Two years ago, Ron Artest was a valuable component to a championship Lakers team.
An elite defender who could consistently fill a third scoring role, he averaged 11 points per game during the 2009-10 season. In Los Angeles' Game 7 victory over Boston to clinch the title, he had 20 points, including several clutch buckets late to help seal the win.
After a brutal follow-up season though, the newly deemed Metta World Peace is enduring the worst season of his career, shooting an all-time low 51.1 percent from the free throw line, 24.4 percent from three and 34.9 percent from the floor. Worse, he is no longer the lockdown defender of old; no longer able to keep up with quicker players on the perimeter and shut down premier scorers. Per Synergy Sports metrics, World Peace is close to being the 200th worst defender in the NBA.
While Peace was a formidable scorer himself earlier in his career with Indiana, Sacramento and Houston (he averaged 17 points a game during his final season as a Rocket), his primary role with the Lakers has always been on the defensive end, particularly in isolation scenarios where he could use his physical frame and quick feet to punish guards and prevent forward post-ups.
Peace is 32 -- past his prime for sure, but not a dinosaur. He remains in superb basketball shape, still looking every bit like an NFL tight end at a super chiseled six-feet-seven inches, 260 lbs. But watch him for a brief moment on the floor, and he is clearly not what he was, even two years ago.
According to Synergy Sports, he is allowing offensive players to shoot 44 percent in isolation opportunities, slotting him in the bottom fourth of the entire NBA. While still an effective defender off down-screens where he can use his girth, Peace has also struggled this season in guarding the pick-and-roll. He has surrendered 36 points in 38 situations, once again allowing the offensive player to shoot a respectable 42 percent.
Peace's value still remains as a quality defender in certain situations. For example, when guarding from 17-feet out to three, he remains one of the game's best, holding shooters to just 27 percent shooting, per Synergy. He is also excellent in catch-and-shoot situations, where he isn't exposed laterally against quicker guards.
But to be a specialist defender isn't much different than being a three-point specialist. Teammate Jason Kapono is a knockdown bomber who is terrific in limited playing time as a guy that spreads the floor. But, play him for too long and he is exposed as an awful defender and poor rebounder, despite his own 6-foot-7-inch frame.
As a result, given Peace's inability to consistently affect the game defensively along with his dramatic offensive woes, head coach Mike Brown has been forced to severely limit his minutes. The 2004 All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year is now coming off the bench for the first time since his rookie season, playing a career-low 22.8 minutes. And his mental attitude has not surprisingly had a negative impact on the chemistry of the Lakers' locker room.
In a Feb. 13 article by Foxsports.com, one anonymous Laker player said the following about Peace:
"He's always talking about how he should be playing no matter how bad he's shooting, but he can't figure out that when he takes bad shots and misses eight in a row it puts us in a hole."
Another unnamed player added: "There are a lot of guys in here who'd just like to see him gone. I think we'd definitely be a better team if everyone didn't have to walk on eggshells when he's around."
But Peace -- and the near $6.8 million he is making this year -- isn't going anywhere, at least not yet. GM Mitch Kupchak didn’t use his amnesty clause before the year and it’s hard to believe that anybody will take on his salary or troubled nature.
Interesting times lay ahead for Kobe Bryant, his broken nose and the Lakers, a team who just last May suffered an embarrassing playoff sweep at the hands of the world champion Dallas Mavericks. Of its 30 games remaining, 17 come against opponents at .500 or better. The Pau Gasol-trade rumors will only continue swirling, as will the complaints about bad point-guard play and boring offense.
But at 22-14, the Lakers still have the fourth best record in the Western Conference and feature a top notch rim-protector in Andrew Bynum. Through the All-Star break, the team ranked sixth in the league in points allowed and third in opponent field goal percentage.
Not to mention, Kobe still hasn't tied Michael Jordan's ring count of six.
But then again, there is the highly volatile and unpredictable Metta World Peace, who is playing by far the worst basketball of his 13-year career and the least amount of minutes. We have to wonder if, and when, a breaking point will be reached.
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