How David West has become one of the NBA's best passing big men

USA TODAY Sports

Old dogs can sometimes learn new tricks. Just look at how David West has channeled his inner Vlade Divac and become such a great distributor in the high post.

If you're looking for someone to change their game to fit the new realities of your roster, you're generally not going to look in the direction of the 32-year-old former all-star who has carved out a specific, effective niche for himself. You wouldn't want to mess too much with success. And if you're David West, you wouldn't want to fundamentally change your game.

The Pacers didn't quite make West transform, to be sure. West was still the same hulking, creative low-post scorer with an automatic mid-range game who bailed out the Pacers in tight spots.

But there was one significant difference, one that helped the Pacers weather the storm after losing Danny Granger for the season. More than in any other year, West was a dynamite passer, setting players up in the high post and acting as the hub for all the other things the Pacers like to do offensively.

Playing West a lot in the high post makes sense. As one of the league's top mid-range shooters and also one of its more creative scorers when isolating late in the shot clock from either elbow, it was always natural to give West the ball in this spot. But the Pacers often preferred to have West and Roy Hibbert initiate more offense on the blocks in the low post in their first year together. Granger and Darren Collison did a lot of playmaking, and West did more scoring. Once Granger went down and Collison ceded his spot to George Hill, though, the Pacers went to a lot more Flex sets, inverting the floor and putting West in the high post as a playmaker.

Sometimes, West truly was the initiator of the offense. Indiana ran cutters off him in so many different ways, using West's passing to players on the move as a strength. Here, Paul George rubs off him to cut to the basket, and West finds him with a beautiful pass.


Here, West turns and screens for George Hill to get free for a jumper.


And here, West feeds Hill again, this time as Hill backs his smaller man into the post for a short jumper.


These are simple read-and-react plays, but the Pacers' use of West in the high post went far beyond that. Indiana would use West as the outlet to run George through his maze of screens (see here for more on this), and West was constantly able to find George or any other open wing as needed. Like here, for example:


Indiana also loved using West as an entry passer to get Roy Hibbert a short hook shot deep in the paint on the move. As everyone else watched the ball, Hibbert would sneak in front of his post defender and West would find him as he snuck in before anyone could notice. Here's a montage of West-to-Hibbert passes of this ilk from the season.


But even this doesn't explain West's sudden jump in court vision. it'd be one thing if West was simply a good passer when he was picking out options on set plays, but he's just as good, if not better, when thinking quickly on his feet. These days, your roll man in any sort of pick and roll has to be able to quickly comprehend his options. Defenses stunt to him, trap him, leave him alone ... it all depends on the roller, the shooters around him and the way the defense generally likes to defend the play. An inability to read these situation has doomed many young combo forwards that otherwise have all the skills to play the position in the modern game.

West have become an expert at picking out the right pass to make in these situations. He especially killed Miami, which likes to trap the ball-handler and rotate hard at the roll man. Watch how he cracks a hole in the two remaining Miami defenders once he receives the ball at the top of the key here.


It would have been easy for West to shoot the jumper or default to swinging the ball to Lance Stephenson in the corner. Instead, he patiently drove, drawing Udonis Haslem to him, then delivered a perfect touch pass to Hibbert for the layup.

West is equally adept finding shooters and cutters in pick-and-roll situations. He uses his understanding of the entire floor to manipulate the defense with his eyes. Notice how he pretends like he wants to find Ian Mahinmi at the basket, which gets Harrison Barnes out of position to defend his man in the corner.

Screen_shot_2013-10-09_at_7

That leaves Sam Young wide open for three, and West finds him. The whole sequence was like a quarterback going through progressions as he fools the defense.

Screen_shot_2013-10-09_at_7

West can also make these kinds of reads on the side of the court too. One of the Pacers' pet plays from the high post is to give the ball to West, have him hand off to a guard coming from the corner to the top of the key, then pop to the baseline to either shoot the open shot or make the right pass. The decision must be quick, particularly against aggressive defenses. Watch how West catches the ball by his knees and finds Hibbert with a perfect pass in one motion here.

West_to_hibbert_medium

And if that first option is cut off, West is quickly able to find other cutters. Look how quick and on target this difficult pass to Stephenson is.


Combine that passing ability with his shooting and crafty low-post game, and West has figured out the blueprint for staying effective into his 30s. George may be the focal point and Hibbert may be the big body that needs touches, but the Pacers' offense doesn't work without West's ability to grease wheels. Even now, he may be Indiana's most important player.

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