Disclaimer: here will start a short series of predictions concerning the impact of some of CBA’s newcomers. Since I’m somewhat in love with weird, comic-like titles, this series will go by the name of “The real, devastating impact of…”. Hopefully my 4 readers will enjoy it to the point of becoming possibly 5, or even 6 readers.
Wait, I’m not telling you to like it to the point of wanting to have children, I’m just…hell, whatever, you’re all adults, do what you feel best about.
Whether you’re a casual fan or an NBA fanatic, you ought to know who Ron Artest is.
Maybe because you happen to be a Lakers fan, maybe because you happen to have witnessed his game-7 heroics in 2010 that awarded him a ring, maybe because you happen to remember his devasting elbow to the face of The Beard himself, James Harden.
For the records, you should also note that he’s got an All-Star appearance under his belt.
Granted, it was 2004, and among those who joined him that night was Jamaal Magloire; however it is true that before joining the Lakers Ron Artest has had a bunch of seasons tallying over 17 points per game. Especially in Sacramento, where his 2-point field goals have been seldom assisted (32,6% in two and a half seasons) yet his shooting percentage was 46%, his usage was at the very least comparable to the one we’ll expect to see in Sichuan.
That’s the point, however: what should we expect to get from Artest?
There are at least three points that need to be cleared out for everyone: in primis, in China there’s a huge mismatch between a GM’s expectations and a fan’s expectations, and it is one an average NBA fan could hardly figure out; in secundis, import players (with a fairly slight exception for the Asian 3rd import, who is somewhat uncategorized) coming to the CBA are usually meant to fit into one of the following two categories: combo-guards with an incessantly itching trigger finger and a well-established role as game closers (if ever) and big men (usually floating in the savage land of “not really a 5, not actually a 4”) capable of 20-10 averages without breaking a sweat; in tertiis, since GMs basically value players by looking at their stat lines, imports rarely, let’s put it mildly, lock down each other. And in actuality this makes so much sense: they’re all expected to fill the stats sheet, no one is really brought in to focus on sheer defense. As fundamentally unsound as it seems to an NBA fan, it’s pure “no harm no foul”: I don’t get in your head too much, you don’t get in mine, we both get 25 easy. To make a comparison, think about this NBA All-Star Weekend faceoff between Dion Waiters and Tim Hardaway Jr, but in an actual regular season game.
These three notions, however, serve us well to understand how different a player Ron Artest is from an average import in China: although certainly capable of putting up big numbers against much less physically imposing CBA defenses, Artest doesn’t fit the description of a shoot-first guard, if only because he’s not a guard (but we might add that he’s never been, even in his prime years, the first scoring option of his team). Nor does he, on the other hand, look the part of a CBA big man coming from abroad: the rebounding numbers for his career are not there (4,7 boards per game, 8.1 total rebound percentage), nor is his height at 6’6/6’7.
But the biggest divide has to be his defense, held in high esteem to the point of him being considered one of the premier perimeter defenders of his generation (12th in Defensive Win Shares among all active players in the NBA). It may be much more than just a case of “will he subscribe to the tendency to bypass defence to favor offensive numbers?”, this could turn out to be the first case of “can a Chinese GM get away with valuing the best defender that’s ever put on a CBA uniform for his offensive output alone?”.
Furthermore, all analyses could turn to dust thanks to the last but not least attribute Artest has that we haven’t yet considered: his temper.
China doesn’t have a history of coping well with hot-headed players (see: Smith, J.R. and/or Johnson, Ivan), and despite the positive and calm attitude that the former Laker is exhibiting now, after all we’re talking about a dude who changed his last name to World Peace, not a single thing he’s doing now guarantees us that he will not burst out once neck-deep in the regular season.
People around him have long insisted that he’s a peace and love guy who just loses it at times, for reasons unknown to us as much as to him. It just happens.
But that’s the problem: the environment he steps in has a high chance of being unprepared to what having a guy like Ron in your team means. Heck, I doubt every team in the world could actually soothe his spirits on a constant basis, if even the Lakers didn’t manage to.
Ultimately that’s the real, devastating impact The Panda’s Friend could have. He might be easily the best defender in the game, he might be a force, or he might just have the aforementioned devastating impact on himself and on his team. But if he manages to play up to at least a half of his standards, we CBA fans will benefit from watching an import like no other, while casual basketball watchers will benefit from the sheer fact that there’s Ron Artest on the field, and we all frankly missed him.