NBA Saturday: West Makes Presence Felt in Indiana
The Indiana Pacers have been the pleasant surprise of the 2011-12 NBA season, finishing with 42 wins and the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Indiana has exceeded all expectations, in large part because of David West. The 31-year-old, who signed with the Pacers last offseason, has changed the culture in Indiana and made his presence felt in a variety of ways.
On the court, West has been extremely productive as a scorer and facilitator. He touches the ball on nearly every possession and creates for himself and others. During the Pacers’ first-round series against the Orlando Magic, West has been phenomenal, averaging 13.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3 assists while shutting down Ryan Anderson.
However, West’s biggest contributions have come off the court. West has been the epitome of a veteran leader, which is exactly what Indiana had been searching for in recent years. He has also instilled confidence in this young team. From day one, West made it clear that he came to Indiana to compete for a championship. He had offers from other teams, including the Boston Celtics, but chose Indiana because he believed they were on the verge of contending. From the moment that West arrived, the Pacers were no longer an up-and-coming team satisfied with just making the playoffs. They were now a contender and entered every game with confidence.
“When he speaks, we all listen,” Roy Hibbert said of West. “He’s a great person to have in the locker room. He’s somebody you can always talk to and he has a lot of experience. For me, personally, he’s the reason I was an All-Star. The past three years I was here, we had (power forwards) who couldn’t really score so that brought all the attention to me in the post. Now, they have to respect David West’s scoring presence. Defensively, he’s been great. Offensively, he’s been the horse that’s carrying us in terms of scoring in the paint. I’m really happy that we have him on the team.”
While West has grown close with his teammates, he’s also not afraid to hold them accountable when they make mistakes. It’s not uncommon to see West barking at his fellow Pacers on the court. He’s a big fan of constructive criticism because he believes that’s the only way to improve as a team.
“I just think that’s what you’re supposed to do,” West said. “When there’s room to help these guys, you help them. It’s not always preaching to them either. It’s also setting examples and correcting them the right way. I’m not a big rah-rah guy, but I know their abilities and they know I’m going to be there to point stuff out. It’s not about embarrassing somebody, it’s just for the betterment of this team and to make sure that going forward we make the right play.”
“I’ve just been echoing to these guys that we’re trying to play the right way, trying to make the right play every single time,” West said. “We’re trying to cut down on all the ‘my bads’ and excuses. This time of the year, there’s no room for that. We’ve got to be intent on trying to make the right play every single time. I think we’re doing that. I’m just trying to make sure that we continue that trend because that’s the only way we’re going to be successful. The great teams in this league capitalize and do it. I think that’s what makes San Antonio so good, they make the right play every single time. That’s what we’re trying to become.”
Even though this season has been condensed and unconventional, West hasn’t had any problem fitting in with the Pacers. As the team’s elder statesman, he garnered respect early on and his teammates embraced him. In turn, West made it clear that he was there to help take Indiana to the next level.
“I just came in and tried to be myself,” West said. “I’m not one of these guys that try to assimilate or make people like me. You’ve got to deal with who David West is because I’m not going to change. I think that’s most important when you inject yourself into an unfamiliar or new situation, you’ve got to be confident in who you are and I came into here with that confidence about what I can bring to the table. I think, ultimately, that’s helped us and helped push us forward toward progress in the right direction.”
Paul George, who is 10 years younger than West, says the Pacers wouldn’t be where they are today without the guidance and contributions of their veteran power forward.
“He’s our backbone,” George said of West. “He’s brought a lot. Not only is he a shot maker, but also a playmaker at the power forward position. He’s been in the league for awhile and been to the playoffs so its great teaching points for myself and all the other guys on the roster. It’s great. He tells me all the ins and outs, the do’s and don’ts. He just makes the game so much easier for me. When he talks, I listen.”
The Pacers may have exceeded expectations during the regular season, but they’re not done surprising people. They’re determined to make a deep postseason run, with West leading the way.
Back From China, Brooks Ready for Free Agency
Aaron Brooks is back in the United States and he can’t wait to get back in the NBA. After signing abroad during the lockout, Brooks spent the duration of this season with the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association. While he enjoyed his experience in China, he’s looking forward to resuming his NBA career.
“I had a good time over there and I don’t regret my decision to play over there at all,” Brooks told HOOPSWORLD in a phone interview. “It was an excellent life experience. I do appreciate the NBA more after that though. You get used to a certain lifestyle when it comes to traveling and staying in certain hotels. If there was one thing that was different about the league over there, it’s the travel and hotels. You’re on regular flights, flying coach and sitting in the middle seat sometimes. Some of the hotels are less than five-stars. The NBA kind of spoils you and I definitely missed some of that stuff. As far as the league though, I definitely had a good time over there.”
Brooks led Guangdong all the way to the CBA Finals, where he averaged over 30 points per game, but ultimately lost to Stephon Marbury and the Beijing Ducks.
“It’s a different type of game, a little bit more physical,” Brooks said. “Overall, the experience was interesting and I had a good time. It wasn’t bad at all. That league is really developing and the fans are really passionate about it. They’re using the NBA as a model and their doing a good job developing their league.”
In March, as Brooks’ team was competing for the CBA championship, Phoenix Suns’ general manager Lance Blanks traveled to China to meet with his point guard. Brooks, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, said that the meeting went well but he isn’t sure what the future holds.
“We just discussed where things are at,” Brooks said. “They wanted to know where my mind was and what I wanted to do. They have a tough decision with Steve Nash. Nobody knows what Nash is going to do so that’s kind of putting everything on hold. Once he figures out what he’s going to do, I’ll come up after that, which is understandable.”
“I wouldn’t mind staying in Phoenix,” Brooks said. “I just need someone to make a commitment. I don’t have a preference where I play, I just want to play ball for someone who wants me on their team. That’s it. I’m just hoping to make the best of any opportunity.”
While Brooks is keeping his options open, he does admit that he wants to start for a team next season.
“I want to be a starter,” Brooks said. “I definitely feel that I’m a starter in this league. If I’m not a starter, I’m definitely trying to be Sixth Man of the Year. No matter what happens, I want to go out there and outplay my contract. I want to be successful and contribute to a team.”
Brooks is excited to sign a new deal this summer, mainly because he’ll have some job security and stability going forward.
“I’m ready for this process,” Brooks said. “I’ve played on this rookie contract for so long and now, after all of these years, I’m looking forward to finding out where I’m going to be for awhile. I’m happy to finally get to this point. We’ll find out what happens on July 1. I’m feeling good and hopefully it goes well.”
In the meantime, Brooks is doing plenty of work in the community. The Aaron Brooks Foundation, which works with a number of schools in Seattle, will be holding a bowling event that will be attended by several of his teammates from China. Brooks will also participate in Spokane’s Hoopfest on June 30. For more information on the foundation or to make a donation, click here.
HOOPSWORLD Chats: There are two chats on today’s schedule. Susan Bible’s weekly chat will get underway at 11 p.m. EST. Derek Page will hold his weekly chat at 5 p.m. ET. Make sure to submit your questions early because these chats fill up fast. To view HOOPSWORLD’s upcoming chat schedule, click here.