Tag: Lakers Suns Game 2

Amar'e Stoudemire's defense remains a problem

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Gasol_stoudemire.jpgThe Phoenix Suns made the right move when they held onto Amar’e Stoudemire at this year’s trade deadline. Amar’e is absolutely one of the best offensive big men in basketball, and he’s been a crucial part of Phoenix’s run to the Western Conference Finals. However, now that Phoenix has reached the Western Conference Finals, it’s beginning to look like it might not be possible to win a championship if your superstar power forward does not play a lick of defense. And Amar’e Stoudemire does not play a lick of defense. 

Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook put together some clips of Stoudemire’s pick-and-roll defense, and they’re not pretty. There’s Amare jogging back to his man after showing on the pick-and-roll. There’s Amar’e hedging out to give a weak double on Kobe at the three point line and giving Pau a wide-open lane to catch the pass and get the layup — it’s as though Amar’e forgets a basketball can move through three dimensions sometimes. After the game, Amar’e said that he was simply following the gameplan, and that the help defender was the one failing to do his job. That simply isn’t true — Amar’e wasn’t feeding his man to the helper, he was hanging the helper out to dry. Between that comment and calling Lamar Odom “lucky” after Odom destroyed Stoudemire in game one, the fact Stoudemire doesn’t seem to understand he’s bad at defense is almost as disturbing as his bad defense. 
Stoudemire is one of the biggest free agents available this summer, and somebody will give him a max contract. What will be interesting to see is if Amar’e will ever become a decent defender. For all the praise Alvin Gentry’s (rightly) received for the job he’s done in Phoenix this year, he’s not a defensive mastermind, and that is, was, and shall be an offense-first culture. (For all the lip service paid to defense by Terry Porter, he’s no defensive whiz either.) What would happen if Stoudemire played for a coach with a good defensive system who would hold him accountable on that ends of the floor at all times? Would that be enough, or is Amar’e a lost cause on defense? Would a frontline featuring Stoudemire and an elite shot-blocker with enough athleticism to clean up Stoudemire’s messes be passable defensively? 
These are the questions any team considering signing Stoudemire has to ask itself. Because if Stoudemire continues to play defense like this, there’s going to be a glass ceiling over any team that employs him. 

NBA Playoffs, Lakers v. Suns Game 2: Ron Artest still fighting the ghost of Trevor Ariza


artest.pngAs long as Ron Artest remains a Laker, he will be compared to Trevor Ariza. The circumstances that allowed for the addition of Artest and Ariza’s departure just fit together too conveniently, and considering the similar spaces and roles they’ve occupied within the Laker offense.

Artest apparently isn’t too keen on the comparison. From Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles:

About a week ago Ron Artest lingered after practice with a small group of reporters, sitting down
on an exercise machine and talking about his progress this postseason,
when somebody mentioned it took Trevor Ariza about a full season to fully grasp the Lakers’ system, too. “You’re going to compare me to him?” Artest asked, pained by the name.

Ariza’s 2009 triumphs have become something of a tall tale; Trevor was a piece of a championship formula and did a lot of good things for the Lakers that season, but from the way fans and media members have pined for him at times this season is a bit absurd. Ariza wasn’t a larger than life superstar, he was a nice complementary player that hit some shots and played great perimeter defense.

Turns out those commodities are replaceable if you know where to look, and if your team has the luxury of luring Ron Artest for the mid-level exception. Still, even after three series’ of solid play, Ron is still trying to prove himself. He’s still trying to escape from Trevor Ariza’s strangely large shadow.

It won’t be enough for Artest to simply be a part of a title team. Ariza is so well-respected for his L.A. tenure because when the Lakers needed him, he produced. When he found the ball in his hands in the final minutes of big games, he didn’t hesitate. He didn’t just settle for playing good defense when the Lakers needed a crucial stop, he jumped the inbound pass and became the subject of playoff legends.

Reputations are a funny thing. Artest should have forged his by playing excellent defense on Kevin Durant in the first round, or by being part of the Laker team that so handily dismissed the Jazz in the second. Yet, despite of how valuable Artest has been in the postseason so far, he’ll have to prove himself as invaluable if he really wants to escape the Ariza comparisons.

A lot of that is dependent on circumstances, as Ariza was only allowed to succeed because Andrew Bynum was sidelined, Lamar Odom was invisible at times, and Pau Gasol/Kobe Bryant opened up shots for him. Artest is finally finding himself in similarly beneficial circumstances against the Suns, and he’s capitalizing.

When Bryant hits Artest in the corner out of a double team, Ron has to hit that shot or make a play. When Jason Richardson foolishly looks to break down Artest off the dribble, Ron has to step up and get a stop. Not necessarily because that’s the difference between a win or a loss in Game 2 (although it could have been, as Artest scored 18 and prevented plenty more by the Suns in a 12-point win), but because those plays will be essential in the future.

The Lakers have made it abundantly clear that although they’re respecting their opponents, even these games are not an end unto themselves. It’s important to perform against Phoenix, but the Western Conference Finals are a means to achieve the bigger goal. That’s where Artest will go from luxury to necessity. He may never reach Ariza’s ridiculous 47.6% mark from three in last year’s playoffs, but the farther the Lakers go in the playoffs, the more integral Artest becomes.     

NBA Playoffs Lakers Suns Game 2: pick your poison with the Lakers offense

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The versatility of the Lakers offense is proving too much for the Suns — it’s not just inside, it’s outside as well. The Lakers know it and know how to exploit it, while the Suns are searching for answers. And sounding dazed .