Ask most basketball fans today who the most unguardable players in the NBA are, and chances are Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry will come to mind almost right away. Between Curry’s three-point accuracy and Durant’s unblockable high release point, the two former MVPs have rarely been stopped when they have the ball in their hands.
Metta Sandiford-Artest, formerly known as Ron Artest and Metta World Peace, gave some insight as to how he would guard Durant, Curry, and other elite scorers in the league today. Surprisingly, the former Defensive Player of the Year believes he could’ve done it, even if it meant circumventing the rules.
Metta Sandiford-Artest said he would be an elite defender today
Sandiford-Artest knows a thing or two about defense. During his 17-year NBA career, the 6-foot-7 small forward was a four-time All-Defense selection and the 2003-04 Defensive Player of the Year. He also sits inside the top 100 on the all-time Defensive Win Shares list.
During his sitdown interview with Shannon Sharpe on the Club Shay Shay podcast, Sandiford-Artest claimed playing in today’s era would’ve been no problem for him.
“I would’ve been amazing in this era,” Sandiford-Artest said. “Because I came at the end of the era when they took [hand-checking] out. And then you could [use your elbow], but then they took it out. But I was still thriving in that era. So I would’ve been fine in this era, for sure.”
The hand-checking rule Sandiford-Artest referred to was installed after the 2003-04 season, the year the tough-nosed vet was named DPOY. But the 2010 champion still secured two more All-Defense recognitions after the rule was installed, including first-team in 2006.
Although it’s illegal, Sandiford-Artest said hand-checking is how he would stop scorers like Curry and Durant
Leading up to how Sandiford-Artest would fare in this current era, Sharpe asked the former NBA All-Star how lack of hand-checking would affect his ability to guard Curry, Durant, and other elite scorers.
“It’s all subjective because the referees don’t call it all the time,” Sandiford-Artest responded. “So the last game, Kevin Durant got fouled on the airball. They were all on him, and if we can’t touch, why was the foul not called?” The game Metta mentioned was Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks. Durant scored 48 in the game but air-balled a shot in overtime to keep Brooklyn’s chances alive.
It’s true that not every foul is called, meaning someone like Sandiford-Artest could get away with more physical defense from time to time. But there is overwhelming evidence to show how the hand-checking rule changed the NBA to increase offense immediately.
From 1957-58 through 1994-95, teams were averaging over 100 points per game. But the physical, hand-checking ’90s brought about less scoring, and in 1995-96 the league fell below 100 for the first time in 40 years. The lowest came in the 2003-04 season, the last year before the rule was installed, where teams scored an average of 93.4 points per game. However, the following year with the new rule in place, it shot up to 97.2. By 2008-09, it reached 100 points once again, and last season teams averaged 112.1.
Despite the lack of physical defense, Sandiford-Artest doesn’t believe today’s era is soft
Last fall, ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith claimed the LeBron James, as well as other stars in today’s NBA, are playing in “the softest era we have ever seen.” Immediately, the former tough guy Sandiford-Artest took to Twitter to push back on that claim.
“LeBron is not playing in the softest era,” Sandiford-Artest said. “I was in his era. And we all know I could’ve easily played in that ’80s era. I know players that played in the era coming out the ’90s that didn’t want any real smoke. All you commentators and players, never call my era soft.”
He continued, tweeting, “1999 Draft (Metta’s draft year) had one of the toughest players ever. I will not let you guys and girls call my era soft. I would’ve loved to play in an era where you can scrap. That’s the type of ball we like. I can name 100 tough players right now that could’ve played in the ‘Let’s Scrap Era.'”
Although Sandiford-Artest stuck up for the toughness of this era, the former pro would still apply some older techniques to dominate as a defender in today’s NBA.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.