard or a small forward. I’ve played against, in my eyes, two of the best defenders in Joe Dumars and Michael Cooper and Ron has those guys blown away. His combination of strength and speed, especially with him weighing 250 pounds is a hard match for anybody.
“He’s an energizer bunny, I’ll tell you that. He just continues to go and go and go. He’s a workhorse. He always plays hard. A lot of things he does, he carries to the weight room as well. He’s just as vigilant in the weight room and in practice. He really doesn’t like to take days and time off. He continues to work on his game and that’s probably why he’s at the level he’s at right now.”
Artest also has a fan in the coach he is facing in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs.
“He’s just a great basketball player. There’s a reason why he’s on the All-Star team,” said Boston Coach John Carroll after a regular-season meeting between the Celtics and Pacers. “It’s a combination of his defense, it’s a combination of his post-up game. It’s a combination of his all-around versatility. I’ve known him since he was in high school and anything I can say about Ron Artest since he’s been in high school is he’s a winner. Whatever team he’s on wins. Because his aggressiveness and his disposition to guard people, his willingness to do the nitty-gritty things are what makes teams win.
"Sometimes it looks a little nasty at times. I think that Rick Carlisle has done a wonderful job with him this year, and I think Ron has done a wonderful job at keeping his composure. I think there’s almost 29 coaches in the league that would love to have that guy on their team, because of what he means to the team.”
Artest finished third in the NBA in steals per game (2.08) as the Pacers defensive stopper this year. He successfully held his offensive targets, including some of the league’s top players, to 8.1 points per game on 9.3 shots per game and 42.6% shooting.
Here is what a few other teammates had to say about Artest's award:
“On the court, there’s no question in my mind that he’s the Defensive Player of the Year. Paul Pierce had one field goal in the second half (in Game 1). Any time he puts his mind to it that he’s going to shut somebody down, he’s amazing. Off the court, he’s been a model citizen this year – he’s never been a problem off the court any way, but this year he’s kept stuff on the court and he’s just been a great player.”
“The only way you can play defense is to want to do it. You have to have that passion to get stops. Ron has done a great job of that and defensively shutting teams down. In the 77 or 78 games he played, he locked teams down and he definitely deserves it.”
“It’s something I think he deserves. I think he could’ve won it last year but he didn’t. What happened off the court took away from what he did on the court. I’m extremely proud of him. Having a guy like that on your team makes it that much easier for the rest of the guys.”
“It’s very tough. It's just like a game with that guy. He's out there playing like we really need that game at practice and it just carries over to the game. Having a guy like that on your team, you'll go to war with him."