Published November 20, 2014
If David West doesn't get an All-Star nod despite the myriad ways he's helped the Hornets win far more games than anyone expected, he can deal with that.
New Orleans coach Monty Williams might not take it as well.
"He's one of the top power forwards in the game (but) people don't recognize him as such," Williams said, seemingly annoyed by attention lavished on emerging stars like the Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin and Minnesota's Kevin Love.
"Everybody's talking about Griffin and Love for the All-Star game and they've got losing records, and (West is) dropping numbers on people every night without even getting a sniff," Williams said. If "you're not winning games, you shouldn't get a chance to play in the All-Star game. David has proven he is an All-Star and he's putting up the same kind of numbers and yet nobody's talking about him."
West's 19 points per game leads a Hornets squad that, more than half way through the regular season, is surprisingly in the running to host a first-round playoff series. Going into Thursday's games, New Orleans had the third-best record in West and was riding a 10-game winning streak.
Yet as of earlier this month he was not among even the top 10 forwards in his conference in All-Star balloting.
"I know that I don't play that entertaining style of basketball that's going to make all the highlights, but I just try to be effective and efficient in what I do," West said. "I'm not playing this game to get selected to All-Star games or anything like that. I'm playing it to win. I'm playing to make sure I've done everything I had to do to help the team."
While the 6-foot-9, 240-pound West prefers to maintain a low profile, he has been further overshadowed this season by off-the-court news involving his own team, from speculation about star guard Chris Paul's future with the Hornets to uncertainty about the Hornets' future in New Orleans since the team was taken over by the NBA this season.
On the court, though, West has been a steadying force. Although he isn't challenging for the league lead in any major statistical categories, he has he scored below double digits only three times and averages 7.3 rebounds.
He is also making game-winning plays — not only with the clutch shooting he's displayed for years, but with defense.
West secured a victory over Dallas by stealing the ball as Dirk Nowitzki attempted to dribble into position for a game-winning shot. In a recent comeback win over Toronto, West scored the Hornets' final seven points, including the go-ahead basket with 31.7 seconds left. He then preserved the lead with a block on Amir Johnson in the paint, after which he secured the rebound and hit two free throws to ice it.
While West would argue he's playing better defense, he gives much of the credit to the Hornets' new coaching staff, who have their squad allowing the fewest points per game in the NBA (91.2).
"That's more about just having a certain defensive philosophy and a system to follow," West said. "Another part is probably just maturity, knowing that I have to play more complete games and be able to impact the game other than just putting the ball in the hole."
He can still score, though. Against Oklahoma City this week, West hit four jumpers from 16 feet or more in the final few minutes, the last a 19-foot fade over Serge Ibaka with 0.5 seconds left to lift New Orleans to what was then its ninth-straight win.
West, 30, was drafted in the first round by the Hornets out of Xavier in 2003, shortly after being named the AP College Player of the Year. He said this season might be his best as a pro, even though some of his numbers are slightly lower than his two All-Star seasons.
"I don't necessarily put numbers in my mind of what I have to get, as opposed to what is needed to win a game that particular night," West said. "I just feel like we're playing pretty good team ball. And just in terms of team's success, this is definitely one of the better years and better teams I've been a part of."
In West's first All-Star season (2007-08), he averaged 20.6 points and 8.9 rebounds in 37.8 minutes per game. The next season, he had 21 points and 8.5 rebounds 39.2 minutes per game.
While those numbers are down a bit, so are his minutes (34.7). Meanwhile, West is shooting a career best 52 percent from the field and his blocks and steals are up slightly.
Hornets center Emeka Okafor said double-teams West routinely attracts have also provided better scoring opportunities for teammates.
"David's being pretty dominant right now," Okafor said. "He's attracting more and more attention ... so now it's coming to the point of, how do you exploit that?"
West said he'd be honored to be named an All-Star and knows it could help him in a contract year. He has a player's option for $7.52 million next season that he's likely to forgo in favor of an extension or free agency. At the same time, he tends to shun opportunities for self-promotion. Unlike the endorsement-rich Paul, West is rarely seen on even local commercials — and that is by choice.
"My major focus is on my basketball career, just playing the game and trying to play it the right way," West said. "When things come, they come, but again, it's not something that I aim for."