But there’s a name most people don’t associate with that sublime class, likely because of the city he’s in and what his current role entails. David West, the 18th overall pick in 2003, is still trying to grind out the path towards his first NBA championship.
All the years — six seasons — with Chris Paul orchestrating offense and being the go-to guy in pick-and-roll situations, West developed a scorer’s mentality early in his career. Being named Naismith Player of the Year during his time at Xavier, everyone knew West had the talent, the physical edge, and the mid-range jump shot, to be successful once he made the professional leap.
11 years into his career, recovering from a nasty ACL tear before his 2011 playoff run with the New Orleans Hornets, West has grown into a warrior.
Reminiscing on the 21.5 point and 8.5 rebound per game season he embraced with Chris Paul in 2008-09, I would’ve called you asinine if you told me West would be in a much lesser role five seasons later. In reality, that’s just how it had to evolve for the 6’9″ power forward, who decided to opt out of his final contract year with New Orleans once Paul was thrown around the city of Los Angeles in two trades with the Lakers and, eventually, Clippers.
West didn’t see enough of a title run (in the overloaded, hellish Western Conference) to re-sign with the Hornets and act as a recruiter for young talent, hoping to build a team suited for the playoffs. Without Paul, it was all right to feel as if a child without his best friend, a coach without his best pitcher, or simply a big man without the best point guard in the world.
A role change, transformation into a new family, was necessary. That family became the Indiana Pacers, headed by Larry Bird and a staff willing to form a unit strong enough to take the physical attack of the Miami Heat. His new role turned into finding a way to be successful on a team that had one major scoring option in Danny Granger, while also building the confidence of the youngster out of Fresno State, Paul George. The role became so much more, in time, as center Roy Hibbert was developing aggressiveness in the post (unlike now), and evolving as a rim-protector everyone knew they could rely on. West, being able to teach Hibbert things along the way, act as a big brother figure to George, who was handling the pressure of any Top 10 draft pick to not be a “bust,” was more crucial to the nurturing of this team than people give him credit for.
He was once again a professor, willing to show people the ropes. Unlike the earlier stages of his career, it was with a group of young men he felt he could relate to. He no longer had a point guard that was such a powerful competitor, as Paul’s competitive nature ranks up there in the top two of today’s stars, next to Kobe Bryant. He didn’t have the floor general that would extend the voice of Byron Scott on the court, and speak loudly when called upon in desperation.
West had to be that guy in Indiana, that savior to step in and give this team physical advantages each and every night. To some extent, it brightened his game, and allowed for him to be more effective with limited possessions with the ball.
Flash past the beginnings of this core Pacers team, look over and see Granger in red and blue with the Clippers, and realize that it’s time for West to step up even larger, and be the bad man that launches Indiana into the Finals.
With their backs against the wall in Game 6 of the first round vs. Atlanta, there was a calling.
It was a calling for Mr. West, the 33-year-old in his sixth postseason, to make a difference when this offensively-challenged Indiana team needed it the most.
Hawks’ point guard, Jeff Teague, brought everything he possibly could’ve in the elimination game for Atlanta, scoring a game-high 29 points. It wasn’t enough down the stretch, as the Hawks missed 26 3-pointers en route to a 9-of-35 shooting night from long range (25.7 percent).
Battling in the third and fourth quarters with the lead repeatedly switching hands, it was West who provided the offensive nudge even with Vogel clogging the lane with the unimpressive and overpaid Roy Hibbert. West scored 18 of his 24 points in the second half, which is just the pure definition of bringing it when it matters the most.
He didn’t turn into “Mr. Unreliable” for the Pacers, and never has.
In the only game of the series where Paul George didn’t collect a standout double-double, West was once again the go-to guy when the offense spoiled for Indiana. Despite having his own Game 6 to worry about in Golden State, ex-teammate Paul has to feel proud that West is providing success and that the two could see a lot of each other in June’s NBA Finals.
If the Pacers needed a score, they turned to No. 21. Beginning his attack in the third quarter, West used his bigger body to post up Paul Millsap, develop position and rhythm, and score on a mid-range fadeaway. His next two buckets, trying to keep Indiana’s lead from squandering, came off driving attempts to his off-hand (left), and being the only aggressive one on the boards to recover and get scores in the paint. Once he nailed a floater over Pero Antic, a guy he’s not fond of in this series, West knew it was on. It was time.
In the fourth quarter, nobody made more meaningful plays at the right time.
Trailing by three with 6:00 left in the game, West rolled off a pick-and-roll set with George Hill perfectly, letting him get deep into the paint where he just licked his chops upon receiving the pass.
Again, down by three with 2:40 remaining, West utilized his best attribute at his age, which is the jumper off a screen. Coming off a strong pick-and-pop, West found the bottom of the net and cut the deficit to one in crunch time.
Tied at 85-85 with 46 seconds left to play, who else would be the hero? Penetrating to his left into the Hawks’ interior, West gave the Pacers the lead they desperately needed, as Vogel bringing in Hibbert in the fourth was one of the more egregious parts of the night. West pursued to ice the game with 10 seconds left, scoring on a transition layup to put it out of reach.
Immediately after the game, West, still captured in the moment, gave his thoughts on how Indiana can advance to the second round:
“We’re very confident in our ability to guard, particularly down the stretch,” West said. “We matched their speed a little bit. Again, we’re in desperation mode, we had to get this game to get back in our home building. We’re prepared to go down there and fight a hard Game 7.”
The Pacers were able to fight through adversity — yes, it’s still the No. 1 vs. the No. 8, we get it — and force a Game 7 on their home floor. The final, decisive game will be on Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and may or may not feature Paul George after the league makes their decision on a possible suspension for stepping onto the court during a George Hill-Mike Scott scuffle.
It may be another calling for Mr. West, if Indiana’s superstar isn’t able to go.
Every night should be West’s night, and the Pacers have to realize that.