David West has long been the Indiana Pacers' security blanket. Need a strong voice in the locker room? West is there. Need someone to cling to when the East's top-seed is on the brink of elimination in Atlanta? West is there. Need to make one move in free agency that will fundamentally change everything for a franchise? West was, and continues to be, there.
In the four seasons since signing with Indiana, the Blue-and-Gold's rock has been exactly as advertised. He has been there to provide steadfast stability as well as pacifying predictability.
Nonetheless, the possibility looms that come Friday -- the day after the NBA's February 19 trading deadline -- David West's presence, which the Pacers rely upon, may no longer be there.
A little over a week ago, Grantland's Zach Lowe took an in-depth look at the "race" for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, this nugget of trade chatter regarding David West was within his profile of the Pacers:
In the bigger picture, the Pacers have to decide what they want to be this season - and how David West fits into that. There were rumblings about six weeks ago that the Pacers had made West available for a first-round pick, but those rumblings have quieted, and that price is probably too high. West is in decline and has a thorny player option for next season, but he can get you buckets in crunch time; the Pacers wouldn't have escaped the Hawks last season without him.
Given that his legacy in Indiana will likely always be predominantly focused on his professional approach to the game as well as his commitment to his craft, accepting David West's perceived "decline" may be a bitter pill for some to swallow, even if the signs of it are becoming increasingly difficult to deny.
Here are some numbers that stick out the most when evaluating No. 21's season as a whole:
12.9: The longest average field goal distance (feet) of David West's 12-year NBA career. It is no secret that West has drifted further away from the basket this season. According to NBA.com's new Play Type data, the Pacers' interior bully is only executing post-ups on 23.6% of his possessions.
47.8: West's percentile when his points per possession (0.83) on post up plays is ranked against the rest of the league. In comparison, Roy Hibbert's points per possession on post ups ranks in the 61st percentile. David has struggled to overpower or punish opponents in the paint this season. This has been especially obvious against some of the league's more physical interior presences. Take for example the team's match-up with Detroit back in December, when he scored just six points on 12 shots.
-4.4: Net Rating, opponents are outscoring the Pacers by 4.4 points per 100 possessions with David West on the court. Prior to George Hill's return, West's Net Rating (-9.2) was the worst of any Pacer this season.
0.41: West's Real Plus Minus (RPM) defined by ESPN.com as a "player's estimated on-court impact on team performance, measured in net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions. RPM takes into account teammates, opponents and additional factors" is ranked lower than both Lavoy Allen's (2.77) and Luis Scola's (1.23).
Of course, given that he missed the first 15 games of the season with what he, at the time, described to the Indy Star as a "tough, tough sprain" it would be somewhat surprising if the 35-year old's averages did not see a bit of a dip on the season. Overall, the Pacers have been mauled by the injury bug this season and being forced to (re)build chemistry with a new cast of characters practically every other game has a serious learning curve, even for a 12-year NBA veteran.
Given this caveat, what has perhaps been more disconcerting than the slide in his on-court impact have been the cracks in the professionalism of his on-court demeanor. At times,West has appeared somewhat disinterested in as well as disgruntled with the process. The very same player who once would have unleashed the wrath of his signature scowl at Paul George for making a cavalier behind the back pass in traffic has been guilty of developing his own brand of lack of mental focus this season (vine via @its_whitney):
From the top of the East to 12th, it is in plays like this that No. 21 has worn his frustration on his sleeve.
"It just doesn't sit well, knowing where we've been. It's hard going through this," West told the Indy Star after his team's fifth consecutive loss back in January.
But then a few not-so-strange things happened which made everything change. George Hill returned to the starting lineup and Larry Bird publicly broached the possibility of Paul George coming back this season.
Since Larry Bird's comments on February 3, the Pacers are 4-1 and David West is averaging a team high 15.2 points and 9.8 rebounds. Take a look at the splits in his advanced stats before and after the team's head honcho spoke.
|David West's ON Court Impact||Offrtg||Netrtg||Ast ratio||OReB%||REB%||EFG%|
|Last 5 Games||117.9||16.1||20.3||27.4||52.7||55.2%|
His Net Rating (16.1) is the best on the Pacers in the month of February and over the last five games he is part of two of the team's top three two-man units. What these numbers go to show is that -- with the proper motivation -- No. 21 is still more than capable of making a major impact for the Pacers or perhaps even another team if they are "hungry" enough to make a solid offer and Indiana obliges, per Grantland's Zach Lowe:
But it wouldn't be getting peak George, and Indy has to jump over three teams - Boston, Detroit, and Brooklyn - just to get into the no. 9 slot. Trading West could accelerate a mini-rebuild, but West's $12.6 million player option for next season is an unpleasant pill. Corey Brewer quietly declined his own player option to grease his trade to Houston, but West's option is much bigger, and he can't afford to close off any paths to money as he approaches 35. It's unclear whether any team - Toronto, Charlotte, or someone else - is primed to surrender a first-round pick for West. If the Pacers can't find a hungry taker, they might stay the course and settle for a smaller move.
Whether the Pacers "stay the course" or "accelerate a mini-rebuild" on Thursday, know that there is still value in David West being there no matter where there is.
If Indiana stands pat and West's "post-Larry Bird comments" climb continues, then there is reason to believe that when the real Paul George returns to the court, the real David West might just fully and completely return, too.