A lot of us have grumbled about the performance of the starters, and rightly so. They've sucked. The Kings have only lead after the first quarter in one of the past eight games, and that was a two-point margin over Joe Johnson-less Atlanta.
Martin has been off and on lately, especially in the first half (Tuesday aside). Bibby has been off for six weeks now. Miller had two good games, and that's all. Kenny Thomas has been between awful and god-awful. And Ron-Ron's offense - let's just say it hasn't been a marvel of consistency.
Make no mistake, though: Ron-Ron is probably the most valuable King.
82games.com released their first set of player pair numbers today. I love player pair numbers, because they give a glimpse at who makes their teammates better. A week ago, I made the case for Brad Miller by looking at last season's player pair figures.
Miller is still helping his teammates this season, with everyone but Garcia and Corliss playing better when Miller is also on the floor. But another King has marvelous plus-minus numbers, with every single teammate performing better when he is on the floor: Ron Artest.
Artest has the team's best raw plus-minus by far, at a +95. (Miller is second at +47.) What does plus-minus tell us? Well, it helps define things that are hard to define by the boxscore: defense, and "the little things" like screens, boxing out, the pass before the assist, etc.
It's not the end-all, be-all stat; it's influenced greatly by the quality of teammates. Tayshaun Prince has long been near the top of the rankings thanks to his Pistons partners, even though nearly everyone would surmise Billups, Hamilton, and Ben Wallace were more valuable. But it is valuable in analysis, in that you don't win without a positive plus-minus.
(Artest is also helped because he didn't play a lot in the blowout at Dallas and sat out versus Phoenix.)
Anyways, look at the player pair matrix on 82games. See the vertical Artest column? The green boxes mean that player's plus-minus when Artest is on the floor is better than that player's overall plus-minus. See how every player's box in the Artest column is green? That's big.
It's no small margin either. Bibby has a net increase of +8 per 48 with Artest in the game. Martin's goes up +7. Salmons' goes up a ridiculous +20 (though there's a relatively small sample size). Miller's goes up +6. Shareef's goes up +7. KT's is +8. Garcia is +14. Every single player benefits greatly from having Ron-Ron on the floor with him, even if he is tossing up bricks.
Martin is this team's best offensive weapon and by far it's best producer night in and night out. He's the team's future, or at least a big part of it.
But Artest is beyond important. Every minute he's out there, he's helping this team. If he can pick his production up to average standards, he's the team's most valuable player.