It's been a while since a veteran looking for a ring joined the Spurs. The last one was Antonio McDyess, who might or might not have been San Antonio's second choice after Rasheed Wallace. So obviously it's nice to see David West spurn other contenders, leaving $12 million dollars on the table and deciding to wear Silver and Black next season.
Because of how exciting it is to see someone want to be a Spur that badly and because West is a consummate pro, his addition was welcomed and regarded as a coup. The reality is that the way the roster is built makes West an awkward fit with this iteration of the team and could struggle to find a role.
The Spurs need a rebounder next to Diaw
Boris Diaw's inadequacies as a rebounder are well-documented. He boards like a wing, essentially, posting a career defensive rebound percentage of 13.4 percent. Only 35 percent of his rebounds were of the contested variety in 2014/15 and he averaged a very low 3.2 rebounding chances per minutes, which suggest he doesn't chase boards outside of his area often. The eye test confirms it.
If he shares the court with good rebounders the team doesn't suffer, but he needs a big man that can clean up the glass next to him. Duncan qualifies and Aldridge has improved greatly in that area over the past three years.
West isn't that type of player, unfortunately. He has averaged more than a 20 percent defensive rebound percentage only once since breaking out on his third season. For comparison, Tim Duncan pulled down almost 27 percent of all available defensive rebounds while Baynes grabbed almost 21 percent. Those two were by far the big men that spent most time alongside Diaw.
Rebounds will be available, so it's possible to assume that next to a bad rebounder West will just up his percentage. Unfortunately, that climb would have to be significant and West doesn't seem capable of making it. Last season he did good work for the best defensive rebounding team in the league but did it by mostly feasting on uncontested rebounds. If he guards centers, he will have to keep them off the glass before actively going for the board, something he has not showed he can do.
West is a good rebounder for a power forward. If he's asked to play center, however, he might be subpar.
West can't protect the rim
West is a gritty defender. If he's asked to guard centers, he will. If he goes against back up bigs, he will succeed more often than not at the individual level. The problem with him next to Diaw or Aldridge in lineups is not how they will handle their own assignments but how they will provide help.
Positions don't mean much but teams often have centers stand close to the ring and funnel opponents to them. Doing that is key to the Spurs' scheme based on chasing players off the three-point line, even if it means getting beat off the dribble. If the perimeter players do that and Duncan is not on the court, the result will be a bucket more often than not, especially if West is the one tasked with being the last line of defense.
West was both one of the least prolific starting big men when it came to contesting shots last season (one contest every 7.7 minutes) and one of the least successful at stopping baskets when he did contest (52.9 percent allowed at the rim). He simply doesn't have the tools to be a rim protector. His wingspan is great but his standing reach is closer to average. He's not an explosive leaper or someone who can cover a lot of ground quickly. More damming, he has spent his entire career playing next to traditional centers (Tyson Chanlder, Emeka Okafor and Roy Hibbert), which means he has never had to play that role.
While there's at least some hope that Aldridge becomes a better rim protector simply because he has the physical tools to be one, expecting West to do so doesn't seem realistic at all.
West doesn't shoot threes and can't create them for others
David West shot a scorching 50 percent on shots between 16 and 24 feet. Only J.J. Redick did better among players who took at least two shots a game from that distance. West's mid-range jumper is elite, a deadly weapon. Just look at all that green from the elbows and the top of the key.
What he doesn't do is shoot three-pointers. West has launched only 192 shots from beyond the arc on a 12-year career and has connected on only 25 percent of those. For whatever reason, he has never tried expanding his range.
That's not a problem in and on itself. For the Spurs, however, three-point shooting from a rotation big is a skill that is missing. If West were able to fill that role, any deficiencies as a rebounder and rim protector would be mitigated, as his offensive value would increase dramatically. It's the reason Matt Bonner always was a net plus despite his obvious limitations.
West is not going to pull his man outside enough to really open the floor for the Spurs and he rarely dives on pick and rolls, so he won't pull the defense in either. Both Tiago Splitter and Aron Baynes were fantastic at that, which created open looks for outside shooters. When West was on the court, the Pacers launched three fewer three-point attempts. He is strictly a pick and pop guy, which means he doesn't get to the line a lot, either.
What the Spurs need on offense from their fourth big is the ability to stretch the defense inside or out and efficient scoring. West offers neither, at least in theory.
West is a good player but a poor fit
West has his weaknesses but he also has his strengths. He will give the offense a safety valve with his pick and pop jumper when nothing else is working. He is a heady team defender who knows where to be. He rebounds very well for a power forward. His leadership and professionalism alone makes him a big bargain for the minimum. By no means is he even close to a waste of a roster spot.
The problem is how he fits with the rest of the big men. West is one of the few traditional power forwards left, which means he needs to play next to a center to be at his best. The Spurs don't really have one, other than Tim Duncan.
Had Aldridge signed elsewhere, West would have made a good consolation prize as a starter next to Big Fun. If instead of Splitter the front office had moved Diaw to make room for Aldridge, bench units would have had balance. That's not what happened, of course, so there are some issues left to sort out regarding the big man rotation.
In terms of talent, the Spurs got better this offseason. The question marks revolve around how it will all fits together. At this point in his career West can't be asked to change his game, so it will be up to his teammates to adjust and up to Pop to find the right combinations to make the addition of West as valuable in practice as it is on paper.
[We revisited this subject in a conversation between Jesus Gomez, Michael Erler and ex-PtR writer Matthew Tynan.]