Feb. 21, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New Orleans Hornets point guard Greivis Vasquez (21) dribbles the ball around Indiana Pacers power forward David West (21) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory credit: Michael Hickey-US PRESSWIRE
A year ago, we went from knowing very little about Greivis Vasquez to knowing everything about him in a short span. Some of that was due to the repetitiveness of his game; that may sound purely pejorative at first, but predictability brings with it consistency, something Vasquez exhibited as the season wore on (and as shown in his progressive Game Scores). Vasquez ultimately made his mark as one of the "backups of the next Hornets contender" that the team discovered in an otherwise entirely lost season. It's worth noting that that group has itself fallen apart a bit this summer with Gustavo Ayon now a Magician, and Vasquez himself ostensibly elevated into a starting role.
And so an already interesting juncture in Vasquez's career is now that much more intriguing - is he a starter? Should he be a starter? And how long will he be the starter?Name a statistic, and Greivis Vasquez likely performed better by it as a sophomore than as a rookie. Minutes played, floor percentage, free throw percentage, three point percentage, assist percentage, turnover rate, personal fouls per minute, defensive rebounding, steals rate, offensive rating (ORtg) - all better. Vasquez was an old rookie in 2011 (24), and the Hornets have to have been delighted by this level of development. On the flip-side, Quincy Pondexter put together a similarly impressive across-the-board improvement in Memphis. In hindsight and looking to the future, that trade looks like it benefited both teams.
If Vasquez was 20, the jump in his numbers would be cause for much more excitement; of course, if he was 20, it's unlikely his acquisition price would have been so cheap. Vasquez will be 26 in January, on the closing end of most NBA players' development windows. Nonetheless, there are a couple areas where we can still expect growth this year.
The Hornets replace one starter (Jarrett Jack) with a solid mid-range pull-up game with another. Vasquez shot 43.4% from 3 to 9 feet last year where the average for point guards was 39%. From 10 to 15 feet, he finished right at the league average of 39%, but that was down a full 13% from his rookie season (with about half as many shots from that range, granted). Through two years, it's pretty clear that Vasquez is at least a slightly above average NBA shooter. His distance shooting is still spotty and the fluidity on his shot isn't fantastic, but his high percentage on long twos still suggests that he can up his 3P% in the future.
As a creator, Vasquez was just about equal to Jack in 2012. What he lacked in penetrative ability, he made up for in vision. Vasquez and Ayon struck up a relationship very quickly due to the Mexican's excellent off-ball movement in the post. Ayon frequently used quick spins and counters to defenders overplaying him off the ball to get free, something Vasquez was always aware of. And 2013 brings an interesting parallel scenario - Ayon's gone, but a significant amount of Anthony Davis' offense at Kentucky came from the work he did off the ball to establish position and find open space without the ball. We'll perhaps be deprived of the alley-oop opportunities that Jack's drive-and-float style of attack would have created for Davis, but if last year was any indication, Vasquez will make up for it.
The most underrated aspect to Vasquez's game - and nothing else comes close - was his efficiency with his back to the basket. On 22 shots out of postups last year, Vasquez scored 15 times, including 3 and-ones. It's a tiny sample size to be sure, but Greivis showed a definite ability to back smaller guards down with ease. With a number of offensive weapons either being added (Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis) or returning (Eric Gordon), it's debatable how much offense Vasquez will be creating for himself. If the Hornets do look to him in a scoring role, they'd be wise to get him on the block.
Footspeed is never the end-all, be-all (I'd have much preferred New Orleans take the slower Kendall Marshall over the significantly quicker Austin Rivers, for instance), and that's the case for Vasquez too. He makes things happen despite not being the fastest guy on the floor. Of course, it does show up in some places. On plays where Vasquez was screened off, his slow recoveries often meant easy production for the opposition and the prospect of elite starting level point guards being isolated against him in 2013 isn't a terrific one. On the offensive side, Vasquez ranked among the league's worst transition players, his 0.94 points per transition possession ranking 249th in the league.
These are things that are unlikely to change; the team isn't going to look to him to stick the offense into seventh gear, nor is it going to rely on him as a lockdown perimeter defender. With Gordon alongside him and Davis behind him, the hope is that he'll be covered defensively. Offensively, they'll look to him to set up the offense, run the occasional pick and roll, and take charge of broken plays by relying on his midrange game.
Vasquez' fast rise from late first round pick to strong playoff contributor in 2011 to NBA starter in 2013 likely stalls here. We'll see relatively quickly that he's a very competent backup point guard but not a top end starting one. And that really isn't the worst thing in the world for a team looking to establish its identity around a new trio of semi-stars. It's unclear how far along the "Austin Rivers as PG" experiment has progressed and how far it will actually go. In the meanwhile, Vasquez is perfectly acceptable cover.