West big reason for Hibbert's emergence, team's improvement
He believes one factor outweighs them all: David West.
"He's probably the biggest reason I'm an All-Star this year," Hibbert said. "Hands-down, he's helped my career so much offensively and defensively. We communicate really well on the court. To tell you the truth, we don't even have to talk.
"We just know each other really well. As weird as that sounds, we can just look at each other and we know what to do. He's helped me out so much. No disrespect to Tyler (Hansbrough) or Josh McRoberts or Jeff Foster but since D-West got here my game has elevated so much. He's the reason why I'm an All-Star, hands-down."
As West prepares to face his former team, the New Orleans Hornets, tonight in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, he is doing what he usually does: making it about anything but himself. He has accepted a lesser role in the offense -- though that is beginning to evolve -- and settled in nicely as a clutch scorer, veteran leader and voice of experience in the locker room.
As such, he is taking the approach that this first reunion with the only other franchise he has known in the NBA as just another game.
"I enjoyed my time in New Orleans. It's one of the most unique places to live in the United States and I definitely enjoyed that," he said. "But it just got to a point, especially with what was going on with the team, it was just kind of a domino effect. Things started happening over the last few years that just made that situation way too unstable for what I needed at this point in my career. …
"I dealt with (the emotions) a few months ago. I've just moved beyond it now. They're a different team, headed in a different direction."
While New Orleans is at the bottom of the Western Conference, the Pacers have made steps toward the top in the East since his arrival. West is not just the main reason Hibbert has achieved All-Star status, but one of the keys to the team's 19-12 start.
"He's tough, he's physical, he can rebound for you so on the offensive end, he makes them that much better," said Cleveland Coach Byron Scott, who coached West in New Orleans from 2007-10. "The addition of David and the way they played last year in the playoffs, I don't know but I'm pretty sure everybody over there is thinking they can take the next step. So that's a great addition for them."
One of the reasons the veteran power forward signed with the Pacers was the presence of Hibbert, a true center, a low-post threat offensively and a rim-protector defensively.
That idea has been reinforced since he joined the Pacers as West has not only been a strong on-court complement with his ability to score from the mid- or high-post as well as down on the block, but off the court, where he offers seasoned perspective.
"He's such a big target and there's always just opportunity to get him the basketball," West said. "I think he demands that he be accounted for. He just makes the game a lot easier for other people whether or not he's getting the ball and scoring, just being around the basket. He's got a great IQ, so it's been easy to kind of figure out certain things with him and how we can best work together. That's probably been the easiest part of this transition for me, the ability to kind of blend in to what he's doing and figure out ways to make us successful.
"He's very rarely out of position. That goes to his IQ. He's a very smart big guy with a good touch. Sometimes we don't have to speak, he understands kind of where to get to before he needs to be there -- just making the game easier."
West could also be describing himself. He has been the consummate teammate, almost to a fault. A player who had averaged 19 points and eight rebounds per game the past five seasons is at 12.5 points and 6.8 boards with the Pacers.
"His greatest strength since he's gotten here is his desire to just fit in and be a part of this team and do whatever is going to help this be a team-first team," Coach Frank Vogel said. "He's our best ball-mover, he shares the ball, he's very, very unselfish and I've challenged him really over the last week or so to continue to really look for his offense. The more aggressive he is, the more the defense is going to come to him and that's just going to free up his passing even more."
Given he was coming off major knee surgery and had little time to build his game conditioning -- not to mention rebuild confidence in the knee -- West had to go through both of those steps on the fly with his new team.
Recently, however, he has showed signs of regaining his past productivity. In the past six games he has averaged 16.3 points and 7.7 rebounds, shooting 52 percent from the floor.
"I'm going to continue to improve," he said. "In terms of my aggression, I'm going to continue to rev that up, just try go be aggressive, be really assertive. When I have an advantage I want to make sure that advantage is seen and make plays when I've got the ball in my hands. Just be a second director out there, getting guys where they need to be and doing things the right way for the good of the team.
"We haven't been in all the situations you can be in and that just takes time. But every game we have, every practice we have, that level of familiarity grows and we're able to get better. That's the biggest thing for myself and the guys on this team, that as we grow we're getting better. And as I improve with my health, just getting more confidence and figuring out the best way to make an impact, hopefully the better that will be for the team."