When the Pacers first gathered for training camp, Frank Vogel walked to the white board in the locker room and wrote one word.
They were a talented and deep team, he thought, which meant everyone was going to have to sacrifice something for the greater good of contending for a championship. Some guys would play fewer minutes than they wanted and some would get fewer shots than they wanted, but that was how it was going to have to be.
David West didn't have to be told any more than that. Through 10 NBA seasons he had seen what contributed to winning and what didn't, and with Paul George and Lance Stephenson emerging as more legitimate offensive forces, he knew he was going to move aside, figuratively speaking, at the offensive end.
“It's a part of winning,” he said Friday, following the Pacers' 93-66 win over Washington at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “We're trying to win and we're trying to win big. You just want to be part of a winning situation. Twenty-nine wins to this point (against seven losses), so we're going to stick to what we're doing.”
West scored 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting against the Wizards, just the fourth time this season he's gone for 20 or more. He's had two seasons in his NBA career, with New Orleans, when he averaged 20 or more points. He's down to 12.4 now, lowest since his second season in the league in 204-05.
He's averaging 11 shots per game this season, down from 13.8 last year, and further down from his peak average of 17 shots with the Hornets in 2007-08. His field goal percentage has dropped to .469, down from .498 last season, which might or might not be linked to his attempts. His sacrifice hasn't been monumental, or singular, but it's a sacrifice just the same to allow George and Stephenson more opportunities. They're 23 and blossoming. He's 33 and trying to hold off rust.
Vogel brought up West's sacrifices before Friday's game, and quickly got around to it again afterward.
“I want to say something about David West,” he said. “You look at his numbers and it looks like he's having just an OK season. The son-of-a-gun could average 20 and 10 if he wanted to. He's leading our team in sacrifice and team play.
“We've got people who can individually do great things, but we're trying to do something great as a team. To do that, guys are going to have to sacrifice minutes or shots, and they're going to have to play the right way on the offensive end. He's taken that to heart more than anybody.”
West's teammates recognize it. The Pacers are a mature and professional team and self-govern themselves awfully well. West, however, remains the closest they have to a leader. If the starting five were taking a road trip, he'd be driving. George and George Hill might be in the back seat slapping and kicking one another, Roy Hibbert might be sticking his head out the window and yelling at people and Stephenson might be seeing how loudly he can belch, but West would be the one barking warnings and threatening to stop the car.
So, the youngsters enjoy seeing their big brother flex his muscles now and then. Friday's game was the first time this season West has lead the team in scoring, and he did it in just 27 minutes. His teammates reveled in the throwback performance.
“David West has always been our backbone, someone that we always rely on late in a game,” George said. “I just thought he did a great job of looking for his. I think sometimes he’s looking to be a facilitator and most of the time we need him to be a scorer for us.”
Maybe not most of the time, but some of the time. Friday, for example. George continued his recent offensive decline by hitting just 2-of-14 shots, but made up for that with 14 rebounds and six assists, both team highs, not to mention flypaper defense on Wizards guard Bradley Beal, who hit just 6-of-18 shots. Danny Granger hit just 1-of-7 shots off the bench. The Wizards had nobody to matchup with West, so he took advantage.
West did it despite wearing a padded, fingerless glove on his right hand, given to him by assistant athletic trainer Carl Eaton. He had suffered a bruised and swollen knuckle on his index finger in Wednesday's loss at Atlanta, and needed the extra protection. He expects to have to wear it for a few more months. He said it restricted his follow-through slightly, but he was able to adjust.
“It is what it is,” he said. “It's not something that's going to keep me down.”
Actually, it looked like West shot better with the glove. He had hit just 10-of-30 shots over the previous three games and showed no hints of impairment.
Maybe he should wear it for the rest of the season.
Or maybe not.
“As soon as I can take a hit on (the knuckle), I'm taking it off,” he said.
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