Tuesday, December 30, 2008

David West: Self-Made Star

The other day, my friend and I were discussing NBA stardom. The conversation naturally moved to the Hornets, and he argued that David West would be nothing without Chris Paul. Having watched D-West closely since his rookie year in 2003-04 (the first year I lived in New Orleans... and second year the team was here), I felt the need to defend a man that I've witnessed develop into an NBA star. Not a superstar. Not widely regarded outside of sports circles. But a legitimate star, nonetheless.

I can vividly remember a Hornets game I attended in 2003. It was Friday, November 21. My girlfriend (at the time) was in town for her birthday. And, bless her heart, she was kind enough to spend that evening at the New Orleans Arena. The Hornets were playing the Pacers. The winner of that game would go on to have the best record in the Eastern Conference. This was one season before the brawl at The Palace... this was when Jermaine O'Neal still mattered, before Ron Artest went psycho on the world, and while Reggie Miller was heading toward retirement. The game was close throughout -- especially the 4th quarter. With fewer than 30 seconds to go, the Hornets were leading by one point (75-74) when Reggie Miller was fouled and (obviously) hit both free throws. At the other end, Tim Floyd ran a play to get Baron Davis (who was shooting out of his mind that game... 7/10 on threes) an open shot. It didn't go in, and the Hornets were forced to foul. Luckily, O'Neal missed both free throws and gave the team one last chance with a little over a second left. With a timeout, the Hornets advanced the ball to halfcourt and drew up a play to get the ball beneath the basket for a quick layup. David West got the ball right under the basket. He tossed it up and missed as time expired. I was in the lower bowl on the opposite end of the court and remember watching him try to bat in the offensive rebound, but the clock had already run out. That is one of my most lasting memories of David West's rookie season.

And it's amazing to see how far he's come since that game. He had a solid showing in the Hornets' first-round playoff series against the Heat that year. But he was injured for 52 games the next season, so I still considered him the young backup to PJ Brown in 05-06 when it was announced that our starting center -- an All Star two seasons before -- was traded away, forcing PJ to shift over to that role and bringing West into the starting lineup. At the time, I thought the move was crazy (Jamaal Magloire for Desmond Mason leaving us with a starting frontcourt of out-of-position PJ and inexperienced West). But that was the year that D-West started to come into his own. True, the beginning of West's rise to stardom corresponded with Chris Paul's first year in the league. But don't think that West is nothing without Paul. West has an array of post moves and can nail baseline jumpers in his sleep. He is a midrange magician. In that 05-06 season, West hit three last-second game-winning jumpers (vs Hou, vs Mil, vs Was). Only one of them was assisted by CP. Obviously, his game benefits greatly from playing with Chris Paul. But 1) whose wouldn't? and 2) he's much more than just a catch-and-shoot forward.

West has always been a smart on-the-ball defender, averaging only 2.5 fouls per game over his career. He's become a solid off-the-ball defender, averaging 1.2 blocks per game over this season and last. And you can't ignore his rebounding. It's taken a dip this season, but looking at 06-07 and 07-08, you can see he was corralling 2.4 offensive boards per game (8.1 and 8.9 overall, respectively, in those seasons). Getting back to that "catch and shoot" notion, he's making 47.8% of his shots this season (which is incredibly good when you consider how many of those shots have been more than 15 feet away from the basket. And his free throw percentage this season (89.6%) ranks second among all power forwards in the league.

As admitted earlier, CP has made West ... and Chandler and Peja and Mo-Pete and Posey and Rasual Butler and everyone around him better. That's to be expected when playing with a kid on the path to being one of the greatest players in the history of the sport. Chris Paul will be mentioned alongside Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Oscar Robertson. He's not just a superstar; he's a legend in the making. And right now that superstar is playing with a star. A star who, two nights ago, hit another game winner. Against the Indiana Pacers. Not too bad for a kid who botched a crucial lay up when he first came into the league. He might've taken a while to reach this status, but David West is an NBA star. Make no mistake about it.


Niall Doherty said...

Nice post. West has definitely benefited from playing alongside Chris Paul, but I'm sure he'd put up good numbers without CP. He'd probably even have a higher scoring average, because he's the only other Hornet that can consistently create his own shot.

The best thing about West is that he works relentlessly to improve his game. His first two years in the League, I didn't know he could hit a jump shot, but he's become automatic from 17 feet and has even shown 3-point range this season.

You mention at the end there that Paul will finish his career among the greats like Jordan and Magic, so hopefully West will finish his among the great sidekicks (and bonafide stars in their own right) such as Pippen and Worthy.

mW said...

Agreed. No need not to think that West isn't an All-Star in his own right. CP doesn't make David West good. CP's collaboration with DX makes the Hornets look good.

Any player with skill can look good and score and otherwise fill up the statsheet. But put them together, and you have a great team. I think that's the distinction that a lot of people miss.