by Khalid Salaam

It’s monumentally hard, but a good player can still exist beneath the glow of today’s hyperactive, 24/7, if I don’t get the scoop first I might just make it up media coverage. David West is not a star, even though most people who watch basketball know his name.

At Xavier (OH) University he was a First-Team All-American in 2003 and named by the Associated Press as the National Player of The Year. Because Xavier plays in the underappreciated Atlantic 10, people shrugged their shoulders at him and his accomplishments. In ’03 Xavier finished in the Top 10 and earned a no. 3 seed in that year’s March Madness tourney. He wasn’t drafted high (although 18th is certainly respectable), but according to “experts” (I’m making a point here with the quotation marks by the way. Point being in this business you have a lot of writers who consider themselves experts on basketball but in actuality struggle to grasp the nuances of the game and players motivations for anything nevermind playing in ball. Sorry to tell you this but it’s true), West should have been picked lower than no. 18.

Drafts are built on potential and jaw-dropping obvious ability. West doesn’t look the way the scouts want power forwards to look. He’s not cut up or super aggressive, though he can be at times. Dude plays power forward, but isn’t exactly the prototype. He’s listed at 6’9”, 240 but is surely smaller (I don’t care about that by the way, just making the point). And yeah physical attributes matter but so do desire and intelligence. Early on though, he made the scouts look smart for passing him up.

He never showed he would be a starter or an All-Star – as his appearance in last year’s All-Star Game affirms. In his rookie season he only averaged 3.8 points a game and only slightly bettered that the next season with 6.2. He basically was invisible. Additionally he never had any baby mama drama, never was accused of burning a chick, hasn’t caught a gun charge or done anything “typical” for the tabloids to eat up. He was easy to miss and was on the road to bustville. Then the lights came on suddenly with numbers of 17 and 7, as he narrowly lost the Most Improved Player Award to Boris Diaw in the 05-06 season. Still, nobody acknowledged him until he made his first All-Star Game last year by showing off not only a nice mid-range jumper but also post moves and a knack for scoring. By knack I mean, he seems to score by using positioning, timing, quickness and accuracy. He can’t jump over defenders or put a shoulder in a guy’s chest and blow him off the box. He’s not an overly athletic dude but doesn’t let that impede his progress. Besides, with a guy like Tyson Chandler on the roster (a true freak athletic wonder) West’s lack of athleticism doesn’t hurt him at all.

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that playing alongside all-world point guard Chris Paul (I can say all-world now after Beijing) supremely improves his game. CP took West and that entire team to another level. But, as he showed in the second half of the season and in the playoffs, DWest can make plays for himself and is a very vital cog in what challenges to be a elite team for the immediate future. Is he a top-tier forward? At this point I would say no, but he’s chilling on that second-tier no doubt, and I expect to see him in more All-Star games. He also gets point from me for not just pulling up Dirk’s Nowitzki’s skirt in last year’s Dallas and New Orleans first round playoff match-up but for taking it off. It happened after Dirk tried to physically impose upon him and West walked over to Mr. Wurzburg and tapped him on the face like he was a boy. Completely emasculating Dirk and rendering him a non-factor in the eyes of anyone who values courage, strength and honor. Truth be told if somehow we found out that Dirk now takes a wiz sitting down I wouldn’t be surprised. (Inspired by West, I tried tapping my girlfriend on the face and talking slick to her as well, but unlike Dirk she actually fought back. Suffice it to say I don’t do that anymore).

You can surely make a case for West having a higher place on this list but I feel his name is still so unknown that even basketball writers underestimate him. But now that the Hornets are on the upsurge his name, face and game will start to resonate lot more.

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