David West is, by most individual measures, having one of the worst seasons of his nine-year N.B.A. career. His scoring is down per game, per minute and per possession. He’s currently posting a career-high turnover rate. His Player Efficiency Rating (P.E.R.) has plummeted from 20.4 last season to a far more average 16.9 this season
. West’s production has taken a significant hit in the transition from New Orleans to Indiana (and more specifically, from Chris Paul to Darren Collison), and yet the Pacers have risen to offensive competence specifically by way of West’s addition. His impact is rooted in teamwide augmentation rather than individual dominance
, but West has nonetheless served as the impetus behind Indiana’s rise to the Eastern Conference’s second tier.
West’s influence begins with Roy Hibbert, who has made the most profound leap among all Pacers. Not all of Hibbert’s improvements stem from West’s addition alone, but Hibbert himself is the first to credit West (via Conrad Brunner of Pacers.com):
“[West is] probably the biggest reason I’m an All-Star this year,” Hibbert said. “Hands-down, he’s helped my career so much offensively and defensively. We communicate really well on the court. To tell you the truth, we don’t even have to talk.
“We just know each other really well. As weird as that sounds, we can just look at each other and we know what to do. He’s helped me out so much. No disrespect to Tyler (Hansbrough) or Josh McRoberts or Jeff Foster but since D-West got here my game has elevated so much.”
Hibbert’s claims are certainly borne out in the statistical representations of West’s impact. The Pacers have only two consistently effective lineups, both with West and Hibbert as crucial components of their offensive and defensive strategy. That’s indicative of the drop-off between West and reserve forward Tyler Hansbrough, but it also speaks to Hibbert and West’s synergy
– that organic compatibility of playing styles and personalities that allows players to feed off one another.
West never shared the court with a true, back-to-the-basket post threat in New Orleans, but he is a natural as Hibbert’s counterpoint. West has not maximized his individual scoring impact with the Pacers yet, but he walks the fine line between spacing the floor for Hibbert with midrange jumpers and remaining active on the offensive glass. When West isn’t spotting up from 18 feet as a way to clear out some room for Hibbert, he gravitates toward the baseline on the block opposite Hibbert. From there, West is technically out of the play action (and out of bounds entirely), but he keeps the passing angles open for Hibbert to kick the ball out to his shooters, doesn’t bring an extra defender into the post, and somehow maintains solid offensive rebounding position in the process. West simply ducks under the rim and fights outward once a shot attempt goes up, giving an off-ball post player the rare box-out advantage on the offensive glass.
And that’s to say nothing of Hibbert and West’s inverted high-low relationship, which creates open spot-up opportunities for Hibbert and high-percentage interior looks for West. The two players have their favorite spots on the floor, but the beauty of their chemistry is that both are largely interchangeable – they form a high-low tandem that is just as easily low-high. Hibbert has many talents, and the reason he and West work so well together – oddly enough – stems from their similar versatility. Both share in and profit from their flexibility, a theme that extends from their specific chemistry to a teamwide context.
Similarly beneficial lines exist between, among others, West and Danny Granger (who shoots a substantially better percentage from every zone with West in the lineup), and West and Darren Collison (who finally has a capable pick-and-roll partner in lieu of Hibbert’s plodding or Hansbrough’s freneticism). The Pacers are still a flawed team with holes to fill, but West’s off-season signing filled perhaps the biggest –- that of the rare, do-it-all post player who brings streaks of offensive and defensive dominance in a team-friendly, facilitating style. West may still not be performing up to his personal standard, but he has managed to fill in the gaps spectacularly.