The Indiana Pacers are off to their best start in franchise history, as I'm sure you've heard. Following a brutal road trip capped off by a victory over the Miami Heat, the Pacers continue to make their case for the best team in the league. Two of the biggest factors in Indiana's hot start have been Roy Hibbert and David West.
But what is it about these two that work so well together?
First, a little background. West, in his 10th NBA season and third with the Pacers, was signed largely due in part to his veteran leadership. The former Xavier forward had a reputation around the league as being a proven leader, something the Pacers were severely lacking in 2010-11 before West arrived.
Though his level of play would be questioned following an ACL injury the previous season, it became clear that the West signing was one of the best Indiana had made throughout the years.
West's leadership has been publicly on display multiple times, but none more so than in the Miami series. Any time the Pacers won, and any teammates started to celebrate, West was the first player to greet the teammate and direct him toward the locker room. West understood that this was a first-to-four series, and there was no such thing as one victory.
Hibbert, who was drafted 17th overall by the Toronto Raptors in 2008 and then traded to Indiana, had struggled at the beginning of his career. Though 7'2", Hibbert's frame was somewhat thin and lengthy, leaving the center to get pushed around in the paint.
When West arrived, these Pacers were coming off of a 2010-11 campaign that saw the Pacers limp to a 35-47 record and lose in the first round of the playoffs to the Chicago Bulls.
However, in that five-game first-round series, Pacers fans saw something that they hadn't seen in a long time—they saw a glimmer of hope. Head coach Jim O'Brien had been fired and replaced with a young interim coach who seemed to have a connection with fans—Frank Vogel.
Hibbert, before West was signed, was averaging only 10.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, largely on inconsistent numbers. It was clear Hibbert was struggling to find his game. Since West has arrived, Hibbert has found his rhythm.
Since 2010, Hibbert has averaged almost 13 points per game, 8.7 rebounds and is currently a defensive monstrosity on the other end of the court.
Hibbert's size has been well documented by many teams around the league, especially after the deep playoff run that saw the Pacers push the defending champion Miami Heat to seven games in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals. Hibbert's 66 blocks on the season leads the league and is more than the entire Minnesota Timberwolves roster has combined.
So, how is it that these two work so well together, given their games are so different?
The answer is in the question.
Hibbert's improved inside game, complete with a deathly hook shot and forceful rebounding, opens things up for West because of the NBA's lack of size and depth. Not many teams have a 7'2" guy who can match up with and do what Hibbert does for these Pacers.
Hibbert being down low and drawing double-teams opens things up for West in the mid-range game. In life, there are three things Americans can make a sure bet on—death, taxes and West jump shots. West is shooting 46.6 percent from the field so far this year, averaging 13 points per game.
Looking forward, it is hard to find a frontcourt with the combined size and leadership of West and Hibbert. However, it is nice to see that Indiana now can rely on a "next man up" mentality every night, with a starting five capable of producing any one single player as the night's best. Having a five like that has opened up the game for Hibbert and West even more, and both are reaping the benefits.
Have fun defending these two, Eastern Conference.