Mark Montieth headshot

Preseason Preview: West, Bench, and Intensity

by Mark Montieth

October 10, 2012

The question was still a work in progress when David West tried to cut it off, knowing full well where it was headed and preferring not to waste anyone's time.

"You obviously got better as the year went along last year and were very good at the end. But did we really see ..."

"No."

"You ..."

"No."

"At all ..."

"No."

"At any point last year?"

"No."

West, whose late resurgence on a healing knee was crucial to the Pacers strong finish last season, plans to re-reveal his true identity throughout this season, which begins tonight, sort of, with the opening pre-season game against Minnesota in Fargo, N.D. The condition of the power forward's surgically repaired left knee is one of the team's best arguments for improvement, and should be crucial to its ability to contend in the Eastern Conference.

West has only had a week's worth of practices, but so far, so good. His mobility has been one of the bright spots of the Pacers' early workouts, so much so that whippersnappers like Paul George, who is a decade younger, are calling him names like "Young Legs."

"His step (toward the basket) is a lot better, and he's able to get up and down the floor," George said. "Last year we definitely noticed it. He tried to stay away from that leg. Now … look at him. He looks like he's ready."

West, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in March of 2011 on a driving dunk while playing for New Orleans, played all 66 games for the Pacers last season, but his scoring average dropped six points and his rebounding average dropped by one from the previous one. His numbers improved during the playoff run (15.3 points, 8.5 rebounds), but he believes he's got more to offer now that he's had a summer to train, as opposed to merely rehabilitate, as he was doing a year ago.

"We were watching some film from last year," West said. "I honestly don't know how I played. I probably just wanted to be out there. It definitely feels a lot better. I'm a lot more confident.

"The body's a funny thing, man. It's one of those things that takes time to heal. I just feel like I can do a lot of the things I used to do."

It likely will take some time to see evidence of that. Coach Frank Vogel prefers to hold West, and perhaps Roy Hibbert, out of the first couple of preseason games, but expects West to want to play long enough tonight to test his healthier knee.

The remaining discoveries during preseason play will largely come from the reserves, most of whom are new to the scene and vital to the cause. Vogel doesn't plan to utilize a platoon system, but he does plan to go 10 deep, and occasionally will have five reserves on the floor together. That group includes point guard D.J. Augustin, shooting guard Lance Stephenson, newly acquired center Ian Manhimi, and forwards Gerald Green and Tyler Hansbrough. Vogel has praise for each of them, but went out of his way Tuesday to praise another forward, Jeff Pendergraph, who could push Hansbrough for playing time. Yet another forward, Sam Young, also has impressed.

Vogel will use the bench liberally, particularly in the early preseason games, to give them a chance to blend while the starters remain fresh. What will the Pacers get from the backups?

"We'll get toughness," Hibbert said. "We're a lot tougher than we were last year. We're a lot more experienced."

Vogel said there are few schematic changes from last season, but he expects offensive improvement because of the time the starters will have to meld during training camp. Somewhat new to one another toward the end of last season, when point guard George Hill replaced Darren Collison in the starting lineup for the final nine games and playoffs, they should be much better acquainted by the season opener on Oct. 31.

Danny Granger's sore knee remains an obstacle to that goal—he likely will be held out of the first exhibition game or two—but he's been able to participate in offensive walk-throughs and other drills.

With and without him, ball movement has been a major emphasis of the preseason, particularly as it pertains to Hibbert in the low post.

"We're probably further along offensively with how we play in terms of our post offense and the spacing involved with it, and the spacing of (the entire offense)," Vogel said.

Defensively, Vogel is less pleased. He stopped a controlled scrimmage on Monday to rail against his players' fouling tendencies, and repeated his complaint with reporters on Tuesday.

"We're still fouling too much," he said. "It's something we have to stay on top of. We want to play with physicality. We're not going to be the least-fouling team in the league. When you do that you're not playing hard enough. But you don't want to be the worst, either."