David West has added a lot to the Pacers franchise. Off the court, he has become a team leader. On the court, he has provided good spacing, been a willing passer and rarely taken a bad shot (even if he has missed a lot of, for him, easy ones). But the most dynamic way he has helped the team is through one simple aspect of basketball 101: the pick-and-roll.
The numbers certainly don’t suggest that the “West-as-screener in pick-and-roll” has benefitted the team. According to mySynergySports, if you look at plays that West finishes (those that end in a shot, free throws or a turnover), he only converts to the tune of 0.67 points per possession. When it comes to efficient production, that’s not only not good — it’s rather gross. On a team-wide basis, Indiana has finished plays out of the PnR 203 times. When the ball-handlers have shot, they have hit just 30.1% of their attempts. When the roll-men finish, it’s hardly better at 35.7%.
But the action, with West involved, was the go-to play play Indiana ran down the stretch in both Toronto wins. And in looking at West’s numbers from Synergy, we need to factor in David’s early-season struggles to actually convert when he gets a good look: through 11 games, he’s shooting a deplorable 48% at the rim and an ugly 37.5% between 3-9 feet. After direct post-ups, the PnR has been the second-most frequent action West has been involved in. So when it comes to both plays I remember watching and simply logic, we can surmise that West has missed some good screen-roll-created shots.
Moreover, the pick-and-roll has freed up so many good looks for Pacers not involved in the action directly. Swing passes and kickouts to the weakside have created so many good looks. And it seems as if this “pick-and-roll as a weapon” mentality is permeating the rest of the team’s collective conscious. I mean, in the second quarter last night, Lance Stephenson and Jeff Foster ran a picture-perfect screen/roll that got a three-point play for Jeff.
For the ball-handlers last season, Tyler Hansbrough was the team’s best pick-and-roll (or, more usually, pick-and-pop) partner. He was OK and could often get an open 17-footer out of the action. But it was never a true threat. This year, with West as the screener — and an improving Hansbrough and often-effective Roy Hibbert — the team has a go-to play that NBA history has proven to be unstoppable when run with precision.
As Indiana runs it, there is still a ton of room for improvement. Again, just look at the numbers above. This isn’t Stockton and Malone by any stretch of the imagination, and almost every team in the NBA has been more effective with their PnRs than the Pacers have so far.
But all the signs are there that this will continue to improve. Under Jim O’Brien, the Pacers were never adept at this most-basic of offensive weapons. So between better familiarity, the ball-handlers learning to make better decisions, and West and Danny Granger not missing so many shots near the hoop, we can presume that better things are ahead.
And even if not, at least Indiana’s pick-and-roll, this one being initiated by a crafty dribble-handoff, produced this David West dunk. I may be forgetting something, but I think this is the best highlight we have seen from West as a Pacer.