Was Artest's Defense Overshadowed?

by Conrad Brunner

Friday, Aug. 15, 2003

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QUESTION OF THE DAY
Conrad Brunner
Q. Ron Artest seems to be one of those players that people either really, really like or really, really dislike. I happen to really, really like Ron Artest and I don't think there is another player like him in the NBA. While I think most agree that his off-court antics have been outrageous, and his temper has gotten the best of him, I personally like the mentality he brings with him on the court. He has a knack for making some of the best offensive players in the league look bad.

I still think he was a better Defensive Player of the Year candidate than Ben Wallace. There are very few players in this league that can change the complexion of a game the way Artest does. My question to you is, if Ron hadn't had as many suspensions and if he wasn't under such a tight microscope last season, do you personally feel he may have won the Defensive Player of the Year award? Also, do you see him winning that honor in the future? (From Jeff in New Castle, IN)

A. I don’t think there’s any doubt the succession of suspensions worked against Artest, because most of the publicity he received for a three-month span centered on his behavior, not his performance. Even so, I doubt he would’ve won the award – which is not to say he didn’t deserve it. Defensive Player of the Year is by far the most difficult for voters to judge because it’s entirely subjective and it requires quite a bit of legitimate research. In other words, you have to pay attention to a lot more than just the league leaders to figure out who’s doing well.

Historically, the award has gone to a leading shot-blocker. In the past 12 years, only one perimeter player (Gary Payton in 1995-96) was honored. Every other winner was a shot-blocker. This is why Artest, even with model behavior, will face an uphill battle when it comes to this particular award. It’s very difficult to define his overall defensive effect with statistics. Even though he gets a lot of steals, he doesn’t block many shots, and his most impressive effect – shutting down the most explosive scorers in the league – isn’t reflected in any individual statistical category.

I personally have found it curious why voters that focus on statistics place a higher value on blocked shots than steals. There's no certainty that the shot being blocked was going in, and there was no certainty that the blocked shot negated a possession. In fact, it's common for blocked shots to turn into offensive rebounds, because shot-blockers tend to take themselves out of rebounding position. Steals, whether they lead to baskets or not, are a direct measure of opponent possessions negated. Team statistics are inconclusive. The Spurs led the league in blocked shots, but the next five teams on the list all missed the playoffs. The top five teams in steals, on the other hand, all reached the postseason. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that neither statistic is necessarily more important - and neither is necessarily a true measure of defensive productivity.