The last few months of Indiana’s season were long, ugly, and a model for inconsistency. In fact, it’s fair to say that Roy Hibbert was spot on; there were a lotta’ selfish dudes out there. When it wasn’t on the court, it was off the court, be it Paul George shooting for five consecutive possessions, or Stephenson and Turner fighting at practice.
But there was one Pacer who Roy certainly wasn’t referring to, who stuck it out right to the very end: David West.
In the dark days of what once looked to be a very successful year for Indiana, you never heard about Mr. West dogging out teammates, causing havoc at practice, or getting caught up in individual statistics. David West just wanted to win.
He didn’t go about it the wrong way, either. He wasn’t out there taking 20 shots to get Indiana back into games (albeit perhaps being what some fans wanted), or playing defense so aggressively he’d get himself into foul trouble. Nope, David West is a leader, and leadership is exactly what he displayed.
Since March, it felt as though every couple of nights in the box score, you’d see Paul George with a shooting percentage of around 35, or Roy Hibbert with just 2 rebounds. Maybe a 7/3/3 game from Lance. Not West, though. Night in, night out, David West would show up and deliver his 14 and 7, even lifting his production in the playoffs, picking up the slack for the team when need be.
When he wasn’t leading through individual brilliance, he was doing his best to create something out of what could be lightly described as one of the uglier offenses in the league. How many times can you remember David West with the ball in one hand, the other pointing out where his teammates need to go, to attempt to create some ball movement?
Heck, even in the ugliest of scenarios – the third quarter of what would be a loss to the Raptors during the Pacers’ April slump – when Paul George got into a little scuffle with John Salmons, West was the first guy on the scene to break it up.
I cannot help but fear for what could have been made of the Pacers’ season if not for West, who was seemingly the glue that held the team together through thick and thin.
Particularly after having traded away Danny Granger, it may even be fair to say that West was the only positive locker-room presence within a group of guys who appeared to hate each other the more they played together, which is – last time I checked – the opposite of how team chemistry is supposed to work.
He likely saved them from the embarrassment of a one-seed losing to an eight-seed, playing an integral part in helping Indiana defeat Atlanta in what was a very forgettable seven-game series. Without him taking over late in Game 6, Indiana would have lost in the first round — an impressive feat, even for this Pacers team.
They won, obviously, but you can’t really sugar coat it. A sub-500 team without its All-Star center took them to seven games. Blame it on the matchup issues, sure – they were there, they were evident. But not nearly to the degree that the chemistry issues were. Do the Pacers even force a Game 7 if West doesn’t drop 24 and 11 on 50% shooting? Stephenson and George put up solid numbers, but there’s no denying it: Mr. West put the team on his back, and carried them home to Indiana.
It feels as though this act of leadership, the ability he showed to step in and take full-control, has not received the praise it warrants. Honestly, the whole West’s season seems to have been fairly under-appreciated, being lost within the catastrophe that was the last few months, and maybe that’s rightly so. But I believe it’s unfair.
In a league becoming more and more dominated by statistics and Xs and Os, the ability to lead is one that flies under the radar. It takes a rare-breed of a person to be able to get 10 guys to buy into a system, particularly when a few of them are young upstarts who might all believe they’re the team’s best player.
Naturally, it is hard to appreciate all West has done for this team since he was unable to keep it from losing its rudder. And if we’re going to praise him for his leadership, we also have to scrutinize his role as it all fell apart.
But it says a lot that, whenever the team was at its most vulnerable — in Game 6 against the Hawks and in Game 6 against the Wizards — West was the one who turned his leadership into on-court production as well.
I leave you, with a question I posed a few months ago: