The NBA takes a physical toll on power forwards which creates a cruel quandary. By the time players figure out all of the keys to succeed in the league, the athletic body blessed with big hops and quickness is diminished.
As a young, talented player out of Xavier, David West arrived in the league full of game and confidence. He quickly learned there is more to the NBA game than scoring buckets through one's physical gifts.
The mind becomes as valuable as the feet and hands offering ways to nullify a physical disadvantage through smart play. Scouting an opponent to know when and where he likes the ball. Using leverage and making contact to keep a leaper grounded and off balance. Then understanding where you succeed with the ball and working to carve out that position to attack. All lessons learned the hard way in the NBA.
Veteran bigs delivered those lessons to D-West and now that he has all of that knowledge he's happy to offer the young fellas making noise in the league some tough lessons.
"It's a part of the cycle of the NBA," West said. "As you get older you get stronger. You learn how to manipulate these games one after the other and meet the different challenges that each guy poses."
On paper, West matching up with Serge Ibaka, Kenneth Faried, Thaddeus Young, Tristan Thompson and most recently, Anthony Davis may appear to be a tough assignment for the old pro. Those guys are long, athletic and can drive opponents nuts with their relentless play. But they don't know how to "manipulate" the game yet, like West does.
"I approach each guy differently, try to understand their tendencies," West said. "Scouting is part of it. Most nights I'm going to be at a disadvantage athletically, but I just try to stay between the basket and the guy I'm guarding and make them try to finish through me and over me as opposed to around me."
Patience and physical play off the ball work wonders. West can go about his work in stealth mode as he did against Denver when Faried repeatedly headed to the other end of the court while looking back at the ref in disbelief with a look that screamed, "Did you see what he just did to me?" The frustrated Faried was never much of a factor.
Against Young and Philadelphia, West had to keep the lengthy forward away from his comfort zone with the ball in position to make a play with his left hand. Young never drew West out behind the arc to take any shots and thus never made a dent in West's game plan to win the matchup by forcing Young to use his weak hand.
West really took advantage of rookie, top overall pick Anthony Davis in New Orleans on Saturday as he threw the Pacers on his back to complete an impressive comeback win. West was relentless in attacking Davis on the offensive end.
The long, bouncy Davis would appear to be a nightmare for West to get clean looks at the rim, but instead the ol' vet repeatedly muscled the wiry Davis out of his comfort zone and off balance to keep him from contesting fade away "jumpers" that were soakin wet for West down the stretch.
West can't help but laugh at times when he's frustrating a young eager opponent and after averaging over 17 points and 8 rebounds through 27 games, West has been laughing a lot this year. But in the life cycle of the NBA, West knows it is just a matter of time before those young guys are passing his lessons on to a new crop of eager bigs trying to figure out how to succeed in the NBA.