Despite featuring two of the “baddest” players in the league in Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green, one of the talking points that circled NBA pundits after the 2015-16 NBA Finals was the perceived lack of toughness in the Warriors’ roster.
Some attributed this to mental toughness, while others believed the style with which the team plays — one that focuses on finesse rather than power — was the reason behind the infamous 3–1 collapse. Whether this belief was shared by the Golden State front office, the team ended up going out and signing another one of the league’s tough guys in David West.
For West, this would be his second year in a row taking a steep discount in order to join a contender. And, like most veteran players who do so while approaching the tail-end of their careers, he was adorned the “ring-chaser” label by a lot of media outlets and fans alike. It was befitting of a player who, despite 13 years of high-caliber play, had never sniffed a NBA Finals series.
The unfortunate part of bearing that label sometimes though, is the perception that the player has a minimal role and is of little value to a team’s on-court production.
Suffice it to say, while his signing was generally viewed as a decent addition to the Warriors’ roster, expectations were reasonably grounded due to his age. For most players, unless they’re LeBron James, approaching 15 years in the league often means a sharp decline in production.
But fast forward to today and we all now know how significant West was to the Warriors’ title run. In short, the man’s still got it.
Hey, ma’, check it out! I’m a point-center
Coming into the season, we knew what West was capable of on the offensive side of the court. Throughout his career, he has always sported a reliable midrange game, he could be counted on to set hard picks and be a threat on the roll or popping out, and he was never afraid of putting in some gritty work on the offensive glass.
Despite this being his 14th year in the league, many of his per 36 stats were remarkably consistent across the board with his career averages (note that per 36 numbers are not perfectly reliable numbers, but instead are being used to help contextualize his production due to his limited minutes as a bench player).
He gave us that reliable midrange, taking the majority of his shots (38.1%) from that area, and hitting them at a very respectable rate (51%) while scoring 4.6 points per game (13.3 per 36). From the NBA’s hustle stats, we can see that he was 4th on the team in screen assists (1.3), which are screens that directly lead to a field goal. And his offensive rebounding rate (6.5 OBR%) matched his level of production while he was on the Pacers and Spurs. Essentially, at the bare minimum, West gave us the value we all had hoped for.
What most of us probably didn’t see coming was how much he would blossom as a passer under the Warriors’ system. Unless you were well versed in his playing history — West used to play point guard in high school — it was easy to fall prey to the conventional basketball belief about bigs being less naturally adept at that part of the game.
While his traditional box score average of 2.2 assists per game doesn’t exactly jump off the screen at you, his rate of 6.4 dimes per 36 almost doubled his career average coming into the season. He accounted for slightly below a quarter of the assists (24.1%) doled out by the team when he was on the court, and often thrived at finding back-cutters for easy layups (Ian Clark says, Thanks!).
By season’s end, West was excelling in a similar role as Green, and ended up becoming one of the more dangerous play-making forward-centers in the league. Among all the players in the NBA, only three bigs (players listed as either a PF or C) ranked in the top 50 for assists per 36. Those three were Green, West and Jokic — in that order.
To better illustrate his effectiveness as a passer, his assist to pass % (11.5%) tied with Green for fourth amongst all forwards in the league. Plus, he had this beauty below.
Touchdown Warriors! pic.twitter.com/AqT20J6HxM— KNBR (@KNBR) May 21, 2017
It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies, though. Does anyone remember the vitriolic hot takes after that devastating season opener against the Spurs? It definitely took some time to integrate West into the offense. And there were plenty of frustrating moments when that second unit he was a part of appeared completely inept at putting the ball in the basket — which might explain his -1.47 ORPM.
Furthermore, while West became a fulcrum in the Warriors’ passing game, his turnover numbers spiked as well (likely due to the increased number of passes he was making every game). Luckily, it’s an area that trended downward for him though, as he went from a TOV% of 31.2% in the regular season to 14.1% in the postseason, which was the second best assist-to-turnover ratio on the team (3.60 AST/TO).
Age is just a number; DBPM is not
Most of the value Warriors fans saw in signing David West last year was an expected improvement on the defensive end for the second unit.
Marreese Speights was a charge-taking savant. But that was pretty much his only saving grace on that side of the court. The capabilities of our interior defense quickly became exposed after Bogut went down with injury in Game 5 of the 2015–16 NBA Finals. In an instant, the team’s depth at center consisted of a washed up Anderson Varajao and a broken Festus Ezeli, to go along with Speights.
If there was any inclination towards the coaching staff’s lack of belief in Speights’ ability to defend in that series, it was the fact that he ended up playing the fewest number of minutes amongst all Warriors players (4.7 MPG). He was nearly unplayable due to his coverage limitations and poor instincts in guarding the pick-and-roll.
Now, despite being no spring chicken, we knew West would at the very least be a smart and capable defender. He has always been a plus on that side of the ball, sporting a positive DBPM (defensive box plus/minus) every year of his career. It was no different this season, as he ended up with a 3.9 DBPM and 2.81 DRPM.
Admittedly, those can be very noisy stats, and his numbers can probably be partly attributed to him playing on one of the top-rated defenses last year. The benefits of playing alongside defensive stalwarts, such as Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Green, would most likely result in a positive impact on any player’s DBPM.
But while there are some who can hide behind that level of talent, if we dig deeper into the numbers, we see that West was an integral part to stopping opponents all year long. He finished with a defensive rating (DEF RTG) of 98.6 while holding opponents to an impressive 41.9 FG% overall.
For contrast, DPOY finalist Rudy Gobert held opponents to a 43.3 FG% and ended the year with a 100.6 DEF RTG. The incumbent DPOY, Green, held them to 43.0% and had a 99.3 DEF RTG himself. This isn’t to suggest that West is better than either of those guys— Gobert and Green are guarding starting-caliber players. It simply points out that West held his own on that end of the court, and then some.
Oh, and that block party that occurred night in and night out? To my surprise, West averaged 0.7 blocks per game and accounted for 38.4% of the team’s blocks while on the floor. His career average is 0.8 blocks per game and he nearly matched that output while playing half the amount of minutes he was used to. Not bad for a man who was thought by many to be on his way out due to Father Time.
Tough guys finish first
Now, by most review standards, a comparison between results and expectations is made to reduce the totality of a player’s season to a single consumable scoring mark.
My initial instinct was to use the basic scholastic A-F grading scale. But considering West probably hasn’t been inside of a classroom for well-over a decade, it didn’t seem to be the most appropriate way of depicting the production of a grizzled veteran in his mid-thirties.
So, after some thought, I decided that with a scowl befitting a disgruntled action movie hero who has grown weary of the world, a scale of 1 to 5 John McClanes would sufficiently characterize the level of bad-assery David West exhibited as a Warrior this past 2016–17 season.
He wasn’t peak McClane (so no Die Hard), but he certainly wasn’t the washed-up-and-only-holding-onto-a-slim-chance-of-glory ring chaser some thought he’d turn out to be before the year began (aka A Good Day to Die Hard). Instead, he exceeded the expectations most of us had for him and surprised many with how well he fit into the system with some sneaky, premium passing skills to boot. That being said, I give him 4 out of 5 McClanes, equating him to Die Hard With a Vengeance.
He came in a little flat, surprised us with a twist, and finished it out strong.
The center position was supposed to be a weakness for the Warriors after losing Bogut and Ezeli. But what transpired instead was the formation of a three-headed hydra, center-by-committee monster, that gave Steve Kerr the various looks and skill-sets with which he could abuse opposing teams.
David West played an invaluable role in creating that beast and his efforts were ultimately rewarded with the championship ring he’s been fighting for his whole career. Congrats to him and let’s hope he gets to fit a second ring with us by the same time next year.
Source: Basketball Reference
As an aside, just wanted to briefly introduce myself to GSOM. Long time reader, first time writer here. I’ve ghosted around the forums for a little over four seasons now and love the level of insight and commentary provided by many of you. I’ll be looking forward to joining the discussions and contributing more articles and recaps throughout the upcoming season. Let’s go WARRIORS!
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